Book to Screen
A while ago I spent a number of unhealthy hours getting very angry about the new film adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper. Managing to suppress my rage, I got thinking about other novel adaptations and tried to separate the hits from the misses. Before I start, I should admit that reading has never really been my thing, much to the exasperation of my English teachers, but when I get into a book, I really get into it, meaning I get a bit protective over the adaptations.
Here’s my run down of the best and worst of the Book to Screen translations…there will be some obvious omissions, but I better not comment on things I haven’t actually read…
Oh and just in case you haven’t read the books, beware SPOILERS!
1.The Lord of the Rings- HIT!
Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way first shall we? It’s no secret that I’m more than slightly obsessed with this trilogy. For me, LOTR represents the best of screen adaptations, making a book which (I admit) is hard to get into, much more accessible. Tolkein doesn’t exactly make it easy to read, and even die hard fans like me can find it tough to wade through the history and fine detail given on every page. If you’re like me, this is the sort of thing that will put you off , but I persevered (after a short recess when I got mired in the “hoomming” of the Ents) because, like many out there, the film made me want to read the book. Literature lovers often tear their hair out over those who read books after seeing the film, but without Peter Jackson’s incredible storytelling LOTR would never have entered my radar, and who knows how I might have turned out?! 😛 For those who did read the books first (and between the release of Fellowship and Two Towers I was pretty well versed) Jackson is rigidly true to the books, only removing parts that would make the marathon films even longer and detract from the main story arc. As a fan of the books himself, and recruiting other Tolkeinites (stand up Christopher Lee) as well as Tolkein’s own family, Jackson made sure that the final film was as close to Tolkein’s own vision as possible. The result is a series of films which are able to live up to the incredible imagination of the author, including all of his fine detail and still capturing the main message.
2. The DaVinci Code/Angels and Demons-MISS! (but only just)
Before I start, please do not berate me for actually liking these books. I fully accept that Dan Brown is not exactly the cream of writing talent, and that the plot in these two books is basically identical with slightly different character names, but he managed to keep hold of me with the codes and the mystery and I figured it would translate to screen pretty well.
It almost did. Apart from taking out one set of codes to make the film a bit shorter, the plot is quite true to the book, and the fact that they bothered to actually film in all the famous locations mentioned scored points. The reason I’m forced to put it in the miss pile is for one simple reason: they completely destroyed my favourite character.
When I first heard that albino monk Silas was to be played by Paul Bettany I was really happy, since he fitted exactly with my mental picture of the character and is a good enough actor to play the part really well. Here’s what went wrong: in the book, Silas has a turn around at the end and saves the life of another character, redeeming him for the earlier murders and showing him to be a very sympathetic character who is left impressionable and easy to manipulate after a lifetime of abuse. In the film? He’s battered by a group of police snipers and left for dead behind a wall. I was not impressed.
I haven’t yet seen the sequel (well actually it’s a prequel but for the sake of argument…), and the fact that I haven’t read the book in a long while will probably make it easier for me to swallow. Since its predecessor got it so nearly right I’m willing to give it a fair shot, and the casting is still pretty good, so maybe this one’s a hit? Something tells me it wont quite make it though.
3. The Prestige-HIT!
This one is actually a rare example of where I reckon the changes they made to the book are actually better than what the author originally came up with. (The only other one of these I can think of is Wicked but that’s a musical and not (yet) a movie). Again, I saw the film first, which is the wrong way round, but what I found surprising is that novel and film seem to be at odds when it comes to whose side we’re supposed to be on. Watching the film, I was firmly on the side of Borden and really didn’t take to the privileged but unappreciative Danton. The book however, is told predominantly form Danton’s viewpoint, and paints Borden as the villain. Obviously a lot has been changed by the screenwriters, but I think this element of sympathy for Borden is necessary to build a contrast between the two magicians. The ending is also completely different in the film, and in my opinion much more dramatic. For starters, the big twist is revealed at the start of the book, taking all the impact out of a turn which, in the film, had me speechless. True, the way the opening of the novel (Borden’s diary) is written is very clever, but giving away the twist so soon means the impact of many later events is lost. Similarly, the side plot of the descendants of the two men (removed from the film) seemed slightly unnecessary and lead to an ending which actually really irritated me when compared to the drama of the film.
I don’t know what my opinion would be of I’d read the book first, but the film is so well written and performed that it would probably be much the same. Christopher Nolan has taken what is a brilliant premise from a novel, and re-designed it to be something more, leaving me slightly disappointed when I eagerly picked up the book. So in this case, my love for the film is not because it falls in line with the authors first ideas, but mainly because it doesn’t!
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. MISS!
In fairness, I don’t think anyone could’ve made this work because it’s the way in which Douglas Adams writes that makes these books so brilliant. The opening “Yellow” passage is pure comic gold which just couldn’t translate to screen, even with Martin Freeman, who basically is Arthur Dent, at the helm. Generally the casting is good, with Bill Nighy as Slartybartfast and Stephen Fry narrating, but Mos Def is completely wrong, and although Sam Rockwell is a great actor, he just doesn’t quite work as Zaphod. I think my main issue with that though is that in the book he has a lizard head and in the film…well he doesn’t. Not that I can really complain about that. It js bugged me.
Some other minor plot tweaks took some of the fun out of the film,but I think the main problem was they tried to make it logical, which Hitchhiker’s jsut isn’t. The whole point of Adams’ Trilogy in Five Parts is that it makes no sense at all and contains a series of events difficult to imagine let alone put on screen. Like I said, it was an impossible task, and credit to them for making the generation of a blue whale (voiced by Bill Bailey) and a bowl of petunias via the Improbability Drive actually work on screen. In the end though, the film just doesn’t do the book justice.
5. Dorian Gray-MISS?
I haven’t seen this one yet, but my early fears are being confirmed by poor reviews and I’m starting to think I might give this one a miss. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a tough read at times but it’s a book with a real meaning and a lot fo valid points to make. There’s more than a suggestion that the new film does well with the vice and debauchery of Gray’s life (which is alluded to but never really described in the novel) but has slightly missed the point. As I’ve said before, our only other incarnation of Gray on screen is in LXG which, although a great character, is just plain wrong in terms of the book, so Ben Barnes can only be closer, but I’m not holding my breath that this is the great adaptation I’ve been waiting for. Anyone who has seen it feel free to let me know.
I could probably write more but I think I’ll leave it there for now. Any comments on other adaptations more than welcome. I’m hoping to read The Time Traveller’s Wife soon, so that I can do the novel/film thing the right way round for once. I’m worried that one has gone that way of My Sister’s Keeper, so I don’t want to get the wrong impression.
PS. I’ve deliberately left out the Graphic Novels because that is a completely different list of films. Plus, if any type of book lends itself to a big screen adaptations it’s the comics, they’re pretty much storyboards ready to go.