It seems simple enough. Take a book with a rich plot and cult following and turn it into a movie. Since the plot is already written, the characters already developed, and most importantly the audience clearly there, it should be one of the easiest ways to make a successful film.
Sadly book adaptations fall short, more often than not. This past weekend I finished “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk, and was eager to see how it would fair. The book centers on a sex-addicted con man that lives off the charity of people who “save” him from choking at restaurants. While the synopsis sounds a bit depressing, the book is actually a hilarious novel filled with great characters and interesting themes. Also since Mr. Palahniuk wrote the incredible novel/movie Fight Club, Choke was a must read/must see for me. Though I knew the cast did not include Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, or Helena Bonham Carter, I was sure that Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston could make up for it. Unfortunately people, despite it being a truly enjoyable book, the adaptation fell short. Just like other failures- The Lovely Bones and The Time Travelers Wife come to mind first – the film failed to capture the essence of the book. The great themes were never fleshed out, the character relationships fell flat and overall it left me screaming for a remake.
While I admit it is difficult to compare two distinct mediums like film and literature, a good adaptation should still maintain the central theme and plot of a book. Leniencies can be given to scene placement and some minor character relationships, but not for the central figures. By shifting too far away from the heart of a book, filmmakers lose sight of what made the book loved. For this week’s blog, in an attempt to save you from the disappointing feeling I was left with, I will give you my three favorite adaptations.
I must warn you though; I will not be listing movies like Twilight or The Hunger Games. I am sorry twihards and tributes but they will not make my list. The following will include books and movies you may have not yet read or seen, to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and to force you to appreciate a good adaptation. Let’s begin:
Trainspotting Novel by Irvine Welsch Screenplay by John Hodge Directed by Danny Boyle
I begin with the Oscar nominated film about drugs and failure for a few reasons. For one I thought it was timely to discuss a movie from the director of the Olympic ceremonies. Two, Ewan Mcgregor (the presenter of the first People’s Choice Icon Award) is one of my favorite actors. And thirdly, the film is an excellent example of how an adaptation should be done. John Hodge and Danny Boyle expertly adapt the complex book by keeping the main stories and themes intact while dropping the few unnecessary subplots. The overarching themes are the camaraderie between addicts as being almost as important as the rush of the drug itself; and the story about the needs of a group of people and the extreme measures they will go to achieving them. These themes stay true throughout the movie and the cinematography and shot selection are nothing short of brilliant. If you are in the mood for a gritty high paced film about drugs and violence, read the book and fall in love with the movie. You won’t regret it. (Costars include: Johnny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, and Kelly Macdonald)
Capote Biography by Gerald Clarke Screenplay by Dan Futterman Directed by Bennett Miller
While many people have read “In Cold Blood” written by Truman Capote, not as many people have read the biography. Dan Futterman extensively details the psychology of Capote during his interviews with killers Rich Hickock and Perry Smith. The book feels like it was written while Capote was alive, and the breadth of new information that is brought to light is astounding. The book is dark, artfully structured, and wonderfully composed. Similarly for the movie, the screenplay is tight, and the hinted “sexual” relationship between capote and Mr. Smith is brought to life. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was pinned for the lead and his portrayal during the 114 minute thriller is dead on. Though this book/movie requires more of a time investment, it will be well worth it. My advice is to read “In Cold Blood,” watch the original adaptation by Richard Brooks (starring Robert Blake and Scott Wilson), then read “Capote”, and finally watch the film.
No Country for Old Men Novel by Cormac McCarthy Screenplay Joel and Ethan Coen
The book turned Oscar winner is a gritty dark story of a drug deal gone wrong in the old west. Written in a stylized prose that at times feels a bit blunt, the book is a straightforward account of the mayhem that occurs when a psychopath wants his stolen money. If at times you wish the book was more dramatic, the movie will make up for it. The Coen brother’s version is dynamic, and Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Anton Chigurh is amazing. The themes of fate and the inevitability of death remain consistent throughout both mediums and I guarantee you will be on the edge of your seat for both. My advice is to watch the movie first and then delve into the details of the book. You will be amazed at how true the book is to the movie. The film also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Kelly Macdonald.
Until next week, when I finish The Life of Pi, feel free to recommend a few adaptations in our comments section. Also don’t forget to vote on today’s poll!
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey