This year, we’ve had more Twilight nonsense, My Week with Marilyn, We Need to Talk About Kevin and dozens of others, including Marvel Comics adaptations and cult films that don’t see it to the big box offices, but limp over to DVD and get discovered by a bored movie buff years down the line when they’ve run out of things to watch and are hunting around HMV for something to get cheap.
There are some that are great adaptations; To Kill a Mockingbird and Gregory Peck’s (yumyum) Oscar-worthy performance, The Shining and Jack Nicholson’s quote-worthy acting (add One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to that list too). Gone with the Wind is a film you should only watch if you managed the book in the first place; and Peter Jackson did a pretty good job with Lord of the Rings, considering Tolkien himself said it could never be made into a film.
Then there are the shocking ones. The ones that you wish you had never wasted that £7 and bucket of popcorn on. Poorly acted, graphics that make you feel seasick, and an overblown budget for some drivel that barely compares to the book at all. It ruins a good book.
It seems that Marvel have been the only ones to successfully transition between medias. Consider this, though, that they had a significant advantage in that their film was pretty much already story-boarded for them, and the comics did a pretty good job of tacky one-liners that do so well on screen, so you don’t even have to rewrite the damn things. (As a side note, I’m a complete geek with graphic novels, both the booky kind and film kind, so I am in no way dissing them, because I’m SO RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED for The Avengers film I could die and I own ALL the X-Men films on DVD).
So, why all the adaptations? Sophie Coppola based her Marie Antoinette film (disappointingly starring Kirsten Dunst, but a guilty pleasure of mine) on the Antonia Fraser biography, and her world-famous Virgin Suicides also came from a book. Then you have Ulysses, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (so far removed from Truman Capote’s original novella, it’s barely worth mentioning), The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Pride & Prejudice, Watership Down… the list could go on! Guardian Books listed the Top 50 Adaptations, but that doesn’t even cover the half of it.
Is is a lack of originality in Hollywood that keeps spewing out all these adaptations? Do scriptwriters panic and realise that the best stories are already in bookstores, on paper? Peter Jackson claims he adapted Tolkien’s novels out of a love of the books himself – he wanted to share the joy he found. But what then of the books that are completely ruined by their half-attempted Silver Screen counterparts? Is that a vision of joy gone wrong? Does the cutting room floor contain the secret to what should have been a good film, but ended badly because of the fear of the Box Office?
Some books have changed endings – there is no kiss in Pride & Prejudice, but one was added for the film. Some people live while others die, when in fact it should have been the other way round. The film industry take liberties with these books – cutting and changing to make something that “sells”. Surely, if the book is popular enough to adapt in the first place, it was selling pretty well before you changed it? But, that doesn’t change the churn of book adaptations that come out of Ell Lay…
What are your favourite adaptations? What are your worst? What films did you watch without even knowing they were books?