Saturday, January 6, 2007

Books into Movies

Yesterday, I got attacked by the flu, which caused me to miss work and miss my weekend trip up north to visit my boyfriend. About all I was capable of (when I was feeling strong) was lying on the couch and watching movies. Since I was too sick to go out, I had to settle for what I had here and wound up watching The Two Towers and the Return of the King. I hadn't watched either of them for a while, and although I was never a big fan of the books, I did read them before I saw the movie and felt they were a pretty faithful adaptation. I watched some of the special features about the making of the film, and was struck by how faithful everyone involved in the production tried to be to the movie, from Peter Jackson himself right on down to the people in wardrobe and the weapons and armor guys.

I was trying to think of other movies that I felt were excellent adaptations of books. Here are a few that I liked:

Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Maybe this techically doesn't count, since it's a play, but I felt Branagh cast his version well and brought a lot of humanity to the role of Hamlet. He also filmed my favorite part of the play, the graveyard scene (Act V, scene I) exactly as it had always appeared in my imagination.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In Anthony Lane's review of Return of the King, he said that adapting a book for the screen wasn't about filming it exactly, it was about finding what was cinematic about the book and bringing it out. Of all the HP movies, I think this one comes the closest to meeting that standard. They made some radical changes, but they did them well. The graveyard scene in THAT movie is just as terrifying as I'd hoped, and the actor who played Moody did as well as Alan Richman does as Snape.

Memoirs of a Geisha. It could've been better, but overall it was very good, and also just a beautiful film to watch.

Some awful ones:

The Great Gatsby. WTF? This is one of my favorite books, and it would film so well. They made an absolute mess of it. I've never seen the entire movie, just the last half on cable once. It was so lousy that I've never been moved to see more.

The Black Cauldron. This is the second book in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, my favorite series growing up. Disney made an absolutely terrible animated version of it in the early 80's. The book is very dark and serious, dealing with large themes like the nature of heroism and of good and evil. It had some absolutely wonderful characters, including Eilonwy, a ballsy, funny sorceress princess. The movie turned Eilonwy into a wimpy cheerleader, left out many of the characters and had Taran leading everyone to a quick victory over evil, which he doesn't even do in the book -- he's only supposed to be around 16. Just about the most disappointing movie I've ever seen.

Flowers in the Attic. OK, nobody will mistake this book for great literature, ever. But I'm willing to bet that many women my age group, were, like myself haunted and captivated by this creepy series of books at some point in their lives. I wasn't allowed to see the movie when it came out, but I remembered how scary the previews were. I was really let down when I finally had the chance to see the movie as an adult. True, Flowers will not go on the shelf next to William Shakespeare, but it deserved a better adaptation than that.

What are some of your favorites and least favorites?


Melissa said...

Now this is going to sound weird because everyone hails it as one of the greatest movies but I hate the movie version of Gone With The Wind. The book was wonderful, though fiction it still gives a vivid picture of life in the south pre civil war, during the civil war, and reconstruction. The sense of wildness beneath civility, the multidimensional characters created by Margret Mitchell were basically carictured by the movie. They become flat characters who were either good or bad, in love or mooning for love.

Anonymous said...

i agree- GWTW sux.

there's this 16th century play called THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY that was made into a movie of the same name, and it is AWESOME.

and the film adaptation of A Child's Christmas in Wales is fantastic, from a "fidelity to the original" perspective.

most disappointing - Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle. a good movie in its own right, but I love the book too much to be comfortable with such changes.