Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Best and Worst Film Adaptations

I can't believe I'm already back at work and back to the daily grind. I had five days off in a row, and while it was wonderful, it was far too short. Poop.

I didn't get as much writing done as I would have liked, but I did get some done, so I'll take it for what it is. One thing we did do over the weekend was have a Harry Potter marathon. My little nephew came over on Saturday, and both he and my kids (and I) love Harry Potter, and we saw the new one last weekend, so we spent Saturday watching several of them in a row.

Now, I love them all, but I will say that they very a lot in the quality of adaption from the books. There is a different director for almost every single film, and while the style stays somewhat similar, there are differences. Anyway, point is it got me thinking about adaptations of books I loved into films. It is a deep and complex topic, which is a lot of fun to think about. Too bad I have only a few minutes here.

So I'm going to talk briefly about some of the best and worst adaptations of all time, IMHO. For best, there are several options, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris was an excellent book and an amazing film, and the adaptation was pretty accurate. I would probably rate it higher if the other films in the series were not so terrible. Contact by Carl Sagan is another good example. The book was amazing, and the film was very good, though probably not 100% accurate.

That being said my favorite adaptation of all time is the Peter Jackson/New Line production of the Lord of the Rings. All three films were incredible, and excellently adapted, but I think that the Fellowship of the Ring is the best of the three. I realize it takes a hit in accuracy for skipping the entire Tom Bombadil and River Daughter section, but I actually think that worked quite well in the film. Nearly everything else was pretty close to the novel, and they included so much, which is rather difficult considering the sheer volume of the tale.

This was probably the most anticipated adaptation ever, and with the amount of hype that went along with the production, it's essentially nothing short of amazing that it turned out as well as it did. I remember having a picture book with a read along cassette of LOTR as a kid, so I had been waiting for this FOREVER, and apart from a couple of cheesy Legolas hollywood shield and trunk surfing moments, it did not fail to please.

(this is not the right product, but it's the closest picture I could find)

Moving on before I go on forever I should cover some bad adaptations. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong with The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. The books are very good, and I actually thought the film wasn't bad, but for some reason it seems to have flopped because I have not heard a thing about any sequels (the books are a trilogy).

I tried to look up some other examples but they're either books and movies that I loved (some people online apparently think Kubrick's version of Stephen King's The Shining was terrible) or I haven't read the book. So rather than spending any more time on this than it deserves I'll just tell you what I think was the worst film adaptation in recent history: Eragon.

I know some of you thought the book was completely derivative, which I'll admit it was, but I still loved it. And the film? Jeremy Irons? John Malkovich? Djimon Hounsou? It should have been outstanding. Instead it was terrible, nothing like the book, flopped at the box office, and ruined any chances of the sequels ever being made. Thankfully the books are doing fine and the video game was okay.

So that's it for today. What are the best and worst adaptions ever in your opinion? I'm especially curious to hear from film buffs like Alex and Dezmond.


Jessica Bell said...

Hmm, I guess my favs are 'The Year of Living Dangerously, Christopher Koch, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Worst, hmm, well, 'Modonna: Innocence Lost'. The worst film autobiography EVER.

Tracy said...

My favorite and most hated adaptations are actually on books by the same author!

I'm a huge Anne Rice fan and Interview With the Vampire is still one of my favorite movies ever.

Queen of the Damned is my all-time favorite book and the movie absolutely BUTCHERED it. I couldn't get past the first forty minutes. HATED IT!

Jessica Bell said...

Oh! Have to come back and add, 'Jackie Brown', which was adapted form a book called 'Rum Punch'. I think you'd like both :o)

Mason Canyon said...

I'm always uncertain about watching movies based on books because they are so completely different. Silence of the Lambs is one of the few that was close.

Thoughts in Progress

Jess said...

Great topic! The first thing that came to mind was the Disney version of The Swiss Family Robinson (circa a1960)--for me, it goes in the category of "this is so cheesy and stupid and the actors annoy me so much that I'm really into it" category. I have fond memories of watching the film with my sisters and having a great time making fun of it. We still dredge up a couple of quotes from it during the holidays.

I've heard that the movie Fight Club did a good job of capturing the book, but haven't read it.

Karen Baldwin said...

Oh...Misery...chop, chop...OW!

DEZMOND said...

I actually didn't hate ERAGON as other did :) I thought Ed Speleers was great in the tittle role, and I absolutely adored Rachel Weisz as Safira the dragon.
LOTR was off course amazing.
I never liked HARRY PLOPPER movies because I think the young actors in it are very very bad in their job and stunningly unconvincing.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS wasn't bad, but it had a lack of directorial vision, and plus the American audience is more used to action films and dark stories so they usually cheer for lovely fantasy tales to become flops in cinema.

MJenks said...

Yeah, that Eragon movie was terrible. My wife made us turn it off after ten minutes it was so terrible.

Dezmond's right about the Harry Potter movies: the kid actors are dreadful. I can barely watch the movies.

It's not a movie, but I am beginning to actually get excited about A Game of Thrones. I think the big thing here is that Martin himself is in on the writing and producing.

vic caswell said...

did you ever see the cartoon version of THE HOBBIT? i thought that was really good! of course, i was a kid- but i loved it!!! :)

Melissa Gill said...

I love film adaptations of books, but I have a hard and fast rule: Never read the book prior to/or at least not immediately prior to seeing the movie. It will ruin even the best adaptation.

LOTR is my all time fav movie, so of course it's also my fav adaptation. But, I hadn't read it in a while before seeing FOTR, so I'd forgotten about Tom Bombadill and didn't miss him terribly. The movie was fantastic, so when I re-read FOTR after seeing the movie I said, oh well, great movie, I can always read about Tom.

I enjoyed Eragon, but again, saw the movie first, then read the book. The book really filled in the blanks and enhanced the movie, but if I knew the story intimately I would have been dissapointed.

I'm happy with all the HP adaptations, but if I had my way everyone from 3 on would have been a 2 part 5 hour movie. But probably most movie goers wouldn't buy that.

Before LOTR my all time favorite movie and book was Gone With The Wind, talk about losing it in translation, but again, I saw the movie first. When I read the book, it just added onto what I loved in the movie. If it had been the other way around I would have been like, where's Wade Hampton and Ella?

I'll shut up now, cause I have a million more, but great topic Matt.

Old Kitty said...

Good book adaptations: The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both films!) (Roald Dahl), The Godfather (better than the book!LOL).

Worst book adaptations: Love in the time of Cholera, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, House of Spirits, Joy Luck Club (not worst but not good either! Loved the book!)

Take care

Jeff Beesler said...

I like the X-Men comics, but I know that diehard fans aren't exactly happy with the movie adaptations. Lots of history/characters get ignored in that franchise, I believe. I still like watching the movie, but I don't believe the adaptations stick as closely to the comics as some would like.

Ted Cross said...

I go with LOTR, also. I especially love the extended edition of Fellowship, and I am happy to not have Tom Bombadil in it, as I never liked that part in the book. I do miss the barrow wight scene, though.

Kelly Polark said...

Can you believe I have never seen LOTR?!
I enjoy film adaptations even though I always like the book better just because of all the details and I love reading.
One of my fave books to film is A Time to Kill (where I fell in lust with M McC).
My least favorite is (dont laugh) Flowers in the Attic. I read all those books in junior high and HATED the movie.

Kelly Polark said...

Oh, I loved the Outsiders too!

Southpaw said...

I totally forgot about Queen of the Damned. I agree with Tracy it was not good. I really disliked the adaptation of The Mists of Avalon. It wasn’t a film per say but it was a mini-series. There is no resemblance to the book at all.

Sarah Ahiers said...

OMG, we're SO TOTALLY on the same page about this!
Here's what i tell people about Eragon.
We saw it in theaters. We had free tickets for it (due to a theater FUBAR on another movie)
To this day, we all agree that it was the one movie we saw that wasn't even worth seeing for free.
So. Terrible.
I've read Eragon twice, and don't really like it, but the few redeeming qualites i do like in the book were completely effed up in that movie.
The only thing good in that movie was the costumes, which were excellent.

Kathryn Rose said...

Funny enough, the only instance where I felt the movie was better than the book was THE NOTEBOOK. I wasn't a big fan of the book, but I thought the McAdams/Gosling chemistry was astounding in the film - something that really lacked in Sparks's version. That's the only exception to the rule that the book is always better, IMHO.

Otherwise, the British version of 1984 made me cringe.

Colene Murphy said...

I am one of the Kubrick Shining haters. HATE. OH well. I loved the golden compass book but movie didn't capture my attention like the book did. I never have been able to explain why though..just didn't do it for me I guess.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Love love love LotR!

Hated The Golden Compass. Just couldn't get into it.

Bryan Russell said...

Well, you know, Stephen King himself thought Kubrick butchered The Shining and hated the adaptation.

Maybe this would make him feel better, though:


As for me, I think The Wonder Boys is a fantastic film adaptation. I don't think it misses anything important from the film, and captures the feel really well. Heck, I think some of the cuts actually make the story tighter and better. Sorry, Mr. Chabon.

Also loved the adaptation of No Country For Old Men. All the Pretty Horses... not so much. Love Matt Damon, and the film had moments... but so much of the mood and feel of the story didn't come through.

Loved LotR, of course. The film The Black Cauldron is kind of cute, but rather fails the awesomeness of the Prydain Chronicles. Hmmm, what else? I really liked Minority Report, but it's been a long time since I've read the story so I have no idea on authenticity.

And, it's funny, I couldn't get through Contact as a novel, but I really liked the movie.

And I'm sure I could sit through a Grisham movie much easier than a Grisham novel. Is that a bad thing to say? Probably.

Creepy Query Girl said...

The Hobbit was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I used to sing 'If there's a will *whoopish* there's a way!' lol.

Josin L. McQuein said...

LoTR is an awesome adaptation (even if it fudges the story here and there).

Another recent kids' book adaptation to go along with Eragon as a stinker is Percy Jackson (The Lightning Thief). It was another instance of great cast and horrible execution. They took out major characters and juggled the plot so that even if they made the sequels (which I doubt they will), they couldn't follow the books anymore.

Since someone mentioned X-Men (whoever did X3 should be tarred and feathered. The Phoenix Saga is one of the most famous and well known arcs in history and they DESTROYED IT. Wolverine was no better - Emma Frost is a blonde, upper crust socialite. She does not have a Native American sister.) I'll bring up Batman. The films since Batman Begins have been excellent interpretations for the tone of the comics.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

LOTR was definitely the best. I think Jackson made them better than the books. Never read Eragon, although I can testify the movie was awful. However, while the movies after Silence of the Lambs was awful, you have to go back to 1986 and a little film called Manhunter. Directed by Michael Mann, it may not follow Red Dragon perfectly, but it does so with style!

Shain Brown said...

It seems this is quite the hot topic. I guess it has to be looked at no differently than books are looked at, everyone has their opinion and their own taste.

I liked Eragon, loved the book, but the movie could have been better. I am a huge fan of The lord of the Rings.

What I am also excited for is the upcoming Stephanie Plum movie. I love Janet Evanovich and I can not wait to see what they do with Katherine Heigl as Stephanie.

Tiffany Neal said...

I thought that The Time Traveler's Wife was very well adapted. And Coraline! Loved the movie, just meh about the book though.

Most of the time I hate the movie adaptations though. A middle grade one that I despised was Tale of Desperaux.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Most of the time I'm disappointed in the movie version of a book I loved. Too many have ended completely different (Cujo and The Mist come to mind - yes, I'm a Stephen King fan).

But if a movie is made from a book I loved, I'll still go see the movie. Always with the expectation that maybe this time they didn't butcher it!

Lindsay said...

I always tread carefully with book to film adaptations since I'm picky. Films always tend to miss some of the stuff I think is important. lol.

I do like Silence of the Lambs and To Kill a Mockingbird as movies. :)

Joanna St. James said...

I liked the compass I was thoroughly pissed when it got meh reviews

Nate Wilson said...

Although it's not the best adaptation out there, my favorite will always be The Princess Bride. It even improved on the book by adding in the Pit of Despair and not making Buttercup a complete airhead.

And although it's not the worst adaptation out there, Timeline gets my vote. It's my favorite Chrichton novel, but the previews made it look so bad I couldn't even bring myself to watch the thing.

Lisa Galek said...

I'm a Jane Austen fan, so I have to say the most perfect book-to-movie adaptation is 1995's "Pride and Prejudice" with Colin Firth. It includes pretty much everything from the book. I think it offers a great interpretation on the novel that enriches my reading of it.

I really enjoyed the new HP movie. I liked what they did with Order of the Phoneix, but I hated Goblet of Fire. I agree, those movies have been a mixed bag. (Though the kids have gotten better as actors as time has gone on).

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Man, don't even get me started on Eragon. That film was...well, stick with the books.

but the LOR movies? Outstanding. I didn't actually mind the missing Tom Bombadil. Of all things that could easily be cut, that was probably one of them. I was so afraid they'd somehow find a way to cut out the Ents, though, so thank goodness they kept them in. I hadn't envisioned them so skinny, though. Did you? But truly my all time fave films, and definitely one of my favorite book series. I don't think there has ever been a series quite as epic and beautifully constructed in either print or film.

Vicki Rocho said...

Can't think of any especially bad adaptations above and beyond what's already been mentioned.

Wasn't ready to go back to work either!

Rachele Alpine said...

Thanksgiving vacation did go too fast....blah! We moved, so I got no writing in. :(

Emily White said...

The Chronicles of Narnia film adaptations are pretty amazing. I especially love the music they composed for the two first movies. I'm looking forward to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Worst would have to be Sword of Truth series. No, it wasn't turned into a film, but it was turned into a TV series. And it. was. awful. They changed things they had no reason to change and that were pivotal to the entire plot. It was sad because it had a lot of potential.

Steve MC said...

About Pullman and Paolini, there’s a very good interview with them and Tamora Pierce here. It’s almost like a fantasy writing seminar.

And about adaptations, I’m hoping my favorite will be the mini-series “A Game of Thrones,” which HBO has just given another glimpse of here. For LOTR fans, it’ll be a feast.

Shannon said...

I agree with you on LoTR. Brilliant. I also liked Silence of the Lambs, Misery, Fight Club, and the first Narnia.

I consider those the exception and not the rule, so it's hard for me to *hate* an adaptation. If I've read the book first, I go into the movie expecting it to be completely different medium for the story so I'm not disappointed. =P

Slamdunk said...

Good topic Matthew.

Digging way back here, but the movie Gettysburg based on Michael Shaara's book "The Killer Angels" gets my vote.

The book is a historical classic and inspired filmaker Ken Burns to create his excellent project on the Civil war. I am not sure if the producers had a budget 3 times what they did, they could have recreated with justice such a large event described in the book--and with Gettysburg's limited budget they did not come close.

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