Today: July 17, 2024

Books To Films

Lush and lavish aristo-romance Anna Karenina opens in UK cinemas this week. But, as Tolstoy’s busty beast is squeezed into the over-tight bodice of film, many fans are already asking: why? Why turn any great novel into a film when there are so many unmade scripts languishing out there in pre-production land? Greg Evans looks at some of the good, the bad and the great book into film adaptations and asks, can the movie industry really exist without novels to fuel its fire?

Lush and lavish aristo-romance Anna Karenina (Main Picture) opens in UK cinemas this
week. But, as Tolstoy’s busty beast is squeezed into the over-tight bodice of
film, many fans are already asking: why? Why turn any great novel into a film
when there are so many unmade scripts languishing out there in pre-production
land? Greg Evans looks at some of the good, the bad and the great book into
film adaptations and asks, can the movie industry really exist without novels
to fuel its fire?

For a long time the camps
have been divided between bookworms and cinephiles. And the argument rages on:
can a film ever be better than the book it’s based on?

Books have the intrinsic
ability to describe settings and characters which are seemingly without limit.
A film – a good film – can project that creative energy into a much larger
sphere, often allowing us to finally realise and appreciate the greatness of
some books. Sometimes, film adaptations go horribly wrong. Missing plot,
characters who are completely ignored, and too much tinkering from directors
and writers can contribute to unfaithful and derisory movies. However, every so
often, a film comes along which transcends its literacy counterpart. Either
because it’s a genuinely great piece of filmmaking or because it’s a ‘retake’
on a troublesome book. So, taking these factors into consideration, which are
the good, the bad and the ‘great’ film adaptations?

The Good
It’s easy to wax lyrical
about the classics. Lord of the Rings,
Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, To Kill A Mocking Bird, Sherlock Holmes
and
countless Dickens and Shakespeare films have appeared over
the years. Most, if not all, have remained faithful to the book and have done
an honourable job of turning them into films. This is all well and good, but
what modern books have been given good movie overhauls?

Of course Harry Potter is the most obvious
candidate for selection. The overwhelming success of the franchise is
astounding and, arguably, the movies only serve to heighten the quality of the
books. Of course, Harry Potter has the advantage of having seven books for
various directors to reference and adapt. Other films haven’t had such an
embarrassment of riches.

Take, for instance, recent
films like Drive and Cosmopolis. Both films are based on
relatively short novels. Drive is short piece of pulp fiction written by
respected crime novelist, James Sallis, about
a reserved getaway driver who seeks revenge on the people that have done him
wrong. Nicolas Winding Refn’s take
on the story owed a lot to the stoicism of the book and its stylish
descriptions of Los Angeles. Refn’s take on The Driver is different to
Sallis’s, but the same contemplative, quiet characteristics are there.

David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis
was equally devoted to Don DeLillio’s intense
and complex tale of a day in the life of a young billionaire. The dialogue in
both the book and the film is extremely philosophical and, while the film may
have not been to everyone’s liking, you have to hand it to Cronenberg for
having the bravery to even try and adapt this strange and intelligent novel.
Films like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,
American Psycho
and No County For
Old Men
are other, equally noteworthy modern adaptations.

The Bad
For every good take on a
great book, there’s been the odd, bad version. (Think of it as a kind of
karma.) One of the most criticised was John
Madden’s
film of Captain Corelli’s
Mandolin.
The original novel, by Louis
de Bernieres,
won several awards and is considered one of the ‘great’
modern novels. The story is roughly based around the real life massacre of over
1000 Italian soldiers by the German army in Greece, September 1943. The book
deals with themes such as love, music, war, politics, history and the nature of
good and evil. The film, however, fails to really grasp any of those and is
merely reduced to a soppy romance between Nicolas
Cage
and Penelope Cruz.
Characters and their personalities are entirely ignored as Madden tries to cram
the entire novel into two hours without any real clarity.

Another film franchise, which
has come under a lot criticism, is the sensation that is the Twilight Saga. Now, although the
Twilight films are nowhere near as bad as they are made out to be, you can tell
there is far more to the story than what’s been seen on-screen, so far. A far
darker element to the story obviously exists, especially the tale of the Cullen
clan and the idea of abstinence, which are there, but never fully explored.
This trend seems to exist in many films based on romantic books. The sense of
trying to appeal to a mass audience without making them think too much, has
deprived film fans of many potentially great storylines.

The Great?
A book of a film can be good
if it remains true to its original source material. Yet if it strays too far,
then the film can turn into a boring and underwhelming mess. What happens,
though, when a film actually manages to be better than the book that inspired
it? Generally, the book is completely forgotten. For instance, Full Metal Jacket, The Bourne Ultimatum and
Gone With the Wind were all based on
lesser-known books.

This isn’t always the case
though. Sometimes great books can inspire great films – and both remain equally
valid art forms. This is especially true with films based on books that deal
with the sort of issues that can’t really be transferred easily onto film. If
you look at movies like Blade Runner,
Naked Lunch, The Godfather
and Fear
And Loathing In Las Vegas
and compare them to their paperback equivalents
you’ll notice that, while the book is still good, the film somehow manages to
get the message across in a more lucid and literal way. This is a very rare
occurrence, but when it happens, it shows how strong and powerful an art form
film can be.

Books have traditionally been
a greater source of inspiration to filmmakers than television, comics and video
games – and the marriage of the two has provided us with some remarkable
movies. But, as we begin to enter a more digital age, will books finally start
to take a back seat in favour of, say, comics? Probably not. Already this year
we have seen the likes of The Hunger
Games, The Lorax
and Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists become
big box office hits. And still to come, we have much anticipated adaptations of
The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit, Cloud
Atlas, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (a film a lot of people thought would
never be made). If all of these films prove to be good, who knows how many
people will go onto read the books? Plus, book fans sometimes actually want a
movie to be made. There is already talk of a 50 Shades Of Grey movie. Catcher
In The Rye, Metamorphosis,
and The
Dice Man
are all crying out to be translated into celluloid too. So, while
the argument of which is the superior art form will rage on, it’s worth remembering
that books and films go hand in hand and one would struggle to exist without
the other.

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