Best Books to Movies


Finished my last book for my reading job, and now I’m free! Until Monday morning, of course. I am in the middle of Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, which I picked up because I liked the movie so much. I mooched the book from someone in Iceland, which adds an extra frisson because I spent some time there a few years back, and love anything and everything from that country (except the rotted shark meat).

When I read books for work I’m evaluating whether or not they would make good movies. Since I’m reading a book that was adapted, and in honor of the WGA awards that are happening tonight (I’m rooting for The Departed), I thought I’d blog about book adaptations. (I’m also trying to motivate to watch Liv Ullman’s adaptation of Kristin Lavransdatter.)

The big secret of adaptations is that change is necessary. Books and movies are two entirely different animals, and what works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on the screen. And the dirty corollary to that secret is that some successful, enjoyable books, when picked apart, reveal themselves to have major structural weaknesses that would prove deadly if left intact when transferred to the screen. Certain liberties must be taken. Too much fidelity can be a killer.

A recent example of this was the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada. Now, before you run me out of town on a rail, Meryl Streep was AMAZING. Her presence alone made that movie more than worth watching. BUT–there was a much better movie in that book. The adaptation was far to faithful to the story that Lauren Weisberger laid out, and unfortunately, the life Weisberger created for Andie is much too thin to hold the big screen. The adapters should have taken liberties with Andie and pushed her inner conflict–fashion vs. integrity–and spun it with a little All About Eve. I don’t believe the screenplay is deserving of a Writer’s Guild nomination because it is not a good adaptation. Though it is a good movie, in spite of the script, because of the performances.

My favorite book adaptation is Last of the Mohicans, because I find that book to be the epitome of boring. Michael Mann’s movie takes the essence of the film and the bones of the story, but makes some crucial changes that turn the movie into an unforgettable story. Changing Natty Bumppo’s name to Nathanial Poe (and casting Daniel Day-Lewis) was the first of many good alterations they made.

I was prepared to hate the new Bridge to Terabithia based on the trailer, but apparently the studio chose a marketing strategy that misrepresents the movie and has the filmmakers up in arms. So the jury’s still out on that one.

UPDATED because there’s something in the air.

Melanie at Indextrious Reader has been soaking up what she calles “Brit-erary adaptations.” She’s asking for your favorites in her comments.

Jill at Individual Take has some well-thought out opinions on adaptations.

And via Jill, I discovered Cam, who expounds specifically on Children of Men. I’ll be adding Cam’s blog to my Kindred Spirits list.


5 Responses to “Best Books to Movies”

  1. I’m so pissed about that trailer for “Terabithia”!!!

  2. I absolutely agree with you. Sometimes the attempt to move something from print to the screen is a wonderful litmus test. That’s why I was all the more pleased to see that some of the adaptations of Margery Allingham’s mysteries survived the transfer successfully.

  3. I’m not familiar with Allingham–what do you recommend to read?

  4. I’ve also been thinking about adaptations etc., brought on by the newest “Jane Eyre”. I’m glad to hear someone’s take on various attempts. It’s so hard to know if an adaptation will work or not, though with some, the movie turns out better than the book, I agree! (blasphemous, I fear.)

  5. Hi. I found you through Jill’s blog. Thanks for linking to me. The three of us were certainly on the same wavelength with posting about books adapted to film.

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