In honour of finally opening an official Book Reviews Section on the site, I'm finally posting a feature on book to film adaptations that Lyndsey put together about a year ago when we originally had the idea. If you're interested in reviewing books for the site, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s nothing in this life as subjective as taste - I’m sure I’m paraphrasing but we can let it slide. So in the spirit of personal taste I propose not a top 10 (surely only someone who’s read EVERY book and seen EVERY film can make that kind of assessment) but merely 10 great films taken from books and the reasons why. There’s some popular choices and some stolen from nearest and dearest - the comments section will be open for you to tell me how wrong I am and what makes it onto your list so feel free to chip in - let’s celebrate the wonders of personal taste.
In no particular order:
When I first read this novel I took comfort from the knowledge that Patrick Bateman could never exist. No man is that handsome, successful, refined, careless and absolutely, terrifyingly insane. Phew. Then Christian Bale came along and the world went upside down again. There are so many ways to interpret America Psycho, which is one of the reasons it was often labelled as unfilmable, and most directors saw the multiple narratives, excessive gore and pornographic imagery as impossible to pin down to film. Mary Harron found a narrative through which to tell Bateman’s story and made what I believe to be a successful version. She reads the novel in her own way - in this instance as a satire on American capitalist consumerism - and offers the viewer her perspective on a complicated and confusing narrative. She doesn’t shy away from the violence but instead uses it to make us question the reality of Bateman’s world and the different versions of himself he performs. She doesn’t attempt to film the novel so she doesn’t fall foul of the pitfalls of offering lots of threads for us to make sense of ourselves. Harron does a stand up job of giving us a version of events to either take or leave, and she presents the most terrifying and perfect version of Bateman I could have ever imagined. This film works because it doesn’t try to do everything - but what it does tackle it does well.
To Kill a Mockingbird
This one is a no brainer to be honest – it’s a truly ground breaking novel that is dealt with wonderfully on film (never seen it? It’s on pretty much weekly in the recesses of the various ITV channels). The triumph of the novel is the decision to tell it from the point of view of Scout, Atticus Finch’s 8 year old daughter who bears witness to the challenge her father faces defending a black man charged with raping a white woman. Scout’s point of view allows the novel to examine the nature of prejudice, and the inability of the town and it’s people to see past the man’s skin colour to the facts of his accused crime. The film manages to give this sense of childlike confusion while offering a robust and moving examination of Atticus’ struggle between personal, social and professional.
I know a few people who didn’t like this film, particularly those who expected an apocalypse movie about survival. (The Book of Eli is a terrible example of this). For those of us who knew the novel and its wastelands, the film was a triumph of subtlety and performance. The man and his boy are not looking for a saviour or a cure to the end of the world, and in neither book nor film is there any great explanation of what caused the fires that have ravaged the landscape. The film chooses to explore the missing wife and mother of this family, and her decision to take her own life, but that is its only relent to the fragmented and immediate narrative of McCarthy’s original novel. It is neither an easy book to read or film to watch, and the level of performance demanded from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee really delivers on screen. Filmed in a post Katrina New Orleans, the focus of the film remains the focus of the novel - the last hopes of a father trying to offer his one child a view of the world that is innocent from the devastation they are surrounded by. Dislike of the film seems to stem from its lack of context or explanation, which is founded if you’re hoping to see a post apocalyptic disaster movie. The Road is a story without hope but with the bond of love and protection firmly unbreakable to the end. It’s an amazing and unsettling book that is carefully and humbly presented through a considered and delicate directorial eye. It doesn’t matter which way around you do it, you should read it and see it for yourself.
No Country for Old Men
Continuing on the McCarthy theme, the Coen brothers’ 2007 adaptation of McCarthy’s novel is another remarkable book to film adaptation. The novel itself is a meandering, disjointed and utterly brutal affair, and the weary Sherrif Bell brings the horrors of human capabilities to life through a reflective and horrified narration. Tommy Lee Jones brings Bell to life, and his narration throughout the film brings the sense of calm that threads through the novel, even as Moss flees for his life from the ruthless henchmen Chigurh. Utterly captivating in it’s horror and violence, the film captures the snowball effect of the book perfectly and is often two steps behind Chigurh, who has a terrifying ability to hunt and kill individuals. The film captures perfectly Bell's weariness at the world and its growing horror, and its abrupt ending is testament to the Coens' understanding of McCarthy’s intention: the violence, revenge and madness cannot be stopped. A chilling novel, an unsettling film and a brilliant adaptation.
Stand By Me
King’s short stories are arguably some of the best, most interesting vignettes of American life on offer in literature. Stand By Me is a classic favourite for many cinema fans, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a lovely short story about the nature of growing up and the horror of the moment you realise your own mortality. It is a great showcase for the young River Pheonix and Keifer Sutherland, and captures the boys' fear, excitement and sense of moving towards adulthood perfectly. The mood of the late 50’s America and the fear of nuclear threat is played out remarkably well in the boys' terror of being attacked by the older boys, and the strength of performance from the teen cast make this film a triumph of coming of age cinema.
Where the Wild Things Are
Not quite a proper book but it’s staying. The film, based on a 10page picture book explores the spaces between the pages and the reasons for escaping into our own fantasies. Max is an imperfect and raucous child who escapes to where the wild things are after being sent to bed with no supper. The film takes this central idea and explores the nature of childhood and self awareness beautifully. When Max realises the reason people might not like him sometimes is because sometimes he’s not a nice person I was moved by the maturity of his realisation and delicacy with which this was dealt with. The film brings the book entirely to life with remarkable precision and clarity and gives the original source material a new breath of life and understanding. Moving, engaging and entirely heartbreaking, a rare example where the idea of a book can take a film into entirely new places.
The book is a tome of information; dates, places, names, numbers. It is a hugely intriguing but difficult book to read, both in terms of subject matter and style. The film does an incredible job of taking all of that information and offering it in a new way to the reader. It is sensitive and considerate and retains the level of intimacy and privacy about Schindler himself that is present in the book. It is remarkably well cast (Ralph Fiennes in a stand out role) and truly engages the viewer to the horrors of the situation and the work of one man to make a small difference to the lives of the German Jews. It is beautifully lit (as usual with Spielberg’s passion projects) and you can see the care and attention to detail and accuracy that has gone into this film. The film makes the list as it takes a challenging book and offers the reader a way in through all of the facts and into the heart of the story.
The Princess Bride
(With thanks to Hobat (and Rotten Tomatoes for the synposis)
“When the lovely Buttercup is kidnapped by a ghastly gang intent on fermenting an international incident they find they are pursued by the Dread Pirate Roberts who just might be Westley, her one true love. The stage is set for swordfights, monsters, and tortures – but will Grandpa be allowed to finish telling the story with all these kissy bits?” This film is a proper soul warmer, it’s funny, romantic, silly, full of wit and charm and entirely reflective of the fabulous book from whence it came. It captures the true power of good storytelling while retaining a decidedly adult tongue in cheek approach to it’s own reverence. Perfect Saturday afternoon movie out of a perfect, stay in bed, novel.
Lord of the Rings
Guaranteed to divide but I am putting my post up in this corner. I love the books and I love the films. I admire the decisions made by the screenwriters to ensure the audiences engaged with the storyline of the books and their reluctance to back down when the purists got all shrieky. But mostly I love the battle at Helm’s Deep, I love Viggo Mortensen and I love the fact that they’ve built the world of Middle Earth in its entirety. Who cares about Bombadil or if Awren is in the appendices – when presented with 12 hours of wonder and amazement, littered with incredible special effects and Gandalf kicking ass. Great books, great films – who cares if they’re not the same, I love them alike!
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Crazy book – crazy film. Both are a bit of a mind boggle and both often leave you feeling confused and a bit lost (not surprising considering the content). Thompson’s drug addled narrative about a road trip to Las Vegas makes for a fascinating and highly charged read, and Gillam feeds this anarchy and chaos into the film with perfect clarity. The buzz is quite often around Johnny Depp’s performance but the true star of the film is Benico Del Toro, who plays the overweight paranoid and aggressive lawyer to perfection. The toaster in the bathtub scene shows a subtlety and understanding of character within Del Toro that is often lost behind media scuffle about Depp’s haircut. A must read book challenged by a brave and often off the wall director.
Notable mentions go to:
Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, Howl’s Moving Castle, Trainspotting, Perfume, The Hours, Stardust, Fight Club.
Think we’ve missed some (of course we have!) or disagree violently with my choices (I understand, honestly) then let us know in the comments below - we might even make a new list based on your collective wisdom!