Our Saboteurs put their heads together and came up with their 10 favourite book to film adaptations. Some obvious choices, some not so obvious, but has your favourite made the cut? Let us know in the comments...
Submarine, the debut feature from Richard Ayoade, is an excellent adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s prize winning first novel. Oliver Tate (in a charismatic performance from Craig Roberts) is a slightly aspergers, precocious teenage boy who fancies himself as a French New Wave romantic. Oliver faces woeful teenage concerns in a self-righteous manner with a lot of humour. The voiceover and subtle comedy is reminiscent of Woody Allen, “I don’t know what I am yet, I’ve tried flipping coins, exclusively listening to French crooners, I’ve even had a brief art phase but nothing sticks…”
True to the novel, Submarine is refreshingly unsentimental about teens and life. Central to the narrative is Oliver’s morbid fixation with his parents’ sex life and losing his virginity to girlfriend Jordana. The sex scene is particularly hilarious with Jordana commenting on Oliver’s seductive set up remarking, “You’re a serial killer.”
The film looks stylish (playing with inter-titles, fragmentation, character colour schemes) without being pretentious. Set in Wales, Submarine is also a funny commentary on one of the most British topics: the middle class, somewhat lost in the film (Hello Harvey Weinstein!). Overall, Submarine is a vastly enjoyable adaptation with the added bonus of an excellent soundtrack by Alex Turner.
The Gospel According To St. Matthew
As Monty Python discovered a decade later, it’s quite hard to make fun of Jesus. Despite the many ignoble things done in his name, the Man himself is a pretty good egg. But this didn’t stop the misguided to attack Python for their portrayal of Christ and, when it was announced that Pasolini was planning a film of St Matthew’s gospel, it didn’t stop Christians fearing the worst.
After all, Pasolini was a Marxist, a homosexual and a fully-fledged troublemaker. And he’d already been prosecuted for alleged blasphemy due to his contribution to the portmanteau film RoGoPaG. So the Pope must have been cock-a-hoop by the thought of this pronounced atheist getting his hands on St Matthew.
But Pasolini was the perfect person to bring the gospel to life. He had no interest in portraying Christ as either a superhero or suffering fool. Instead, his Jesus is something of a firebrand, a rebel, who demands to be followed and appreciated. Those who fail to do this will suffer the consequences. Adhering fairly strictly to the text and using a mixture of non-actors and renowned intellectuals in the main roles, Pasolini created an entirely believable Biblical world. And consequently one of the most moving and most effective portrayals of Christ.
The literary world is filled with best-selling novels categorised as ‘unfilmable’. The general rule of thumb being that some books are simply too oblique, surreal or insular to lend themselves to more populist medium of film. Of course, that doesn’t seem to stop filmmakers, whose talent is matched only by their innate chutzpah, from tackling these well-loved but seemingly untouchable tomes.
Tom Twyker’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is just such a film. Readers of Patrick Süskind’s best-selling novel had marvelled at its grotesque beauty and uniquely evocative language, wondering how any director could possibly bring its complicated stank to life in any meaningful way. However, Twyker was more than up to the task, using flash-cut montages, lush cinematography and an OCD-level of detail, to give audiences a sensory overload. He even composed the beautiful and haunting score, which provided the perfect soundtrack to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s merciless misdeeds.
It’s not a perfect film by any means. Adherence to the book’s pointedly episodic structure highlights the simplicity of the narrative, and Dustin Hoffman overacts to the point of caricature. It’s also bizarre to note that, despite the fastidious recreation of 18th century France, the film’s stylists failed to create a single believable redhead. The story may be about fragrances, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was sponsored by Clairol.
Quibbles aside, Perfume has rightfully earned its place alongside Naked Lunch and American Psycho; two other unfilmable novels which made for great movies, despite the odds. Impressively, Twyker managed this without resorting to resurrecting John Waters’ infamous Odorama scratch-n-sniff cards to enhance the experience. Bucket of fish guts, anyone?
There is no question in my mind that the best ever book to film adaptation, without doubt and whilst there is a hole in my arse, is “Kes” from “A Kestrel for a Knave”. The book is but 20mm deep anyway so Loach was not having any problem leaving stuff out. I can’t separate the two, when I refer to “it” I mean both. They like a perfectly formed jewels. The book can be read in one night and I recommend that if you haven’t, you do. The film is perfectly cast and whilst I do enjoy the odd Shane Meadows offering, he could learn a lot from Loach about improvisation. Also check out Shooting Stars parody of Kes on YouTube. Vic Reeves as Colin Welland made me wet my pants and you can tell they love the film.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Arthur C Clarke’s future-predicting, ground-breaking, thought-provoking science-fiction Space Odyssey novel could only be directed by someone who shared a similar imagination. Stanley Kubrick applies his unique direction and vision to Clarke’s narrative to translate and express his personal interpretation of the novel.
From the evolution of man to the technological advancements of space exploration, the film stays very true to the key themes tackled in the novel. But more than anything else, Kubrick’s adaptation allowed for the fantastic visualisation of one of cinema’s most devilishly villainous characters, HAL.
Of course there are places where the novel and film differ in approach, which is only natural for a source material that relies so heavily on the individual’s interpretation. These minor details – including changing the location from Saturn to Jupiter and the appearance of the monolith, which was originally intended as a crystalline structure instead of the solid-black obelisk that dwarfs us – are the result of technical restraints due to the period it was produced, which is beautifully ironic.
Though it may have divided opinion upon release in 1968, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would later become one of the most compelling, allegorical and inspirational films of the science-fiction genre.
Requiem for a Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream is arguably one of the best anti-drug films to come out of Hollywood in the past few decades. Based on the acclaimed Hubert Selby Jr novel of the same name, the film explores addiction in its purest form.
The beauty of the film is that it itself is an addiction that sucks you in with its brilliant script, soundtrack, characterisation, and cinematography until you’re hooked, and then the inevitable happens.
The film depicts the gradual decline of heroin addicts Harry (Jared Leto), Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, who by the way is superb and needs more serious roles like this one), and Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who live for the drug but aspire to be better.
And then there’s Sara (Ellen Burstyn) Harry’s mother, whose addiction to diet pills is the saddest of them all as she, more than the rest, is portrayed as a victim of circumstance. Like Trainspotting, the film projects the effects that drugs has on the mind on screen, but unlike the Danny Boyle classic, there is no bleak humour, there is no comic relief at all. This film simply injects itself into your veins and stays there for a very long time.
So.. An adaptation and a Hollywood re-make. I wouldn’t usually touch this with a ten foot barge poll and initially I got on my high horse and said, ‘No.. Not even going to watch it when it comes to DVD.’ Having seen the Swedish trilogy I was already annoyed because I believed they just didn’t come up to scratch to the extraordinary trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson. What made me give it a try was what my dad and sister said, both lovers of the book too, when they came back from watching it at the cinema. They said it was good and that they really enjoyed the watch, but I wasn’t inclined to believe them. Then I asked, How did it end?’ ‘It ended as it did in the first book.’ they told me. Well.. this grabbed me. The Swedish films missed out this part, which devastated me because it missed out one of the most interesting character developments that then make the next two books so interesting. The American version’s dedication to the preservation of the literature and even the locations and settings is something that blew me away. I loved the story from the books an this film doesn’t mess with it. Brilliant.
The issues surrounding the adaptation of books into films forms a vast academic edifice, literally dozens of professors of philosophy have thought about it, but don’t read their articles, if you want a masterclass on adaptation look no further than the film adaptation Adaptation.
Multioscar nominated and cast from heaven- the film is a celluloidisation of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.
Adaptation was written by the Kaufman brothers, who take Orlean’s yawn inducing, clever but not clever, revelatory but not revelatory, expanded New York Times article and build themselves into the film.
We watch as (only Charlie in the film) charges himself with making a film in which nothing happens and for which the only justification of existence is that there is no other film about flowers in which nothing happens. Why should there be a film in which nothing happens? Because it would be more ‘true to life’.
The result is anything but- and without even the slightest hint of spoiler we can state that a lot of shit does happen, because after all ‘Nothing happens in the world!? Are you fucking crazy!?’.
The film is basically us watching Kaufman taking a stolid piece of dull pseudo-journalism and building film elements in one by one.
The function of the film seems in a strange way to act as an apologism for Hollywood; that car chases, and guns, and affairs, and weird green orchid-cocaine are in films because that’s what people need to see for a film to work, and not just the underclass- you, yes you, a New York Times reading culture-wannaby. Those things are exactly what you want, and those things are exactly why we go to see Adaptation at the cinema, while we leave the Orchid Thief on the coffee table to pick up dust.
Watching the film, it is up to you, as a viewer, to decide, like with all apologism, whether it is a revelation or an excuse.
The Green Mile
Adapting a film from a novel that contains a complex plot full of conflicting themes (racism, the supernatural and paedophilia least among them) had every chance of turning out badly and in less capable directorial hands it probably would have. However, on the whole, Stephen King novels have a tendency to translate well to the big screen (*turns blind eye to “Secret Window”) and thanks to Frank Darabont’s skilful handling of the source material combined with superb casting, “The Green Mile” is no different.
Just like the novel, the film features a range of highly compelling, stand-alone characters and Darabont expertly positions them in their respective plot lines in admirable fashion. No matter how minor the role, the casting is perfect, no easy feat when you consider the range of characters. Tom Hanks as kind but stern prison guard Paul Edgecombe was an obvious choice; he’s shown time and time again that he excels when cast as the ”moral compass,” but it is the emotionally nuanced interplay between Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan that gives the
film its heart. Acting powerhouse Sam Rockwell was an inspired choice for “Wild Bill” and with not a weak link among the stellar cast the list of standout performances is endless. Darabont’s talent as a director is in his ability to successfully showcase the minutiae of the novel without sacrificing the quality of the films’ pacing. The film has a running time of over three hours but the film’s unique mixture of humour, whimsy and horror will guarantee you won’t even feel it.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
The original Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was one of my favourite films growing up, and I recently re-discovered it and fell in love all over again. Despite the fact that the films takes massive liberties with Road Dahl’s story, to the point where Dahl apparently refused to watch it, it’s more than good enough piece to stand up against the original novel. Gene Wilder is perfect as Wonka, amiable and the same time as he is maniacal, as well as making what is, to my mind, the finest entrance of any character on screen – the hushed silence of the crowd, his extravagant but not-too-extravagant suit, the slight limp, and then the forward roll. Genius. Then there’s the magic and menace of the chocolate factory, the wonderfully composed songs, the inventive, psychedelic graphics during the Oompa Loompa scenes, and so much more that I don’t have the time to go into now. In fact, I’m just going to go and watch it again.
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