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Top 5 book-to-film adaptations that worked

11th November 2012

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With the recent release of the World War Z trailer, the angry people of the internet (You Tube, to be specific) have risen up and started shaking their unmerciful, egomaniacal heads in disgust over the prospect of Max Brookes’s book being “maimed” by Paramount.

You wouldn’t think that a trailer, which lasts for less than three minutes, could receive so many hateful, blunt and objective criticisms. Well, it does. Clearly, You Tube is full of very smart people, who are all capable of making very astute observations…

The comments range from the absolute ridiculous to the borderline psychotic. One person genuinely claims to have studied zombies for “some time” and goes on to say that the trailer doesn’t portray them correctly. I suppose we all need a hobby, but try not to take the word of an undead anthropologist too seriously. Unfortunately, the people who agree with this zombie zealot are fan boys of the original book, which I’m sure is a great read, however, it’s no reason to discredit the film before it’s even come out.

Some of the best films in the world have their origins grounded in books. I’ll show you why film adaptations can be a fantastic thing and why cinema can sometimes be even better than its wordy predecessors.

There are an abundance of adaptations out there; unfortunately I can’t say the same for my writing space, so I’m just going to pick my five favourite films that have been adapted from books. These are films that can hold their own, they don’t leave you feeling like you’re missing something, when you’re done watching these; people don’t usually tell you to read the book.

5. Psycho 

The first is Psycho, which has its roots firmly placed in the novel by Robert Bloch, however, it was Alfred Hitchcock that allowed it to flourish and grow. He provided the sinister mood and heart clenching tension that books couldn’t provide. A book can’t make you jump; a book also can’t offer the same kind of graphical terrors; the shower scene and the revelation of the “mother” are pieces that can only be understood through visual stimulation.

This effect of cinema has been criticised for causing people to “lose” their imagination, but it’s films like ‘Psycho’ that have offered us new paths of creativity and expression. The film actually follows the book entirely and therefore credit should first be given to Bloch, however, it was Hitchcock that created a world we’d remember.

4. The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has often been criticised for not being true to J.R.R Tolkien’s original idea of “Middle Earth”. These criticisms have primarily come from the late author’s family and I agree that the books may be better but only a cynical, stubborn denier would say that the films can’t stand on their own two feet.

Let’s face it, they’re awesome and though the films have often been condemned for missing out large chunks from the books, these are often irrelevant chunks to the main story that fan boys drool over. Plus, nobody wants to sit in the cinema for six hours listening to the ramblings of Tom Bombadil. For starters, your popcorn is going to run out.

3. Blade Runner

Do you dream of electric sheep? If the answer is yes, then according to Philip K. Dick, you’re an android and probably wouldn’t enjoy this next film. Blade Runner, which is directed by Ridley Scott, is heavily based on the novel (‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep?’) by the fore mentioned Sci-Fi writer. The film came out in 1982 and starred Harrison Ford as the roguish Deckard, who hunts androids that need to be “retired”.

 Through its dark atmosphere and eerie music, Blade Runner manages to create a world that I bet wasn’t too far off what the readers of Philip K Dick’s novel had in their head when the book was first published in 1968. Just like the novel, the film forces you to think deeply about aspects of human morality and what is real. Like so many other film adaptations, sticking closely to the book is its biggest reason for success. However, this isn’t a pre-requisite for a good film as we see with my next choice.

2. A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange was written by Anthony Burgess. Much of Burgess’s credit was taken from him and placed in the lap of Stanley Kubrick, who has been accused of misinterpreting the controversial novel. Burgess is quoted saying: “The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation.”

Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece and visually stunning. It’s creepy and timeless in its ability to disturb audiences, yet the director’s disregard for the original author is a bit of a damaging aspect to the reputation of the film. However, it’s a superb piece of cinema which provides a realistic look at the human condition within the world of sex and violence. Kubrick’s own twist on it is arguably better than the novel.

1. The Godfather

The final film in our odyssey of adaptations is The Godfather; it was inevitable that it was going to be this. Not only because this is an amazing film but because it also appeases the long battle between novels and film as Mario Puzo, the original author, assisted Francis Ford Coppola on writing the screenplay to the 1972 masterpiece.

This is possibly what makes ‘The Godfather’ such a success, that and the immense acting from Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and many others. Coppola originally had an uphill struggle with Paramount to cast Brando and Pacino, Brando was believed to be a difficult person on set and Pacino wasn’t well known at this stage of his career. We’re thankful he pushed the issue as the gangster epic wouldn’t have been the same without these two.

Cinema like this will always keep our predetermined views of adaptations in check.

Don’t judge a film by its book.

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