Thursday, November 10, 2005

BOOKS: I'm Ready for My Close-Up

Sources tell me that the newest adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opens in theatres tomorrow. As P&P is one of my favourite novels, this would be exciting news... except that I'm a parent, which means I HAVE NO LIFE AND WILL NEVER GO OUT, MUCH LESS SEE AN ENTIRE FEATURE-LENGTH FILM, EVER AGAIN.

Ahem. Let me begin again.

Book-to-movie transitions get a tough rap. I know I sure wouldn't want to be the person responsible for taking some book nerd's beloved classic and making it into a film. Can you imagine the geek carnage if Peter Jackson had fucked up
The Lord of the Rings? Can you IMAGINE? My own initial expectations (low) of the first LotR movie, and my own reaction (shocked) when it ended up being really, really good (unless you're Glark, in which case we must pity him for he is surely dead inside) are an indicator of one thing: when it comes to movie adaptations, most of us pretty much expect them to suck. For every Lord of the Rings, there are a hundred The Cat in the Hats waiting to make our jaws drop in amazement (not the good kind).

But forget about all that for now. Let's stop and take a moment to celebrate those rare occasions when those greedy Hollywood bastards didn't royally screw up.

Howard's End
This is another of my favourite books, and I am one tough bitch to please when my favourite books are movie-fied. And this tough bitch was pleased. Those Merchant-Ivory dudes know their way around a period movie, but really what makes this movie work is that it feels surprisingly contemporary. I've always thought that Howard's End is a timeless story, and in the wrong hands it could have been misinterpreted and made into a stuffy period piece. (Also, Emma Thompson is my secret celebrity girlfriend. Well, one of them.)

Now, I haven't actually read the book, but if I want my man to keep giving me the sugar, I have to include Jaws on this list, since it's one of his favourite movies. So here it is. For the record, it's pretty scary. I think this Spielberg fellow is going to go places.

The Shining
This is one of the horror novels I used to torture myself with when I was a kid. On the up side, it made growing up without a dad a lot more palatable. Who needs one of those croquet-mallet-wielding psychos prowling around the house causing trouble? Not me! Jack Nicholson is so perfectly perfect in this role, the scene in which -- already visibly losing it -- he sits Danny on his lap for some dad-and-son time makes me want to yell at the screen, "Jesus Christ, kid! Get the hell off his lap!" And Shelley Duvall turns in an awesome performance as Nicholson's on-screen wife, who is so subtly annoying you can kind of sympathize with him for going a little bananas.

Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
I'm talking about the first adaptation, starring Gene Wilder, not the new Johnny Depp version (see my comments above re: not having a life and never seeing a new release again). As in The Shining, big performances and big personalities are what make this movie work. Wilder rules every scene as the high-energy yet weirdly menacing Willy Wonka. And while I usually cringe at child actors, even they -- especially the kid who plays Veruca Salt -- turn in some solid work.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I know a lot of people hate this book, and by extension the movie, but I have to tell you I find both pretty entertaining. Come on. An ether-fuelled romp through '70s-era Vegas? What's not to love? My biggest problem with this book/movie is that I wasn't there. I thought Johnny Depp did a good job as Hunter S. Thompson, and I thought Benicio del Toro did a brilliant job of fleshing out the attorney, a character I found vague and sketchy in the book. As book-to-movie adaptations go, this one is pretty faithful, even down to the fact that the movie gets bogged down at the midway point, just like the book.

Hey, I've already admitted to liking Fear and Loathing. I may as well make a clean breast of it. I love this movie. And I'm a huge Jane Austen nut. Amy Heckerling's screenplay is genius. As adaptations of Emma go, this is the best I've seen. (Gwyneth Paltrow's passable -- yet strangely forgettable -- take on the role was just kind of meh.) Alicia Silverstone has a lot of explaining to do for her subsequent career choices, but she can still cruise a few more miles on the cred she earned playing privileged Beverly Hills princess Cher.


Anonymous said...

Fight Club, the third Harry Potter, and Bridget Jones's Diary were all pretty decent, too. Oh, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. -Amy

Essy said...

The Shining? Pfft! Not even! Ask me to name a successful Stephen King book to movie transition and there's no way The Shining makes the cut.

Shawshank Redemption is top of the list, with Stand By Me in second place. Green Mile a (very) distant third.

The Shining was a successful book and a successful movie, but I think it's ultimately an unsuccessful book-to-movie, because in order to make room for his set pieces (the elevators of blood and stuff), Kubrick pulled out the heart of the story.

The thing that always got me about the book is that so much of it is told from Jack's viewpoint and he's portrayed as a (somewhat) sympathetic character even as he's totally losing his shit. So you read it and you find yourself sort of nodding along with the thoughts of this unstable, violent alcoholic, who broke his kid's arm before there was any demonic posession going on. Then you lose your shit because you were just sympathising with a guy trying to axe murder a seven-year-old.

The movie made me jump, but it never really scared me the way the book did.

Romantic Pen Name said...

Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon---the movie adaptation hits it out of the park, even though in general I'm really not a fan of a lot of the actors they cast. Tobey Maguire, I detest, but he was born to play the role he plays in this one, and even Katie Holmes isn't too grating.

Counting it as a book, since it is, Ghost World did a good job getting the tone of the book on film.

The A&E Pride and Prejudice, although it cheats a little by being a miniseries and therefore having way more time to tell the story.

The two film adaptations of Lolita both make me nauseous.

Melissa said...

On the Jane Austen tip, I loved the movie version of Persuasion. I didn't think anything critical was left out and I loved how you could see Anne blossom over the course of the movie.

I have hated every adaptation of Little House on the Prairie (not sure if they showed them in Canada, but there have been several TV movies here). They always change all the details and I'm not sure why. Aren't the stories compelling enough as they are?

I completely sympathize with not being able to go to the movies. I just wrote a post about how I am determined to get out and see the next Harry Potter. (I know, I'm dead to you now.)

Anonymous said...

I would add Dolores Claiborne, Misery and Carrie to the Stephen King list. And I would put all three before The Green Mile, mainly because they aren't so friggin' slow.

And I thought The Hours was another pretty successful book-to-movie adaptation.

Anonymous said...

I think Glark did like Lord of the Rings -- he saw all three, which I didn't (I saw zero) -- he just hadn't read the books, but that's not his fault; we all know Glark can't read.

Anonymous said...

My problem with book-to-movie adaptations is usually that if I loved the book enough to want to see the movie, the movie will never be as good. Even perfectly good movies like The Hours just weren't that great to me because the book was so amazine. However, I will say that Terence Davies did an awesome job with The House of Mirth.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I disagree on the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. The movie bugged, big time. But Clueless is excellent, even if it did lead to the toruture of my parents as I quickly adopted "whatever" into my daily lexicon. Hey, I was in 8th grade. A LOT of slack is needed.

Essy said...

Carrie, I think has the same issues as the Shining. Successful book, successful movie, but not a faithful enough adaptation to make the top of my list.

Possibly I'm the only one judging by these criteria, but I think a really good BtM has to capture the feel of the original novel, as well as being a good standalone movie.

Misery on the other hand, I will totally give you, because while it lost a little gore on its way to the big screen it kept the claustrophobic feel of the book intact. So Misery knocks Green Mile from the number three spot for being a faithful adaptation and a better put together movie, pace-wise.

I haven't got around to reading Dolores Caliborne yet, so I can't call that one way or the other.

And getting back to the OP, Jaws excised a romantic subplot and saved a main character from aquatic doom, but despite the changes it kept the feel of the source novel, so it passes my test.

Y'know, for whatever that's worth...

Tammy said...

See? I knew this would happen. I'd shoot off my mouth and then have to correct myself later. Okay, here's my unasked-for two cents:

Definitely added to my list:

Adaptation - As I've already mentioned
Persuasion - I love both the book and the movie. Duh. I'm an idiot.
The Hours - Double-duh.
To Kill a Mockingbird - I can't believe I forgot this one. I feel shame.

Still not on my list, and here's why:

Fight Club - Haven't read the book, but the movie was not my cup of tea
third Harry Potter movie - Meh (sorry!)
Bridget Jones's Diary - I liked the book, but Renee Zellweger kind of bugs.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Haven't read it or seen it
Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, The Green Mile - Read these and liked them okay, but the movie versions were all way too sentimental and Tom-Hanksy for me.
Wonder Boys - Saw the movie and liked it, but haven't read the book. I keep meaning to, though.
Ghost World - Haven't read the book, but the movie was all right.
Lolita - I've read it, but I've only seen the version with Sue Lyons and she was grating, to say the least.
The Secret Garden - The book was kind of annoying, so I never saw the movie. (Sorry, Melissa! For what it's worth, I forgive you for going to see a movie before me.)
Sense and Sensibility - I've read the book and seen the Emma Thompson version of the movie, but I didn't put it on my list because it's my least favourite Austen novel. As much as Marianne bugged THE SHIT out of me, it bugged me even more how much she seems, I dunno, neutered at the end of the story.
Remains of the Day - I only read the book a few months ago, and loved it, but I haven't watched the movie yet. Hmm... I should get on that.
The Princess Bride - I like the movie, but I've never read the book.
Dolores Claiborne - Read it, but didn't like it enough to see the movie.
Misery and Carrie - Read them both and saw the movies, but didn't love either.
Of Mice and Men - Of course I love this book because I love almost everything Steinbeck ever wrote, but I have to confess that I can't watch the Gary Sinise version of the movie. Not because I think it'll be bad but because I have this feeling it'll make me cry like a baby. Rusty and I both got all choked up just watching the trailer, and it was then that we agreed it was probably the best movie we'll never see.

Wing, I think I come by my thinking that Glark didn't like LotR through Rusty, who told me that Glark told him that it was just "okay". Rusty was, I believe, both shocked AND appalled.

For what it's worth, I agree with tuckova's definition of a good book-to-movie:

"But now I think Goldman did a great job of adapting that book, because he built the parts that made it a great movie into the movie and left the parts that made it a great book... in the book."

I think that a lot of adaptations get bogged down in trying to be overly faithful to the text. A successful film is one that isn't afraid to deviate from the book in order to have its own integrity.

Okay, so now I'm up to all the fingers on both hands. Still no toes, though.

Matthew E said...

Movies that were better than the book:

- Forrest Gump. (I already said in the recent funny-books thread that I hated Gump-the-book. I didn't hate the movie, although I understand why other people did.)

- Wag the Dog. (Decent movie, based on a novel called 'American Hero', which is almost unreadable.)

- The African Queen. (Great movie. Based on C.S. Forester's novel of the same name, and is better than the novel, because a) Bogart's character is more fun than the guy in the book, and b) the movie wisely discards the stupid ending that the book has.)

- The Maltese Falcon isn't better than Dashiell Hammett's novel, but it is exactly as good.

- The Princess Bride was not better than the novel. It wasn't as good, and it wasn't almost as good. It was, however, good.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, definitely read The Princess Bride. The majority of the backstories of Inigo and Fezzik are left out (which, as tuckova said, was a good thing). I haven't read it for a long time, but I remember finding the descriptions of the torture machine they use on Wesley fascinating. I may have just been a weird kid.

Joie de Vivre said...

Okay, that's it, I need to add my two cents..

The Princess Bride? A good movie? Puh. Leese. You would only say that if you never read the book. Anyone who read the book would agree the movie was a CRUSHING disappointment. Where was the long, green night? Where was Fezzick (sorry, I can't understand a word of Andre The Giant's dialog)? Where was the budget for the R.O.U.S.s and the dive into the snow pits?

And as for Tuckova's comments re: Morgenstein...for shame! "Booo! Booo! Bow to the queen of refuse" for suggesting it's not real!

Phew. I feel better...

How about books they *should* make into movies??

#1) Bel Canto: it all takes place in, like, three rooms so better get Good Actors!

Em said...

Sense and Sensibility would have been better if Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman had ended up together and rode off into the sunset, saving the world from its own stupidity.
The Secret Garden movie I really enjoyed, if only because of the scenery and Dame Maggie Smith. And it's kind of fun to watch Mary and Colin try to out-bitch each other. The book was a little *eh,* but in terms of annoying: oh the musical is SO much worse. I can still see snippets of it in my head and it makes me want to cry. (Except one part where a single dancer very obviously screwed up and I was the only one laughing.) They change minor/dead character's names to FLOWER names, just because they can and they want me to hear other people go 'ohhhh isn't it just fantastic with the flower motif...all these subtle touches...'
It's the Secret Fucking GARDEN. Flowers aren't a motif, they're the STORY. God, my eyes hurt.

P.S. Am going to see new P&P for second time tonight in ridiculously hard to find independant theatre. It's only hard to find because it's directly across the street from a gigantic cineplex chain movie theatre, and I get easily distracted by big shiny lights, so yeah, I never knew it existed. >_<