Unlike most voracious readers, I am a fan of many film adaptations of books. Sure, there are epic failures–every adaptation of a brilliant graphic novel by Alan Moore (From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, and the exceptionally awful Watchmen)–but, in my mind, there are far more successes or at least interesting attempts to translate books into movies and TV shows.
What initially prompted the idea for this post was the debut of Under the Dome on CBS. My first thoughts were a little apprehensive: the novel takes place over a week–but the series has an open-ended timeline, the novel had some violent scenes that I would not be able to view on screen–will those be included? and so on and so forth. Then I took a deep breath. I loved the novel Under the Dome, but the fastest way to insure that I didn’t enjoy the TV series would be to look at the TV show and the novel in the same way. Movies and television series are not books, if we expect them to be we will be disappointed, but if you appreciate the arc and characters of a particular story and want to see what other creative people will do with that, then you’re setting yourself up to be entertained.
As of today, over 100 of Stephen King’s novels, novellas, and short stories have been adapted as shorts and feature length films. With a number that big there are bound to be some disappointments, some successes and a whole lot of mediocrity.
My two favorite SK adaptations are:
The Shawshank Redemption: Directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Two convicts never give up the dream of freedom and together they turn hope and friendship into an uplifting bond no prison can ever take away.
Misery: Directed by Rob Reiner and starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. After an almost fatal car crash, novelist Paul Sheldon finds himself being nursed by a deranged fan who holds him captive.
In my opinion, the author with the best track record regarding adaptations of his work is Dennis Lehane. Three of his books have been adapted to film:
Mystic River: Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Boston childhood friends Jimmy, Sean and Dave are reunited after a brutal murder. Reformed convict Jimmy and his devoted wife Annabeth find out that their teenage daughter Katie has been beaten and killed. Jimmy’s old friend Sean is the homicide detective assigned to the case. Jimmy gets his relatives, the Savage brothers, to conduct their own investigation. Jimmy and Sean soon suspect their old pal Dave, who now lives a quiet life, but harbors some disturbing secrets of his own.
Gone Baby Gone: Directed by Ben Affleck and starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan. Amanda McCready is a 4-year-old who has disappeared from her Boston home. The police make little headway in solving the case, so the girl’s aunt hires Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, private detectives. They freely admit that they have little experience with this type of case, but the family wants them for two reasons: they’re not cops and they know the tough neighborhood in which they all live. As the case progresses, Patrick and Angie must face drug dealers, gangs, and pedophiles; and ultimately a moral dilemma that tears them apart.
Shutter Island: Directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams. When U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels arrives at the asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, what starts as a routine investigation quickly takes a sinister turn. As the investigation unfolds and Daniels uncovers more shocking and terrifying truths about the island, he also learns there are some places that never let you go.
My two favorite adaptations of graphic novels are:
A History of Violence: Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen and Mario Bello. Tom is a loving, well-respected family man from a small Indiana town. When two criminals show up at his diner, Tom is forced to take action and thwart the robbery attempt. Suddenly heralded as a local hero who took the courage to stand up to crime, people look up to Tom as a man of high moral regard. But all the media attention attracts the likes of the mob, who show up at Tom’s doorstep. Is it a case of mistaken identity or does Tom have a history that no one knows about?
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Directed by Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Meet charming and jobless Scott Pilgrim. A bass guitarist for garage band Sex Bob-omb, the 22-year-old has just met the girl of his dreams, literally. The only catch to winning Ramona Flowers? Her seven evil exes are coming to kill him. As Scott gets closer to Ramona, he must face an increasingly vicious rogues’ gallery from her past, from infamous skateboarders to vegan rock stars and fearsome identical twins. If he hopes to win his true love, he must vanquish them all.
Upcoming adaptations I am especially excited about:
Horns by Joe Hill is being adapted as a feature length film by the director Alexandre Aja and will star Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role. The novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman is being developed as a series by HBO and in an interesting development the television series will not just be an adaptation of the book. Gaiman will also be writing the continuation of Shadow’s story for later seasons of the show.
When it comes to adaptations, here’s some unsolicited advice: Wait between reading the book and watching the movie. It’s better to just remember the bare bones of a beloved novel when seeing an adaptation. The only time this isn’t necessary is if you are a “superfan” of the story: this is why most LOTR and HP fans (although obsessive about the books) still dearly love the films. There is also a wonderful sense of community surrounding the books and the movies in both of these instances.
~ Patricia Moore is a part-time librarian at the OWL (now on maternity leave); the last movie adaptation she saw and loved was Much Ado About Nothing. What are your favorite (or least favorite) adaptations?