Film Adaptations: Good & Bad


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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I'm currently reading The Book Thief which was turned into a film to mixed reviews.

The Book Thief (film) - Wikipedia

I haven't seen the film yet, but it set me to wondering which books have been well-adapted. We looked at Who Stars in the Film of your Novel? a while ago, but which dramatised versions of books do you like and loath?

I admire what Peter Jackson did with the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, making them accessible to a modern audience.

Films that I'll forever avoid watching include the travesty of The Golden Compass, which eviscerated the religious theme from Philip Pullman's first story in His Dark Materials trilogy. It did poorly at the box office, meaning plans to adapt the next two books were scrapped. Thankfully, the BBC is currently adapting the trilogy and have promised to stay loyal to the books.

I won't ever watch Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, which is a ludicrous example of miscasting. Lee Child's hero is 6' 4" tall and ruggedly built. Tom Cruise is undoubtedly fit, but he's a claimed 5' 8".

My favourite adaptations of books were shown in a double bill that I saw in 1973, an experience I'll never forget. One film was predominately white snow with splashes of red blood, the other dominated by green foliage and water with splashes of red blood,

Deliverance was written by James Dickey, who had a bit part in the film. Jeremiah Johnson was based on a true character described in Robert Bunker's book Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson and Vardis Fisher's Mountain Man. The liver-eating part wasn't included in the film but it's what Jeremiah Johnson did to his slain Crow enemies. Robert Redford and director Sidney Pollack have both said that it's one of their favourite films.

Do you have a cherished adaptation...or did your favourite story get butchered by Hollywood or Netflix?

Which book or book series cries out to be adapted?

Are there any books you think are unfilmable? They said that about The Lord Of The Rings.

I agree that Jackson did a good job with Lord of the Rings. I watched a number of the "extra" documentaries included in the DVD releases and there's some interesting stuff there from the screen-writers/adapters about the thought that went into the adaptation and why certain things were tweaked, changed or left out. Very instructive for writers, especially those with a hankering for film.

I had eshewed Tolkein as a reader until I saw The Fellowship Of The Ring and my enjoyment of the film encouraged me to finally sit down and read the book. Which I enjoyed (with reservations). Ultimately, I prefer the film version.

I also agree with you about The Golden Compass. It was an okay film, but it definitely didn't do justice to the book. Incidentally, I saw the two-part theatre adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy and LOVED it. Fantastic. But might have been hard work to watch if you hadn't already devoured the books.

I thought the adaptations of the Harry Potter series were, on the whole, quite good and got better as the films (and the books) went along. There were a couple of changes made by the film-makers which I actually prefer to JK Rowling's original story. Mind you, the final showdown in Deathly Hallows went the other way and wasn't as well handled in the film version. To put a hugely loved series on film without alienating the existing fans is quite a feat and I think the HP franchise by-and-large pulled it off.

The attempt to put Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series on screen didn't start well for fans of the books, which may explain why we haven't heard much more about that one...

Some of the Agatha Christie film adaptations were well done. Murder On The Orient Express, for example.

Graphic novels/comic books have had mixed fortunes at the cinema. There have been some cracking adaptations of the DC/Marvel etc. adventures and likewise some stinkers.

The Tin Tin movie was pants, but I'm not a particular fan of the books either. My kids do like the books, but they were, at best, lukewarm about the film.

The director's cut of Blade Runner, which was an adaptation of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick and that was an example of a film building on the idea of the original in an exciting way (I think!)

The adaptation of Arthur C.Clark's 2001 A Space Odyssey was iconic.
I thought Trainspotting was a great adaptation. It added an extra dimension to the book and brought its own style.

I've seen Chapters 1 and 2 of the recent IT adaptation (Stephen King) - thought 1 did a good job (and wisely dispensed with a particularly questionable plot point), but 2 leaned a bit too heavily on the CGI monsters unfortunately.

I get really bored by book adaptations that just seem to be the book translated literally to the screen without much thought for the potential of the different medium. And the film of Cosmopolis - a book I really liked - was godawful.
Loved The Outsiders. In a similar vein of young actors before they went huge how about Never Let Me Go? Cary Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightly were all great I thought, though I’m not sure too many people watched it.
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