Nothing crushes the literature-lover’s soul quite like the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of a movie adaptation butchering a beloved book. See: The Scarlet Letter-Demi Moore edition, the horrendous 2002 The Time Machine, and sadly many, many more.
And while it’s nigh-impossible to satisfy the overarching standards of a literature lover, sometimes a director gets it so close to right, with the cast, the writing, the ending that actually matches!
I limited myself to books I’ve actually read and movies I’ve actually seen – duh – so don’t get uppity if your favorite isn’t here. I also limited myself to my own opinion, so there’s that too.
I’m just bein’ sassy, y’all.
The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern William Goldman
The Princess Bride (1987), directed by Rob Reiner
With most book-to-films, I usually think the book is better than the movie, but let’s get real y’all – hardly anyone even realizes The Princess Bride is an actual book. In this instance, the movie is far more beloved. Adventure! Pirates! Giants! Kidnapping! Mind games!
I thought Buttercup was the prettiest princess ever, but I still contend that she would’ve known the Dread Pirate Roberts was Westley. You are in love with the man, Buttercup!
Also, the book confused me at first because Goldman pretends like he’s abridging the work of another author, S. Morgenstern, and just adding commentary here and there. I was like, “Geez, stop putting your two cents in, I just want to read the story!” In actuality, there is no Morgenstern, the writing is all Goldman’s, and I had yet to learn the meaning of a “literary device.” I was young, y’all.
Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
(2001-2011), directed by a bunch of people, but who cares about that
No movie could ever, ever touch the books in my mind because they are so a part of me and my growing up, but props to all these guys for trying. I genuinely liked most of their casting choices, especially Emma Watson as Hermione. I liked some more than others: Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, and Deathly Hallows. Order of the Phoenix disappointed me, but Book Five is arguably my favorite, so that’s a hard sell.
What the films did was to make the magic come alive a little more and seem more viable and concrete. And every time I open one of the books, I pretty much hear the music score start up in my head.
Pride & Prejudice (2005), directed by Joe Wright
I know someone in a corset somewhere is screaming and melting into a puddle of goo because it’s not the BBC miniseries I’m mentioning here, but guys, a miniseries would be cheating. That’s one book in 5-6 hours. “But Colin Firth is the only Mr. Darcy!” Well, right you are, but it’s still a miniseries, so let’s all just get over it.
The cast are all extremely pretty but still competent – Jena Pyle makes a good, bratty Kitty – and the book’s material is covered well, except those couple of lines where I was like, “Hello, Mr. Bennet said that, not Elizabeth.” But these are trifles. Trifles!
Personally, I think Joe Wright did a lovely adaptation, with a lovely cast, lovely music, lovely scenery – IT’S ALL SO LOVELY. I longed for someone to propose to me at sunrise, at least until I remembered I’m not a morning person. But guess what, I really like Keira Knightley, and I hope Joe Wright uses her in every single period piece he makes, and they form a Depp-Burton bond that isn’t Depp-Burton at all, because it will never cease to be awesome.
Okay. Moving on.
Cold Mountain (2003), directed by Anthony Minghella
I read the book in like 7th grade and loved it and then saw the movie a year or two later. Although, my motivation for seeing the movie had more to do with my Jude Law obsession at the time (shortly waned and then plummeted). It was rated R, so my dad took me to see it. Well, that was a bad move, guys. I spent many a scene crouched over my movie chair arm, face burning, especially the awkward kitchen scene and the sexy woodshed (was it a woodshed?) scene.
The movie stayed true to the book, even the not-so-happy ending, which Hollywood could have easily changed. Of course, the standout thing that everyone remembers is Renee Zellweger winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Ruby. I don’t blame them; Ruby was hardcore, and a heck of a lot cooler than whiny Ada. I wanted to kill chickens and harvest corn with her.
And sometimes, we still think about roaming the mountains barefoot with Jack White, singing “You Will Be My Ain True Love.” Right? Right?!
The Great Gatsby, by the slickest dude ever, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby (1974), directed by some guy who’s not as slick as F. Scott or Robert Redford
Actually, I remember nothing about this movie, which might mean it’s not good at all. I just remember how dashing Robert Redford looked and how Mia Farrow obviously wanted me to hate her. Here’s hoping that the 2013 adaptation makes Leo equally dashing and Carey Mulligan equally unlikable. Actually no, Carey, I don’t want to hate you! I love you!
Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), directed by Hayao Miyazaki
This is my favorite Miyazaki – and not just because Christian Bale’s voice is Howl’s in the English dub. His movies are just exquisite and beautiful. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2005 Academy Awards, but lost to Wallace & Gromit. But yes, it’s also based on a book I read and loved when I was super young.
The fantasy genre was my go-to in the elementary days, and I read quite a few of Diana Wynne Jones’s. It’s about a young girl named Sophie who works in a hat shop and ticks off the Witch of the Waste, who then turns her into an old woman as punishment. Old Sophie goes to work for the supposedly evil wizard Howl in his flippin’ awesome castle, moved around by a fire demon named Calcifer. If “fire demon” makes you hesitate, Billy Crystal is his voice in the movie, so, yeah, now it’s carefree again.
Both the book and the movie are mostly comical – Howl is hilariously vain and narcissistic – but the characters run deep and are surprisingly complex. And whether or not Sophie starts to fall in love with Howl and whether or not the curse is ever lifted from her…well…why don’t you read it or see it yourself?
The Shining, by Stephen King
The Shining (1980), directed by Stanley Kubrick
Often the standard for a “good” adaptation seems to be how faithful the movie stays to the story. But something should be said for a movie that doesn’t try to mirror the book, rather, successfully does its own thing while still reflecting much of what makes the book great. Stephen King famously doesn’t like Kubrick’s take on The Shining. I love both.The movie changed some of the book’s key points – and I mean key – but it’s absolutely one of my favorite horror films of all time. It creates the same tightly wound paranoia that the book does, and Jack Nicholson is on the entire time. Now, where the madness of Jack Torrance comes from, be it supernatural or inner demons, well, that’s for you to decide whether you fall in the King or Kubrick camp.
Part 2 will continue tomorrow. In the meantime, what are some of the worst adaptations you’ve seen?