14 Book-to-Film Adaptations That Don’t Suck (Part 2)

The Book:
Jane Eyre,
by Charlotte Brontë

The Movie:
Jane Eyre (2011),directed by Cary Fukunaga

There are about a dozen adaptations of this book in the cinemasphere, but I chose the most recent one. It’s the newest film overall on this list. I very nearly included the 1996 version with Charlotte Gainsbourg because I do like it, but Fukunaga’s is better. William Hurt is just not Mr. Rochester-y enough.

Michael Fassbender – or, as I say, “Michael Fassbender, ja?” in a terrible German accent – is a much better casting choice. Gruff, kinda scary, capable of growing a fearsome red beard…yeah, you’re a believer now. But it’s Mia Wasikowska who makes the film and embodies our beloved plain Jane of the moors. The film is quiet and sparse but with all this underlying, restrained tension and passion. Just like the book! Those Brontës had some issues.

The Book:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

The Movie:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), directed by Milos Forman

In a nutshell, the story shows the inner workings of a psychiatric hospital and its patients, doctors, and nurses. It examines and questions many of the institutional processes and basic human rights. The main character, Randle Patrick McMurphy, enters the hospital by faking insanity, thinking it’ll be a better way to serve out the rest of his prison sentence.

Yeah, it turns out real swell.

This slim little book was required reading in English class, and then the movie was required viewing in my “Film as Literature” college class, although I’d seen it sometime before. Basically, it’s a classic, a must, on both ends. I prefer the film for Jack Nicholson and the other patients’ antics, but I prefer the book’s rendering of Ms. Ratchet as evil incarnate. The film won every major Academy Award in ’75, which hadn’t happened since It Happened One Night in ’34.

Pretty good adaptation, I guess.

The Book:
The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Movie:
The Virgin Suicides (1999),directed by Sofia Coppola

All right y’all, this is where things get dark, if you couldn’t tell by the title. Which can be misleading, as it makes it sound like a weird, sacrificial cult story, but it isn’t. It is strange and sad though. The book, set in the ‘70s and narrated by a group of neighborhood boys, speaks of the five Lisbon sisters, the youngest of whom commits suicide early on.

Sofia Coppola directed the movie, and I often seesaw in my opinion of her, but this movie’s incredible. It captures the book’s mood so well. Kirsten Dunst plays the most memorable sister, Lux, and I’ve always kind of adored her. In the story, the sisters become shut-ins after Lux breaks curfew – over a boy, of course, played by Josh Hartnett. (As an aside, what the heck happened to Josh Hartnett? If anyone finds out, let me know.) I don’t really think it would be “ruining it” to say what happens next, but you can read it and see it for yourself.

The Book:
American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis

(PS, can you imagine how sucky it must be to be the guy whose face they used for that cover? Maaaaan.)

The Movie:
American Psycho (2000), directed by Stuart Gordon David Cronenberg Mary Harron Oliver Stone Mary Harron

Ok, you know how I said “this is where things get dark” in the last entry? Well, this is where things get dark and then go to die. Some of that “ultraviolence,” as Alex would say.

For the record, I would like to know what Bret Easton Ellis sees in his head every day. It must be a pretty nightmarish landscape. Reading a fictional book – a book! – has never left me quite as nauseated as this one did. I mean, none of B.E.E.’s books are special rays of sunshine, but goodness gracious! The amount of violence Patrick Bateman, Wall Street businessman and serial killer extraordinaire, commits is mind-blowing.

As someone interested in criminal psychology, I’ve always been fascinated by serial killer movies and shows – The Silence of the Lambs, Dexter, etc. – so that was why I first watched the movie. And my small obsession with the planes of Christian Bale’s face. Be warned: It ain’t for the faint. Of heart, I mean. You could actually faint while watching it, but that would be very dramatic and cause for an eye roll. Mary Harron actually makes it a black, black comedy/satire.

Every character is so vain and greedy and self-absorbed that they don’t notice Christian Bale is a psychopath going around killing people with an axe. Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Chloe Sevigny and Jared Leto fill these supporting roles well, but Bale takes the cake. Top-shelf crazy all the way, and fascinating to behold.

Interesting tidbit: Harron almost didn’t get to make the film; if you check out IMDb trivia, you’ll learn how many directors and casts they went through with this monster. Mary Harron had already cast Bale as Bateman when the studio told her they wanted Leo DiCaprio to play the part (can you imagine?), and she subsequently left the project. Oliver Stone replaced her, but then Leo left to make The Beach, so Stone was like, “Laterz” and peaced out too. Re-enter: Mary Harron & Bale.

The Book:
Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

The Movie:
Fight Club (1999), directed by David Fincher

This is one where they just seem to get everything right.

Who can imagine anyone else in those roles but Edward Norton and Brad Pitt??? And Helena Bonham-Carter’s patent-on-crazy works for her in Fight Club because her character, Marla, is how I imagine her in real life.

The book is teeny tiny; I think I read it in 2 hours or less. I had already seen the movie, so I recognized the dialogue they had pulled straight from the book. I love it when a film does that, especially if the writer has a strong voice and style like Chuck Palahniuk’s. There are so many quotable lines. And its psychological twist is one that no one saw coming – unless you read the book, duh – so then you immediately must watch it again! And every time you watch, it only gets better because you only catch more and more. The soap scene, whaaaa?!

Plus, who hasn’t tried to start a fight club after viewing this? WHO?!

The Book:
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Movie:
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), directed by Robert Mulligan

In 2003, AFI did a list of the 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains, and who was Hero #1? Oh, just the greatest lawyer/humanist/dad of all film time, Mr. Atticus Finch. He beat out JAMES BOND.

Like, you can’t even read the book anymore without picturing Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. You just can’t. All hail Gregory Peck! His performance and Horton Foote’s screenplay adaptation make this one of the most classic of classics. JUSTICE, y’all! (And PS, Robert Duvall was Boo Radley, ha! People always forget…)

The Books:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Movies:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), directed by Peter Jackson

You thought you were going to get out of here without this?! Ha! Sweet naivety!

Although I am quite disappointed in Peter Jackson’s decision to make the forthcoming The Hobbit into a triumvirate, that’s a whole other can of wriggly worms we need not examine. This, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is my hands-down favorite adaptation ever. It’s like Peter Jackson reached deep into the minds of nerds everywhere and put our LOTR dreams straight on screen. How did he do it? Because he’s one of us! He’s totally obsessed with hobbits and orcs and rings of power! He probably wants to live in Middle-earth!

The book series is a favorite among my whole family, and I’m pretty sure when The Fellowship of the Ring came out, my brother recorded it on VHS from Starz and we watched it to death. Then I had about five posters of Orlando Bloom as Legolas in my room (oh the shame).  And I was dedicated enough at 13 to see The Two Towers by myself (pretty sure my brother dropped me off and saw something else, what a jerk, pssssh). And Return of the King? Oh yeah, bought the earliest matinee ticket with my cousin on the first day it opened. And it was glorious.

Did I mention I tried to learn Elvish when I was 12? Oh yeah. I did. Try anyway. It was too hard in the end. But still!

Now for the inevitable scorn…What book-to-films did I miss? Or maybe I’ve never read? What do you think about the ones I listed?
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4 thoughts on “14 Book-to-Film Adaptations That Don’t Suck (Part 2)

  1. I love Hal Ashby’s adaptation of “Being There”, which features Peter Sellers in one of my absolute favorite performances of all time. The book is pretty good, but Sellers puts the movie over the top – one of the sharpest satires of American life put on film.

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