Whenever I visit Granville Island to pick up some matcha from that little tea shop, I always ask the woman who serves me: “What are you reading?”. We discuss and I always complete my purchase by recommending a book. On my most recent trip, she had just finished reading (and throughly enjoying) one of my recommendations, Karen Joy Fowler‘s We Are Completely Beside Ourselves. Pleased, I offered her another one: “This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.” And then, offer her furrow-browed reaction: “They just made a movie based on the book – but don’t go see it. Read the book instead!”
“Too late,”she told me, and the look on her face told me that her dissatisfaction with the film ensured she would never pick up the book. I liken it to suffering food poisoning at an otherwise great restaurant. After that bad experience, there’s no way you’ll be able to go back and fully enjoy yourself. Just the smell of cumin or the taste of curry or the sight to Timothy Olyphant is enough to send you running for the exit.
Which is why I have – well, I want to say “mixed feelings”, but they’re not really mixed at all, so let’s go with – “homogenous feelings” about the announced big screen adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. I don’t care who write the script or directs or stars, the movie will NOT be as good as the book. The best that can be hoped for is something different, a film no better or worse than the source material that, nevertheless, stands on its distinct own as an enjoyable product.
It happens, but rarely. Most book-based movies range from disappointing to atrocious. As I gave it some thoughts, numerous bad examples came to mind. And a few singular good ones.
Here are my Top 5 Best and Worst Book to Film adaptations:
5. I AM LEGEND
The movie, based on the short novel by Richard Matheson, tries to go it’s own creative way – and fails miserably. A film that will be remembered for only one thing: killing off the dog.
Okay, look, ANY film based on the works of writer Alan Moore are going to pale in comparison to the original. The best you can hope for is “good but not close enough” (Watchmen) to atrocious (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Hey, I don’t recall Tom Sawyer in the graphic novel. Oh, right. He was added to appeal to an American audience (“Hey! Tom Sawyer’s in this movie! Let’s go see it!”said no one ever). So disastrous that not only did Alan Moore disown it, but so did it’s star, Sean Connery.
3. WORLD WAR Z
It’s the book’s fractured narrative that allows us a sweeping understanding of the global pandemic on both the public and personal level – and the attempt to capture it proves to be the movie’s undoing.
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
My favorite book in the series was the worst film in the series – as far I know given that I stopped watching after this one.
1. A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
My favorite children’s book series of all time. The movie gets nowhere close to capturing its clever narrative and darkly humorous tone.
(Honorable mentions: Daredevil, The Fantastic Four [any version]).
5. THE SHINING
I know that author Stephen King was never a fan of the big screen adaptation, but I thought this was one of those rare instances where the movie almost exists as a separate entity, a different version of the same story that is just as good as the original.
4. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Like The Shining, this is a case of a film that charts its own stylistic path, creating a visual counterpart that pays its respect to the book but is still very much its own animal.
3. THE PRINCESS BRIDE
I actually fell in love with the movie before discovering – and falling in love with – the book. It helps that both were written by the same hugely talented writer, William Goldman.
Loved the book and loved the movie. This is one of those rarest of instances where the book and film actually co-exist in the same creative world. Whenever I watch the movie, the experience is complimented by elements I recall from the novel. On the other hand, whenever I read the book, Kathy Bates is always Annie.
1. BLADE RUNNER
I’m sorry, Philip K. Dick fans, but this is one of those rarest of all instances where the movie is actually better than the book.
(Honorable mentions: Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, the 1973 & 1974 Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers, The Godfather)
Just in time for the opening of GONE GIRL…based on the excellent novel of the same name.