Screen Junkies » book adaptations Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Fri, 28 Nov 2014 16:30:46 +0000 en hourly 1 The Seven Most Disappointing Book-to-Film Adaptations Tue, 07 Oct 2014 15:20:49 +0000 DustinSeibert Film adaptations rarely capture the nuances — subtle or otherwise — of their source material. Here are a few examples of those cinematic failures that either should have been done better, or never even attempted.

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Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl, which you can’t ride a train in a major city without seeing at least one person reading, hit the cinema on Friday in an adaptation by David Fincher. I saw it over the weekend, and suffice it to say, Fincher has done it again, creating a solid, compelling film that justified the sold-out shows and audiences with which I had to contend. (All this despite a conclusion that angered me to no end, but I digress).

As bibliophiles can attest, many book-t0-film adaptations don’t work out quite as well. In fact, most of the time, they don’t. So many contemporary books that sit on the New York Times Bestseller list for any significant period of time are fast-tracked to become movies, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the authors that write them do so with that aspiration.

However, beloved canonical texts that are a half-century old at the very least come with so many years of interpretation and classroom curricula established around them that they’re arguably more difficult to adapt because so many people love them. For years I’ve envisioned a contemporary adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird with Brad Pitt playing Atticus Finch, but considering it’s one of the most loved books of all time, it could be the best movie Frank Darabont ever made and still piss people off. 

Film adaptations rarely capture the nuances — subtle or otherwise — of their source material. That’s somewhat expected when working with a limited run time, but when you have horribly miscast characters or whole plot lines dramatically reduced or removed altogether, the movie can become inherently crappy. Here are a few examples of those cinematic failures that either should have been done better, or never even attempted.

1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979): Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography is loaded with very touchy, adult themes (child rape, racism) that wouldn’t translate well into a made-for-TV film in 2014, let alone in 1979 when it was still a big deal to hear the word “damn” uttered on a major network program. Despite a cast full of great, now-departed black actresses (Ruby Dee, Esther Rolle, Madge Sinclair), the film couldn’t carry the weight of its themes on its medium. Since Angelou recently died, it would be a great time for studios to consider a big-screen adaptation.

2. Wanted (2008): Mark Millar’s original comic series, about a young heir to a super villain named Wesley who rises from loser-dom to realize his own villainy, is a classic among comic lovers despite being only a decade old. The 2008 adaptation swapped out the superhero theme for career assassins and focused more on Angelina Jolie’s Fox, Wesley’s mentor. It would’ve worked just fine as a standalone action film, but when compared to the book, it falls flat in almost every regard. Despite it’s R rating, the film is far more restrained film than the book, and Fox, a quick-witted, sassy black woman in the book, is portrayed by a sultry, somewhat annoying Jolie. A $3.99-Blu-ray-bin-at-Best-Buy type of flick, really.

3. Beloved (1998): This one isn’t even very fair, because no one had any damn business trying to pull off Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic for the big screen. The book has a fractured narrative that demands at least two readings to soak it all in, so the film was bound to disappoint. The performances from Oprah Winfrey and company were decent, but this remains perhaps the least adaptable text on this entire list. 

4. The Scarlet Letter (1995): I was a teenager when I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel and when this Demi Moore-led fiasco came out, and I remember how the movie was marketed as Zalman King-esque soft-core porn undeserving of the source material. The book explored complicated themes of sin and adultery in a puritanical society and has enjoyed time firmly planted on banned books lists for decades. The movie explored…Demi Moore’s skin. Perhaps the most egregious sin of the film is its happily-ever-after ending that stands in diametric opposition to the book’s. You ought to be ashamed, Roland Joffe.

5. The Namesake (2006): One of the worst sins of movie adaptations is the distillation of important plot threads. Taking a couple things out for the sake of brevity and running time is one thing; quickly glossing over significant events and relationships established in the book is another. It bugged me to see one of Gogol’s relationships from the book glossed over so quickly in the film, which wasn’t so bad standing alone. Points added back for seeing Kumar play a serious role.

6. The Great Gatsby (2013): The only example in this list of a book and movie I hated equally. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus is a ridiculously overrated piece of literature, but Baz Luhrmann‘s glossy, gauche 3D adaptation made me want to jam my old, dog-eared paperback in my garbage disposal. Leonardo DiCaprio is, in theory, one of the best choices to play the doomed Jay Gatsby, but he was so much more compelling playing a very similar role in The Wolf of Wall Street from the same year that it’d be a no-brainer if I had to choose.

7. The Complete Persepolis (2007): Similar to The Namesake, another example of a film that would’ve been fine on its own had it not been for superior source material. Persepolis the graphic novel is 341 pages of author Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical story of a young girl rebelling against Islamic fundamentalism in 20th Century Iran; while the approach of having the animation as a mirror reflection of the book’s art (a la Sin City) is cool, the movie’s 95-minute run time wasn’t enough to do it justice. Marji’s betrayal at the hands of a boyfriend was so quickly glossed over, you’d miss the whole damn thing if you blinked.

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