“Some of us have great original ideas and some of us depend on adaptations.” – Frank Darabont
It seems that now more than ever, books are being turned into movies and even television series. If anyone liked it as a book, someone in Hollywood is willing to turn a profit by putting it on a screen (and who can blame them; it’s a built-in paying audience).
Many adaptations are only so-so or just plain crap, especially to true and die-hard fans of the books being adapted. I will never forgive the people responsible for butchering My Sister’s Keeper. Changing the ending changes the entire point and message of the novel. I also feel strongly that the latest adaptation of Pride & Prejudice did not deserve nearly as much praise as it has received and should certainly never had garnered the Oscar nominations it was granted (it was like watching Cliff’s Notes; some characters, if not entirely out of character, at least outside of the social conventions that form so much of the structure Austen’s novels depend on). But I digress. Oh, and I’ll never be able to sit through all of Beloved with it’s literal take on everything Toni Morrison wrote (sorry Oprah).
There are a select few adaptations that even rise to the level of the book they take their story from; Gone with the Wind, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Sense and Sensibility, and To Kill a Mockingbird to name a few, though there are people on both sides in pretty much all cases. My all-time favorite adaptation being the A&E produced Pride & Prejudice (I read the book in the sixth grade, fell in love with the film years later and when I went to re-read the novel, I was floored by just how much of Austen’s prose they managed to incorporate in the dialogue).
Rarely does the film adaptation surpass the work of origin, but when it does, when it improves upon the weaknesses of character or plot, it can be amazing. Here are just a few movies where (in my opinion) the film takes the book to a whole new level.
Jaws by Peter Benchley: The movie redefined the way the film industry approaches marketing and release dates but it also took Benchley’s novel and cleaned up a flawed plot through straightforward simplification. Benchley’s sub-plots got tangled up in one another (the government corruption, the mob, and extra-marital affairs were more unbelievable than the terrorizing shark). By removing those obstacles, the film kept audience attention and suspense at enjoyable levels and returned the shark to the focus where he belonged.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen: While there was nothing really wrong with this novel/memoir, it’s adaptation for the big screen brought the other patients to life in a way that couldn’t be pinned down to the page.
Big Fish by Daniel Wallace: Again, nothing really wrong with the book as it was, though the way the pieces all fit together in the end presented a somewhat fuzzy picture. What makes the adaptation so great is that Tim Burton and company not only brought the picture into a more comfortable focus, but they turned the color saturation up to an eleven. The approach they took was brilliantly creative and made for a movie that was even more touching than it’s already sentimental inspiration.