I’ve been thinking about movie adaptations of literary works lately. Last weekend, I saw the Jungle Theater’s production of Blithe Spirit, the Noel Coward play about a writer haunted, literally, by past loves. The play was so much fun that I put the 1945 David Lean movie version on my to-see list. The movie was mentioned in the playbill, and as soon as I saw Rex Harrison’s photo, I knew he’d be perfect in the role of the haunted husband.
But adapting books and plays into movies is not always easy. I’ve been scanning readers’ reactions to the movie versions of the Twilight saga. It’s an interesting mix. Some fans seem quite disappointed that the movies missed key elements of the books. Or maybe they’re just disappointed that Robert Pattinson isn’t exactly how they pictured their vampire hero. Others argue that books and movies are two separate genres. You have to judge each by its own criteria.
I think I agree with that latter argument. When J. D. Salinger died, my niece expressed a deep-seated fear that some joker would now try to make a movie out of A Catcher in the Rye. We probably all fear that a Hollywood type will wantonly attack a beloved book, especially one that really isn’t fit for film. There certainly have been some bad movie adaptations. But for the most part, I’m just interested, and often happy, to see a favorite play or novel get the big-screen (or in the case of BBC miniseries, the small-screen) treatment.
For one of my favorite adaptations, I give the screenwriters enormous credit. L.A. Confidential’s Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland took a long, intricate novel and boiled it down to its essentials. The movie stands on its own as a cohesive story, true to its source, despite all the cuts and combinations. Likewise, another much-loved movie, Cold Comfort Farm, got the original novel’s sly humor and period details while adding a more modern pace and shimmer.
I could go on and on about movie adaptations, good and bad. But I’d love to hear from readers. What are some adaptations that exceeded your expectations? Some that landed squarely in the abomination category?