Film adaptations of books (especially beloved ones) are a controversial subject. No matter what, somebody’s gonna be unhappy. It’s a frequent topic of conversation for me and Miss N., so we decided to do a list of our own personal favorites. The main rule was we had to have read the book and really loved the film. Trying to make this list has made me feel inadequate for realizing how many damn books I really do hope to get around to reading someday, since I only put things on here that I had read AND seen, AND enjoyed. There are shitloads of films I adore that are based on books that I’ve never read. Sigh. One day. Onto the list!
Bridget Jones’s Diary: This one is on so many personal lists for me, but honestly, there is nothing so enjoyable as laughing, crying, and sighing to this freaking SPLENDID romantic comedy. I read the book after seeing the film, and found that I enjoyed the book much less. I found Bridget on-screen to be charming, albeit a mess, and in the book, that charm just did not translate. The same can be said for Mr. Darcy as well; he was farrrrrrrrrrr more swoon-inducing as inhabited by the divine Mr. Firth. There were some ridiculous, extraneous plots in the book that I found boring and uninteresting. Helen Fielding co-wrote the script, and I can only wonder if it was her or her cohorts who eliminated the fluff and focused on the good stuff. Either way, success.
Wonderboys: Here’s another personal favorite. Loved this so much, I went out and got the book, and again, here’s an example of just an alright story that became a WONDERFUL film. It felt so much richer, more REAL, and the characters were so much more delightful than on paper. Grady, the main character, is kind of a lovable pig, and Michael Douglas did a damn fine job of bringing this guy to life, but he’s more disgusting and decrepit in print. There’s a section of the book dedicated to Grady visiting his in-laws for Easter dinner, and you get to meet his wife and most of her family; hear their story. This is drastically changed in the film; it becomes just a half-hour stop in the afternoon where you meet the wife’s parents only; there’s no huge, dramatic dinner sequence. As I was reading that scene, I felt that while it fit within the confines of a hardcover, to include this in the adaptation would have made the film feel overstuffed.
L.A. Confidential: James Ellroy’s epic crime masterpiece is a better book than movie, but it’s a miracle this book was able to be adapted for the screen at all, in my opinion. It’s gargantuan in scope, plot, and detail, with so many interwoven story lines and characters, I wouldn’t have guessed it could be done. However, Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson managed to scale things down, while maintaining the central story, theme, and labyrinthian plot. I saw this when I was 16 and it knocked me OUT in the theater. I was blown away by Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, and an Aussie hunk the likes of which I had never seen: Russell Crowe. For his performance alone, this film is worth 138 minutes of your time.
Into the Wild: This book touched, saddened, and intrigued me, and I was hesitant to watch the film because I didn’t know how it could convey the story of Chris McCandless with accuracy and respect. But I was blown away by, and cannot say enough good things about this beautiful, heartbreaking movie. Sean Penn wrote and directed, and to call him anything less than gifted is insane. Emile Hirsch is just about perfect as McCandless, whose story is told in a dreamy, absorbing manner. Don’t even get me started on Hal Holbrook. *Holds back tears.* It’s clear that Penn has an affection for this man and his unique tale of bucking society, wanting to live off the land, off the grid, and for himself.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Potter film adaptations range from redonkulously faithful to all but blasphemy, and this was the first one (in my own humble opinion) to both do the book justice AND exist on its own two feet as a viable, fantastic movie. I love all the Potter books, but only a few of the movies, and this one always stands out for me. Alfonso Cuaron took the reins from Chris Columbus (who created that world as we see it today, and for that he deserves praise) and put an almost exotic spin on things. It felt so different from the first two, and yet, yet . . . so right. This is the first book that begins to explore the adult character back-stories, and this was the first movie to feature the new (and my favorite) Dumbledore, Michael Gambon. Cuaron and screenwriter Steve Kloves handle these changes marvelously. This was the book (and movie) that got me hooked.