Given I am a total film geek, I usually know when the rights to books I love have been sold, and when adaptations are in the works. Because of this, I was surprised to see a film poster for A Man Called Ove while on the tube recently.
A little while ago I published a post about a book I read which, despite my expectations to the contrary, I loved. It was called A Man Called Ove.
While my initial feeling was one of surprise, it was quickly replaced by that weird mixture of excitement and trepidation I always experience when I learn of beloved book adaptations.
In one sense, I love books being adapted for the big screen, because it means I have the chance to experience anew a story I so enjoyed. On the other hand, I hate adaptations because when they’re not done well, it can ruin my remembering of the story and alter how much I love it.
It’s virtually impossible to separate the two, after all. Even with the Harry Potter films – which I TRY to appreciate in and of themselves, plus how difficult it must be to condense those stories down to film form – I just can’t help but feel right pissed off at the crucial elements they omitted or changed. Don’t even get me started on the final show down in The Deathly Hallows... that sequence as Jo Rowling wrote it was literally PERFECT for a movie but they had to go and change it to some ridiculous physical fight. I mean... GAH. Let’s move on, shall we?
As you can see, it’s something I feel pretty passionately about (what else is new?) so I thought I would highlight some of my favourites and some of my – shall we say – disappointments.
GOOD: 'THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS' (John Boyne)
This heartbreaking tale of an unlikely friendship during WWII between the son of a high-ranking SS Officer and a Jewish boy in the concentration camp which his Dad oversees is just as powerful on the big screen as it is in writing. Told through the innocent eyes of 8-year-old Bruno who doesn’t understand the harsh realities of the society he’s living in, the treatment of this story in the film adaptation was handled perfectly.
BAD: 'THE HOBBIT' (J.R.R. Tolkien)
A genuinely fantastic book, full of imagination and wonder, The Hobbit is quite simply storytelling at its best. Sir Peter Jackson worked magic with his earlier adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (they remain my all-time favourite films), so hopes were high for what he would do with The Hobbit. Hopes were dashed pretty early though when news broke that the book would be made into not one, not two, but three films. The resulting movies were as over-the-top as this initial revelation had lead me to fear they would be. All charm from the original story was lost, and the whole endeavour seemed to serve the pretentious purposes of showing off special effects that weren’t called for and making mega-bucks at the cost of integrity. Sorry, Pete.
GOOD: 'THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY' (Stieg Larsson)
Sometimes you come across characters on the page who are so strong they seem to literally walk right off them and stand before you. Such characters are just begging to be brought to life on the big screen, and Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of them. I can’t speak for the English language adaptation (it’s on my list!) but the first adaptation, of the author’s native Sweden, was phenomenally done, and the dark nature of the books translated very well onto the screen.
BAD: 'MY SISTER'S KEEPER' (Jodi Picoult)
Sometimes bad film adaptations come down to poor casting choices, sometimes it comes down to changes made to the original material; here it was a case of both. Cameron Diaz was not right at all for the mother in this intense character-driven drama, but the main issue was the complete re-write of the story’s powerful ending. THAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT OF THE STORY. YOU CANNOT JUST CHANGE THAT. Please, just read the book – it’s beautiful – and leave it at that.
GOOD: 'NEVER LET ME GO' (Kazuo Ishiguro)
One of my favourite books from one of my favourite authors, I would have been gutted if this one had been done badly. However an amazing central cast comprising Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley didn’t let me down. Depicting three friends from their early school days into their young adulthood when the reality of their place in the world makes itself clear, they did an amazing job, as did the screenplay writer.
BAD: 'HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS' (Dr. Seuss)
Perhaps one of the only authors whose work I truly think transcends all ages and should be left entirely to itself – no adaptations needed. I’m not sure if Dr Seuss should be referred to as an author, or a poet, or a philosopher, or an environmentalist, or a politician... all of the above? Regardless, his words are magic, and without them, his stories lose something essential. I love Jim Carey as much as the next person, but this role was a mistake, the film was a mistake, a tacky abomination of a beautiful story. Let’s be thankful the author never had to see it!