You know how it is Avid Reader. Your favourite book is about to be made into a movie starring a major league actor and you wait with heart beating fearfully, you go to the cinema with sweaty palms…and you weep into your hideously expensive diet coke and popcorn because the director, the actors, the scriptwriters, the producers and even the damn second reserve camera man have all conspired to rip the heart out of your…yes YOUR…story.
In truth, it’s easier to find book to film failures than it is to find successes. Our Dear Avid Reader can name at least 100 films that disappoint compared to one or two that live up to the dream.
I’ve put together a list of 10 films that I think did the original books justice. This is my personal list and not based on anything other than my likes and dislikes. It’s also based on the films I’ve actually read the book for and then seen the film.
- The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: While the novel is one of my favourites and a great example of the genre, with great one liners and sharply drawn characters, the film is also in my top 10 list. Humphrey Bogart nails the role of Philip Marlowe and when I read the books again, I can’t see anyone else but him.
- Jaws by Peter Benchley: To be honest, Benchley’s novel was no great shakes and could have sunk into the depths much the same way as his shark did in the final scene of the book. It took Spielberg’s early magic to bring it to the big screen and make it one of the blockbusters of the Seventies.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Both versions were faithful tellings of Larsson’s original tale. If I had to choose I’d put the film just ahead of the book.
- Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist: Okay, here’s an admission. I’m not keen on films that have children as lead characters. I made an exception here. The original Swedish film uses the vampire myth to tell a story of isolation and is quite a faithful retelling of the book.
- The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King: Alright, alright Avid Reader, I know this is from a short story (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption) but it counts as well. Of all authors, Stephen King has the worst track record of print to film. Most of the films of his books are fatally flawed so it’s nice to see that at least one works.
- The Haunting by Shirley Jackson: The original attempt at Jackson’s novella is one of the most atmospheric ghost films ever – forget the sometimes hammy acting and concentrate on those breathing doors and don’t forget the spiral staircase. It was followed much later by the Liam Neeson/Catherine Zeta-Jones remake, probably one of the worst adaptations of a novel ever, ever, EVER!!
- Hombre by Elmore Leonard: I started reading Leonard because he writes great dialogue and it’s something I feel I’m weak on. Hombre is one of my favourite westerns, not only for Paul Newman’s stellar performance but because it has oft forgotten bad guy Richard Boone in it. The book’s not bad either.
- Brighton Rock by Graham Greene: Again dear Avid Reader, the original not the remake. Dickie Attenborough’s performance of the malign and ruthless Pinky still rates him as one of the best on screen psychos in my opinion. If you haven’t read it, Greene’s novel also is a brilliant insight into 50s gangland life in England.
- No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy: I like McCarthy’s writing style in both this book and The Road. The No Country film was helped by great performances from the leads including the always reliable Tommy Lee Jones. If I had to make a choice, I prefer the book to the film but it’s a close call.
- Blade Runner by Philip K Dick: Known to all sci-fi geeks as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The novel is much less known than the film now. Despite being continuously dragged out with a new directors or remastered cut, Blade Runner remains one of the most enduring Sci-Fi films of the last 30 years.
Okay that’s my choice. Now where’s yours? It’s easy, as I said, to pick your bad films from favourite books, so rack your mushy brains and come up with your favourite adaptation…Answers in the comments section below as usual.