It’s difficult to watch any book to film adaptations without having some strong opinions on the integrity and quality of the output. This goes double for readers, who tend to form deep and intricate bonds with our favorite works. It’s easy to wail and moan that, for example, Starship Troopers was a completely ridiculous interpretation of Heinlein, It’s harder to see Starship Troopers for what it is (i.e. a completely ridiculous interpretation of sci-fi monster stories). That said, it’s harder to honor those films that manage to nail it- to illuminate and build upon a favorite story without degrading its original quality. To that end, here’s a woefully incomplete list of my top book to film adaptations: The Good, The Bad, & The Inexplicably Absent
Let the Right One In
A good adaptation should not only be true to the integrity of the source material, but it should best condense, alter and fine tune for a different medium. Let the Right One In succeeds in being a terrific film for this reason; the liberal cuts condense the many backstories and head hopping down to their most essential points. While the film loses a bit of the human horror in doing so, it maintains a swifter and more graceful pace and leaves delicious ambiguity where the book delved into detail. Most notably: Eli’s ambiguous gender and the disturbing relationship with servant Hakar. What in the book is shown as outright sinister, evil and depraved, the movie shows as complicated, subtle and ambiguous. Plus, it’s hard to imagine how the final scene in the swimming pool could be improved upon in any medium.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Capturing the frenetic, cynical hilarity of Hunter S. Thompson is a job I don’t envy, particularly with his committed and near rabid fan base. Creating credible trip scenes is an added hurdle. Major kudos go to director Terry Gilliam (perfectly suited for this material) and Johnny Depp (who manages to transform his usual dreamboat-ness into wacky psychonaut with nary a prosthetic in sight. That’s talent, folks.)
Company of Wolves
One of the more creative reinterpretations on this list, The Company of Wolves does a terrific job condensing three of Angela Carter’s short stories into a cogent and smart film. Perhaps, as a female werewolf aficionada, I’m biased. But Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea with a unibrow, fabulous feminist commentary and some wicked (and unconventional) werewolf transformation scenes? I mean, come on.
Honorable Mentions: Brokeback Mountain, Wonder Boys, The Lord of the Rings Triology
How to ruin a childhood favorite in three easy steps: 1) Add heavy exposition to a film where it wasn’t even used in the book (!). 2) Dilute the powerful and dark themes in favor of “family-friendly” fare. 3) Favor CGI over character development.
I had high hopes for this one. Bill Nighy, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Martin Freeman, and Alan Rickman as the pessimistic robot Marvin? Sounds like a recipe for, if not staggering success, at least a manic ride. Instead, it’s a milquetoast adaptation of one of the most clever SF books in history. Yawn.
Must it be said, after the entire geek world had a rage-gasm at this interpretation? This one can also be filed under the Heinlein Rule: If the author (or the author’s estate) disavows any relationship with the film, it’s probably terrible.
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I don’t envy any director trying to put Robbins’s wacky stories onto the screen. But sheesh. As a queer cowgirl lovin’ freak, this movie made me want to tear my pigtails out. I’ll give Gus Van Sant credit for casting Uma Thurman as Sissy Hankshaw and the k.d. lang soundtrack is fab, but that’s where my compliments end.
Dishonorable mentions: The Mysteries of Pittsburg (Straight-washing. Don’t do it!), The Scarlet Letter (happy ending for everyone!! Yaaay!), Atlas Shrugged (don’t even get me started).
The Inexplicably Absent
I’ve been hoping for a really good adaptation of Neuromancer since I read it as a teenager. (No, The Matrix doesn’t count). I’d love to see Palimpsest as a film, but I doubt ethical promiscuity and boundless sexuality would easily translate into a film capable of mass-appeal.
Y the Last Man has been in production limbo since 2007. While I’m in agreement with most in that this story is far too complex for a standalone film, I’d really love to see it turned into a series. I’d also like to be Brian K. Vaughan’s bestie, but that’s more for the brain sex opportunities.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: Another great story stuck in development hell. This is rather shocking considering the picture-worthy quality of this epic, sassy historical story.
Honorable Mentions: My novel’s available for option. Just saying.
Allison Moon is the author of the lesbian werewolf novel Lunatic Fringe. In addition to writing, she enjoys teaching adults how to have better sex. Learn more about both of these fabulous things at TalesofthePack.com.
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