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Musing Mondays

June 20, 2011

[disclaimer: this is a slightly edited version of an old post I wrote for a Weekly Geeks question]

Do you like movies made from books? Which ones do you think have been done well — kept mostly to the plot of the book, etc?

I think, generally, when a book is being adapted the movie shouldn’t be an exact replica. I dislike straight adaptations more so with the recent state of comic adaptations, in which the director directly replicates the page from a comic e.g. Sin City. The most recent example of this is Watchmen, while not every scene is the same and it has many things cut out or re-arranged it’s far too dependent on pandering to “fanboys” rather to what the story needs. The film is a failed attempt, I would say it’s a gallant attempt to try and produce a worthy adaptation of Watchmen but it ultimately fails. Ultimately, the comic is too referential to comic history to ever fully translate to a movie.

I believe that most times an adaptation should take the themes, motifs, subtext etc but mould it into something alternative. It would be the same story but from a different perspective. In this way, the film would add something but not distract from the original source. For example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy work because, while faithful to the source, the filmmakers realised that they had to reshape and redefine the story to fit the expectations and structure of film.

I’m not saying that all movie adaptations should forge their own perspective on a text because sometimes it is nice to see a book you love on screen, exactly as you imagined it (or thereabouts).

My favourite film adaptations are probably:


An Andrei Tarkovsky film based upon Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. It’s a mesmerising, reflective, tranquil and absolutely stunning to watch. Tarkovsky took a story and made it his own; he put it through his own unique filter and ended up with one of his finest films.

I would also add his version of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, although I’m not as favourable to it as I am to Stalker. I do like Steven Soderbergh’s version as well. The soundtrack is marvellous.

L.A. Confidential

This is a perfect example of how to take a book and make it into a successful film. Brian Helgeland (writer) and Curtis Hanson (director, co-writer) took a complex and labyrinth novel and moulded it into something that retained the story and tightened it up. The book is brilliant but you could not have it as a two-hour film. It’s almost as you should watch the film first and then read the book second. They are both similar but distinct; by reading the book after you get to read more plot strands, more character development, which add another layer to the story.


(watch the L.A. Confidential trailer just for the classic voice over guy)

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