Sunday, May 31, 2020
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Adapted to Death: Book-Inspired Films Don’t Always Make the Cut

I was at a party in Los Angeles the other weekend and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation that some former contestants of Project Runway were having with each other. Speaking of “Revolutionary Road” this and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” that, they predicted which movie was going to win the phallic “this little man means I’m better than you” statue and which actress was going to cry or not cry when she accepted her award.
Reality show has-beens aside, I must say that both “Revolutionary Road” and ‘Button’ were great adaptations from the books on which they were based, particularly ‘Button,’ a film whose toils came from the less-than-40-page short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m afraid, however, that these examples of good adaptations are growing far too scarce.
Is it just me, or have film adaptations of really good books been getting worse than usual lately? I only bring this up because “Watchmen” is coming out soon and I’m actually really nervous. I loved that (comic) book when I was a kid and I have this sinking feeling that it’s going to get totally botched.
Sure, we’ve all heard people say, “The movie is good, but the book is much better.” This is the case more often than not, but I find that in the past, the movie hasn’t trailed too far behind. Take the film adaptation of “The Hours,” for example. It was based on this incredible book by Michael Cunningham, included an awesome cast, excellent score, Nicole Kidman’s fake nose, Academy Awards ensued, blah blah blah everything was fine. Or look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Those books are about as epic as fantasy novels get, and director Peter Jackson definitely put in some good effort to make those books come alive on the screen as best he could. I know that not everyone can stand watching homoerotic hobbits for three hours, but I daresay Tolkien would have been proud.
Harry Potter was probably the beginning of the end for me. I remember how excited I was to see the first movie, and how disappointed I felt when I came out of the theater. With the exception of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and the surprising yet delightfully dark “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” I have fallen asleep in every ‘Potter’ film that has been made. I’ve got my fingers crossed for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” but who can tell?
This brings me to my next question: Why isn’t J. K. Rowling having an “I’m worth several billions of dollars; make these movies better, you Hollywood trash!” tantrum? My only explanation is that Rowling has been placed under the Imperius Curse and locked away in a magic trunk somewhere while some imposter has been cutting snippets of her hair to create a polyjuice potion and we’ve got some fake Rowling running about making a muck of all her movies. Let’s hope some young fans will put down their quills and overrun the Production-Company-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and put a stop to all this mess.
Why is it so hard for movies to be adapted? They don’t have to follow the book exactly. In the past century, some of the best movies that come from books of the same title have taken a whole lot of liberties. The film adaptations of Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” definitely dithered with the plot a bit, but the outcome was still just fine.
Now I’m not the kind of stickler who goes into a book-to-film movie expecting a careful adherence to every letter of the novel. But is it too much to hope for a decent film? “The Golden Compass” was so traumatic that I had to reread the book in order to make sure that I hadn’t just dreamed that the story was good. That film even included the aforementioned Nicole Kidman complete with her birth-nose and frozen forehead, and the movie was still a Junker.
Speaking of Junker, has anyone seen that little piece of my soul? No, you probably haven’t, because I lost it forever when I saw that good-for-nothing “Twilight” movie.
Let’s be real, people — even you, tween “Twilight” fans — that movie was problematic. Why did Rosalie, whom I had pictured as a Gisele Bundchen-esque knockout, look like a drug-dealer’s girlfriend from East Los Angeles? I guess, in the film’s defense, you need a good book to make a good movie. (Whoops, I said it, time for the Witness Protection Program.)
In any event, I blame the screenplay writers. That little bit in the credits where it says, “Adapted for the screen by so-and-so.” Please, from one writer to another — do your fellow writers some justice and make their novels into movies that people will actually understand and like.