The more I watch movies and read books, the more I see the two as totally different art forms. They evoke different kinds of pleasure and enjoyment. A direct translation just may not work. I used to seek for how ‘faithful’ a movie is compared to its literary source, but more and more, I’m looking for how good it stands alone as a production in terms of cinematic elements.
A film adaptation can make an apt homage to the original literary work. It is not merely an ‘illustrated book’, but a new creation, if you will, one that offers a different experience from reading. In telling the story from a visual and sound perspective, it offers a multidimensional take on the original work. By so doing, it may need to alter the source material. But then again, how do you know the images on-screen are not those already conjured up in some readers’ minds as they interact with the text… or, theirs are not even more far-fetched?
While a film is the artistic expression of the filmmaker’s interpretation, it is also a collaboration of talents and perspectives, as cast and crew contribute their expertise, in cinematography, set design, costume, writing, sound, music, editing… all under the artistic direction and insight of the auteur. It is an alchemy of sights and sounds. On top of that, there are the key agents of delivery, the actors. An intelligent and nuanced performance can bring out the literary essence, unfurling the thematic matter, characters and conflicts, and above all, the humanity embedded in the text.
In his article entitled “Snobbery”, Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic, says that as he reads Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s brilliant literary depiction has formed some vivid images in his mind.
I like the pictures in my head, and would not see them overthrown.
Yes, that’s usually the case with many readers who guard the ownership of their imagination as sacred territory, hence, the refusal to step out to explore other grounds of artistic expressions. So, despite hearing how splendid the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice is, Ta-Nehisi Coates has this to say:
I don’t doubt it–but I think mine is better. For right now, I’m just a snob that way. I reserve the right to change.
I’ve been mulling over this ‘snobbery’ idea after reading his article back in March, and feel that another word might be more apt to describe such a condition: “hegemony”… the claim of the literary being supreme, over other forms of artistic expression. On a personal level, it is also the hegemony of subjectivity… valuing one’s own mental images exclusively. It’s about sharing, isn’t it, seeing and experiencing what others’ imaginary worlds are like in response to a piece of literary work? I believe we are richer when we share, especially, our vision and imagination.
As a literature lover and a Janeite myself, I’m only glad to hear another high praise of Austen’s ingenuity, not that her works need any more approval to be of value. However, as a film lover I don’t want to wage war by dichotomizing the literary and the visual. They are two different art forms, two distinct vehicles of storytelling. Even though the story comes from the same source, it could be told from different perspectives, filtered through different lenses, structured in different styles, and ultimately
received by interacts with the reader and the viewer in a very individual and personal way.
I’ve appreciated Kazuo Ishiguro’s openness regarding the creative process during the film adaptation of his book Never Let Me Go. According to a TIME magazine article, Ishiguro said to Alex Garland, the screenwriter:
Your only duty is to write a really good screenplay with the same title as my book.
What ended up was both the author and the screenwriter share a very similar vision. Here is what director Romanek has done to bring out the literary:
… he imparts a mood so subtle, with so many emotional cataclysms conveyed through a glance or a few tears, that the film might have been made by the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. The nuance is both emotional and visual… Romanek also researched the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, ‘which is the beauty of things that are broken and worn and rusted and imperfect. So production designer Mark Digby and I, we just wabi-sabied everything. The dried flowers are an example of that. There’s nothing new in the film. Everything shows the wear of time.
Watching a film then is like listening to another language, the language of the visual, and appreciating the significance of mise-en-scène.
As a language and literature lover as well as a movie buff, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect fusion. To those who insist that a film version will never be as good as the book, allow me to suggest the following sampler. No, they are not perfect, but some are close to it. They are all worthy of and have done justice to their source material. Just from memory I’ve made the following list. All I’ve read and watched, some several times. (click on the link to read my review). I’m sure there are many more:
Great Expectations (1946)
Novel by Charles Dickens, directed and screenplay co-written by the legendary David Lean.
Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
Novel by Georges Bernanos, screenplay and directed by Robert Bresson
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Novel by Harper Lee, Robert Mulligan director, Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
Novel by Carson McCullers, Memorable performance by Alan Arkin
A Room With A View (1985)
Novel by E. M. Forster, a Merchant Ivory film. Helena Bonham Carter emerged.
Howards End (1992)
Another E. M. Forster/Merchant Ivory film. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Emma Thompson Best Actress. Beautiful rendition of sight and sound. Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins and many more made up the talented cast.
The Music of Chance (1993)
Paul Auster’s absurdist/existential novel is hauntingly adapted into film (How can you show philosophical concepts? Here it is) perfectly interpreted by James Spader and Mandy Patinkin. Excellent cast and superbly directed by Philip Haas.
The Remains of the Day (1993)
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winning novel, another Merchant Ivory film. Poignant performance by Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.
Pride and Prejudice (1995, BBC)
In my opinion, the definitive version of Jane Austen’s film adaptation. BBC production, Andrew Davis screenplay. Colin Firth remains the inimitable Mr. Darcy to this day.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Emma Thompson did justice to Jane Austen with her Oscar winning screenplay. Ang Lee directs Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant. Still my favorite version of S & S.
The English Patient (1996)
Booker Prize winning novel by Michael Ondaatje, directed and screenplay written by Anthony Minghella. Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche.
Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)
Novel by Tracy Chevalier, Peter Webber directs Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer, Scarlett Johansson as the servant girl Griet. An artistic, nuanced production.
Bleak House (2005, BBC)
The TV mini-series that prompted me to read the 1,000 page book by Charles Dickens. Gillian Anderson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Denise Lawson, and a cast of talented actors delivered a most enjoyable and exceptional rendition.
Away From Her (2006)
Short story by Alice Munro, the young Canadian talent Sarah Polley wrote the screenplay and directed veteran actors Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. A moving portrait of the destruction of a marriage by Alzheimer.
Short story by Elmore Lenard, James Mangold directs Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Movie captures the psychological conflicts marvellously.
Novel by Ian McEwan, Joe Wright directs Keira Knightly and James McAvoy. Saoirse Ronan’s breakout performance.
When Did You Last See Your Father? (2007)
Memoir by Blake Morrison, David Nicholls screenplay. Anand Tucker directs Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson and the young rising stars Carey Mulligan and Matthew Beard.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Jean-Dominique Bauby ‘wrote’ the book by blinking one eye. Julian Schnabel director. Mathieu Amalric plays Bauby, the true story of a stroke survivor who was left paralyzed except the movement of his left eye.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Alex Garland screenplay, Mark Romanek directs the talented British trio of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and Andrew Garfield.
Book by Charles Portis. This is an updated movie version by the Coen brothers, Hailee Steinfeld’s breakout role, deservedly garnering her an Oscar nom. Jeff Bridges is better than John Wayne I feel. 10 Oscar nominations in total.
The Hours (2002)
Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Michael Cunningham, David Hare screenplay, Stephen Daldry directs. Homage to Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway. Nicole Kidman won Oscar Best Actress as V. Woolf. Moving performance also by Julianne Moore, Meryle Streep, and Ed Harris.
John Patrick Shanley wrote the play, later the screenplay as well as directed the film. Engaging performance by Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis. (For this one, I’ve yet to read the play)
A Single Man (2009)
Novel by Christopher Isherwood, Tom Ford’s directorial debut. Colin Firth’s first Oscar nom. Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult. Heart- stirring music.
An Education (2009)
Memoir (essay) by Lynn Barber, screenplay by Nick Hornby, directed by Lone Scherfig. Carey Mulligan got her first Oscar nom. Peter Saarsgard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams.
45 Years (based on the short story “In Another Country” by David Constantine)
Lion: From Personal Memoir to the Big Screen
**What are your favourite film adaptations of literary works?
33 thoughts on “Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?”
What a rich list, Arti! I don’t know where to begin to respond except to say off the top of my head, I have missed far too many of the movies. I am a book-first, movie-second person. And cannot help but be tempted by someone else’s vision of a fave book. My own “version”, first gleaned upon reading, doesn’t fade. So I agree with you on the ‘sharing’ – it’s so important. It opens doors, it emancipates meanings. I must review this again (I may have to print it out to refer to it.)
True Confession: And I am going to have to go see “ARTHUR” because I so loved the original with Dudley Moore; it was the timing of the film and seeing it with HM and so many things. I am now intrigued by Russell’s appearance and like to be at least aware of who’s doing a remake and why.)
You know, you don’t have to give up your own imaginary world to appreciate what others put in front of you. This way, you can compare and see which one is more far-fetched. 😉
Regarding Arthur, I’m afraid you might be disappointed since the critics reviews are mostly negative. But then again, if you’re a HM fan… let me know what you think of it.
So often I’m in complete scorn of the film after reading the book. However, one idea which comes to mind is the DVD my husband and I watched last night: Chocolat. I prefer it infinitely to the novel, which I didn’t like at all. Have you read the novel? Seen the film? Have an opinion on it? I’d love to know what you think!
Yes, I watched it when it first came out in the theatres, that’s ten years ago. I remember it was delightful and Juliette Binoche is one of my all time faves. I haven’t read the book, but you know, you’re not the first person to tell me you like the movie more. Maybe it’s time that I refresh my memory by watching it again.
I love what you say about cinema being another kind of language into which a book can be translated. I must have told you already that when I interviewed students for Cambridge, the passage I gave them was about the difference between reading a book and watching a film. Not many of them had ever thought about it and often didn’t wake up to the fact that there IS a huge difference, but all the ones who did were the ones we took. I’ve just watched An Education, which was a delightful film, taken from one incident in Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name. I thought that was a neat example of good translation – simplifying, clarifying literature, selecting one idea, one anecdote for visual translation.
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If I’d had this perspective back then, I could have gone to Cambridge. 😉 This is amazing, and I totally appreciate such a question in your interview, getting students to critique and analyze comparative forms of artistic expressions. The literary and visuals are closely connected. There are so many films that are based on a literary source… I don’t have the figures, but adaptations are becoming more and more common.
‘An Education’ is a most delightful film. I’d written a review on it. At the end of that post, I included two links, one is Lynn Barber’s essay on Granta, detailing the process of writing from memory, and transposing from print to screen. It’s a very interesting read, for it talks about memories, authenticity, and dramatization of facts… complementing what you’ve been posting on your blog. For your convenience, here’s the link: http://www.granta.com/Online-Only/An-Education
Arti – thank you so much for that link! It was fascinating. I’ll pass it onto my husband, too, who watched the movie with me and was full of questions afterwards! Thank you!
Wonderfully written and conceived, as always, Arti! I agree with you completely, that if a film is a stand alone piece of art, it does not need to be “faithful” to the book in the sense of the details. I much appreciate “The English Patient” for this. The lush film is a different entity than the spare and lean book. I find them both brilliant. I agree on Howard’s End and The Hours too. The others you listed I have either not read the book or not seen the film, so I can’t say.
For me, the attitude of snobbery is getting anachronistic. This is a new age, when media are mixing and blending. One artist inspires another. Of course all artists take inspiration from other artists constantly, they just don’t always mention who has inspired them, nor would we recognize it necessarily. I have been doing much reading and contemplation on poetic forms, as you know, and I am excited about the potential of crossing genres and shaking things up. I am reading a book by Charles Bernstein called “My Way: Speeches & Poems, in which he talks about responding to a literary essay with a poem, or writing a letter in response to a poem. We don’t need to create or be confined by our own boundaries, or anyone else’s.
That said, I did not appreciate the movie version of “The Scarlett Letter” because the story’s end was changed so dramatically. Why make the movie and call it by that name? Why not just create a different story of the period (or not make it at all)? But nonetheless, I really admire what Ishiguro said about the duty of the film maker in response to his book.
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Do you have “The English Patient” on DVD? The Special Features in there are a treasure… with Michael Ondaatje and Anthony Minghella discussing how the literary is transposed into film. Ondaatje understood clearly that his own novel had to be reworked and altered in order to make a good movie. I admit, for “The English Patient”, I enjoy the movie even more than the book… for the beautiful cinematography, the mood it creates, and three of my faves together in one production: KST, JB, and CF.
About all the fusion and remixes nowadays, we’re definitely in a new age of creativity. While the opportunities are endless, I must say I’m a bit ambivalent about certain aspects of it. Like, I’m not too keen about all the spinoffs from literary classics turning into Vampires and Zombies, just an example.
There is a new take on The Scarlet Letter, a recent movie called “Easy A”. Have you seen it? I haven’t yet but reviews are very positive about it. Like “Clueless” being a modern rendition of Emma. If they are done well, they can offer a fresh, new perspective on a literary classic. May not be a bad idea to draw younger readers to the classics.
You’re so right that books and films are such different venues that they require different thinking about them. I think it took me a long time to get over that concept.
I like a fairly close rendition when a film is a book adaptation so that at least the main storyline is intact. I’ve seen some dreadful adaptations of Agatha Christie’s works that upends who the bad and good guys were. And in the LOTR trilogy, I didn’t like changes in character to Frodo (who sends Sam home?!) or Faramir. After watching what seemed like endless adaptations of Jane Eyre, I feel like I’d like to take successful elements from each and make a new version! Beautifully adapted films like 1995’s P&P and S&S are a joy to watch.
One genre that I’m not well versed in discussing is Fantasy & Sci-Fi, although I have the whole set of LOTR trilogy in my home (my son’s personal collection). And I totally agree with you about P & P and S & S. I can watch them endlessly, esp. the 1995 BBC version of P & P. 😉
Ruth’s point about a sort of artistic “cross-pollination” is so apt. The best writing I’ve read on the creative process itself, for example, has come not from writers but from photographers, graphic artists and programmers. The list itself suggests that, having come late to such issues, I may have an advantage I’ve not taken seriously enough: fewer preconceived ideas about what makes good art, good poetry, and so on.
Coming late to the party suggests something else. The question always seems to be posed as “Does the film measure up to the book?” I don’t remember hearing the other question: “Does the book measure up to the film?”
Because there are so many pairs here where I’ve neither read the book nor seen the film, I’m intrigued by the thought of a little project – see the film first, and then read the book. It would be interesting to compare notes afterward with folks who have gone the other direction.
You know, although I usually like to read the book first before seeing the movie, often that is simply impractical, for it’ll take much more time to finish a book than to just see a movie. Actually, I’ve seen many excellent films without going back to read their source material. The few titles listed at the end of my list above are just some examples.
Since posting this entry, I’ve already seen another movie (I would need at least another week to finish a book). My list is just too long, but let me mention it here. The movie “Capote” (2005) is superb. Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role as Truman Capote won him a Best Actor Oscar. It focuses on the short period where Capote did the background research and wrote his book In Cold Blood. Harper Lee was with him throughout this tormenting ordeal. If you have a chance, watch it on DVD. It’s based on the biography Capote by Gerald Clarke.
But you know, even though I have the book (still in my loot box from last year’s book sale), I don’t think I’d venture into reading it. Ironically, just because the movie is so intense and thrilling, offering such a gratifying viewing experience, I doubt whether I’ll ever start to read this 600 page biography… see what I mean. 😉
I’m loving this discussion, and there’s some good food for thought there. I am reminded of a comment Elizabeth Gilbert made while promoting “Eat Pray Love” (the film) that when you take the check, you kiss it goodbye.
As Oh mentioned, when you read the book first, in the mind there is always a clear image that doesn’t always synch up with the film. Sometimes it doesn’t matter; sometimes it does a lot. There are times where you just can’t fit everything in. Wrong or right? Does it matter? I think what really matters is the end game — and if you leave the film feeling satisfied, even if the film departed from the book, then that’s good. And as you mentioned in your comment to Linda, sometimes you don’t need to read the book. The film leaves you perfectly satisfied in every way.
I love the list you mentioned and I am in agreement with all of the titles there that I have seen and/or read. To me in large part, those films resonate because of wonderful characters well played. Another I would add to the list is a book I really didn’t like at all — “The Bridges of Madison County.” I wouldn’t call the movie a classic, but the performances of Streep and Eastwood brought the story to life in a different, more genuine and beautiful way.
There are a number of films on your list that I must look into, have perhaps heard about and not seen. Thanks for that. Thanks, also, for your kind recent comments. And yes, spring IS coming to Michigan. Finally!
You and oh are right, of course, first impressions last… whether it’s the book you read or the movie you see first. But I think opening to variations can only enrich our imagination. After posting this, I’ve already watched three movies on DVD, and have liked them all. Two are adapted from literary works: Capote and Alice In Wonderland. As I mentioned in my reply to Linda’s comment, Capote is one riveting film, while this new version of Alice In Wonderland (2010) is quite far-fetched. But the strange thing is, I’ve enjoyed it throughout, even though there are a lot of invented materials there. And I like Mia W. more as Alice than as Jane Eyre. She’s definitely one promising actor.
As for “Bridges of MC”, I liked it… surprisingly. At first I couldn’t put these two characters together in a romance, MS and CE. But towards the end of the movie, I could feel their emotions, esp. MS’s ambivalence. I’d say this is one of the better adaptations of novels by authors like Robert James Waller and Nicholas Sparks.
I had to pop back in to mention how much I like the photo you’ve used. I love photos of windows and doors, especially if shutters are involved, and these are wonderful!
Arti, even though I’m a complete book snob, I totally agree with your insistence that books and their filmed offspring be treated as two separate genres (which, of course, they are). Why is it so difficult to make that distinction? We get comfortable with books, forming our own pictures, hearing our own versions of the characters’ voices, as Oh and Jeanie point out, and depending on the movie or the book, are jarred out of our comfort zones. Sometimes it’s good (The Remains of the Day), sometimes not (The Hours–no one will ever convince me that Nicole Kidman was the right choice to portray Virginia Woolf.). So I wouldn’t get into litlove’s classes 😦
I don’t know enough about film to be a critic, but two–both of which made your cut–that strike me as being seamless & therefore indelibly tied to the novel and memoir that sparked them are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
I loved the bit about “wabi-sabi-ing”. Mixing things up, not worrying about perfection. So liberating (so much pressure on a director to get a beloved classic “right”). As always, you have left me with quite a bit to think on, especially when you write: “They are two different art forms, two distinct vehicles of storytelling. Even though the story comes from the same source, it could be told from different perspectives, filtered through different lenses, structured in different styles, and ultimately received by interacts with the reader and the viewer in a very individual and personal way.”
Different filters. Exactly. Must remember to change mine.
Thanks for sharing. You know, I’d to smile when I read your comment of NK not the right choice to portray VW… I can see what you mean. When I watched “The Hours”, the characters that struck me most deeply are Julianne Moore and her young son. Their relationship so poignant and their performances just moving. Funny thing is, I don’t have the urge to read the book. Although I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway, the original source material on which The Hours is based.
I’d been meaning to comment but then it slipped my mind.
I completely agree with what you said about movie as a completely different art form. I don’t get the snobbery of treating literature as superior. Maybe because movies are mainstream–anybody can watch a movie, while you need patience and perseverance to finish a book. I enjoy both and see them as stand-alone. I don’t think a movie can “ruin the book” and am always eager and curious to watch the film (if there’s any) as soon as I finish a book and see how people handle the adaptation.
I loved all the films you listed above that I have seen: The Remains of the Day, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, An Education, and a few others. How I adored An Education! It totally put Carrey Mulligan as my top actress to watch! I normally like to read the book before I watch the movie, but for some movies I don’t intend to read the book, like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, An Education, Doubt, Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t know why. Maybe they work so well as movies, that I feel little need to read the books. One movie that I think is missing from the list is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Lovely movie that put Audrey Hepburn as my top actress to watch. One of the pairs that I think the movie might be better than the book. What do you think? Have you seen it?
I’ll put the rest of the movies above to my to-watch list 🙂
Thanks for sharing your faves. For the movies that you don’t intend to read their source material, I urge you to make one exception: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. You’ll be amazed and moved to read what Bauby had ‘written’ with the blinking of his left eye. The book is a compilation of personal essays. You’ll enjoy reading them. ( you might like to click on my review of the book.) BTW, totally agree with you about Carey Mulligan in “An Education.”
As for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, of course, a classic by now… and I love both AH and GP. I haven’t read TC’s novel, but would like to. Speaking of TC, the movie Capote is riveting, and PSH deserves the Oscar win. Have you seen it? But I wouldn’t want to actually go through a 600 page biography though.
I’ll keep Bauby’s book in mind. His life is so fascinating. I can imagine his personal essays being very good.
Lol what’s with all the initials. It’s like you’re talking in code (which I understand fortunately :). I’ve been refraining to watch Capote the movie because I’d really like to read In Cold Blood first (haven’t got around it). But the same with you I don’t think I’m gonna read the biography the film is based on. TC is by the way one of my favorite authors. His short story A Christmas Memory is my absolute favorite short story ever. It made such an impression. (the story was included in the BaT’s collection) I’d encourage you to read BaT the novella if you haven’t. Some of the differences are interesting including the different ending.
Ok… here we go for the long hand: I’ve put a hold on Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany at the public library… as well as the DVD. I’d like to see it again and read the book for the first time, also your recommendations too, the short stories in the book. As for Bauby’s memoir, click here to my review, there you’ll find some excerpts. He wrote all these personal essays while suffering from the shut-in syndrome. Quite an amazing achievement really, and very moving as well.
About Jane Austen books into movies: there is a movie of Persuation from 1995 which I love. Amanda Root, an actress little seen, is the heroine, and she is perfection. There is a terrific turn by Colin Redgrave as an effete snob that is great. The whole movie is filled with details that place it firmly in the time period, and having the dvd and watching it repeatedly—–I find no mistakes which normally place any period movie right back on the hollywood lot. This is the only wholly successful Austen adaptation I have seen, which improves on the source, which is saying much. dtj
Again, thanks for your input. Yes, I’ve enjoyed that version of Persuasion too, more than the 2007 one. For me, it’s Ciarán Hinds. He’s such a brilliant character actor. I can see that you have high standards for Austen adaptations, and rightly so, as the books deserve.
You are so right, of course, they are two different art forms and provide different sorts of pleasure. Though I still won’t watch a film unless I’ve read it, unless I didn’t want to read the book. I just want my reading experience to have a lasting impression more than the film.
Thank you for the amazing list. I’ve read a number of these titles but have seen only a few. I’m not much of a TV and movie person; I mean I love watching films but do not have the motivation for it oftentimes. I only get to watch with my husband (a movie addict), on movie nights at home, bonding time.
I loved The Remains of the Day, Sense & Sensibility, and Atonement, the films, too. The Hours I really liked as well but I haven’t read it. I didn’t realize it was a book when I watched it. There are so many titles on your list, especially The Girl with a Pearl Earring, that I want to watch.
Recently we saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Road. I find that achingly beautiful in books sometimes translate to really depressing in films. Have you seen The Road? Never Let Me Go is next in line for us, probably next weekend. 🙂
What a coincidence! Just a few days ago I found Ben Button the book, a hardcover, little book with glossy pages and illustrations at Chapters, a good price too. But you know, I haven’t seen the movie as a whole, only parts. The Girl With a Pearl Earring is a good film, visually gratifying. Have you read the book? I’ve written a review on both in case you’re interested. Here’s the post. And of course, Never Let Me Go is a must see/read. You can click on the movie poster on my sidebar to read my review.
I love the movie To Kill A Mockingbird now, but when it came out I was about twelve and an avid reader. I had just read the book, and had never before seen a movie of a book I had read prior to seeing the movie. I was horribly disappointed, and my mother said that the book is never as good as the movie. That was the first time I had heard that. This discussion makes me realize that it may have nothing to do with the production or screenwriting, but may just be a result of the disconnection between the mental images I had formed when reading the book. Good food for thought.
I will add that I loved the book, The Hours, and viewed the film with trepidation. I was stunned at how faithful it was to my reading experience, even with Nicole Kidman as Ms. Woolf. I even recall commenting at least twice during the film viewing that a scene looked just like it did in the book!
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, we often construct images of the characters and the story in our mind when reading. So if a movie doesn’t match that image, we’d be disappointed. But maybe we need to put away the ‘loyalty’ issue and just enjoy the film as an art form distinctly on its own, so to appreciate it according to its own merits instead of comparing whether it matches our own imagination or not. I’ve also learned to allow different interpretations of the book, so to still be able to enjoy a film adaptation even if it offers a different perspective from the literary work.
Books and movies, they complement each other, don’t you think? Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
This post has really helped me build my argument for my MA dissertation on adaptations. You would be surprised how easily and how often film theorists jump to compare the two forms and to write off films in the comparison. thank you so much!
Welcome! Glad you find this post helpful. I love books as well as films, and particularly interested in the transformation from one to the other. There are many more ‘Book to Film’ posts on Ripple Effects, feel free to explore. Hope to hear you share your thoughts on them. All the best in your studies!
I would like to add the TV series of The Brothers Karamazov to this list. Amazing work and very faithful to the book:
This is a topic that has really interested me of late. I just read The Count of Monte Cristo and no adaptation seems to do it justice. Thanks for this list, though. Good stuff.
Welcome and thanks for your input!
I would suggest The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – the film is a visual feast and really solidified my appreciation of the book. I read the book first but had already been told that the ‘movie is better’ which had me ALL intrigued, ‘could this be true?’ – I had to read then watch just to find out.
I also approached The Hours as a project: I read Mrs. Dalloway first (tough book!) and then The Hours and then watched the film. One problem with doing these ‘projects’ is that once you know the actors who will play the parts, it is difficult to read the book and not ‘see’ these people. OR, it helps the appreciation (and not just a comparison for competition) of all the art forms.
Yes, I’ve heard praises about Maggie Smith’s performance there, but for some reasons, I’ve not seen the movie all these years. The book I’d read, long time. I really should reread it and get hold of the adaptation and watch it. You know, many of the movies on this list I viewed the film first before reading the source material, just proves how good the movies are. 🙂 And yes, when I read, I had the actors in my mind, which wasn’t a distraction but an asset i feel.
I found your blog while blogwalking and will be coming back to explore. The Namesake, The Letter, Then there were none and Witness for the prosecution are the few movies which come to my mind.
Great article and the list of faithful adaptations. I agree with all of them – they are so good. Though, it is very surprising to see The English Patient on this list. Minghella conveyed the atmosphere and spirit of the novel excellently, but the narrative content of the film does not match the book – the book focused much more on Kip (his biography), whereas the film made the central stage out of Almasy. I also suggest Gone with the Wind, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – one of the most faithful book to film adaptations imaginable.
You rightly point out that the film and the book are two different mediums, but when I think of such adaptations as The Virgin Suicides or Rosemary’s Baby – I think they are one 🙂 Rosemary’s Baby is one of the most astonishingly good film adaptations. I can hardly differentiate it from Levin’s novel – It was so perfect that whether one reads the book or watches the film – it does not matter – it is almost the same thing.
As mentioned in my article above, I like Kazuo Ishiguro’s advice to Alex Garland as he was adapting Never Let Me Go to screen: “Your only duty is to write a really good screenplay with the same title as my book.” That’s exactly the point I was making before the list. While readers would want “Faithfulness” to be the measure of a good adaptation, the visual language of storytelling speaks differently.
As for The English Patient, I’ve to say I like the film much, much more than the book. Kudos to Anthony Minghella, whose untimely death I still lament as a great loss to the movie world, he had created an epic, even though it diverged from the original source. BTW, I have the DVD set of this movie, and on the very elaborate Special Features, I learn that through interviews and on-site documentary, writer Michael Ondaatje totally approved the adaptation and he was on the set all the time collaborating and giving advice.
I’d consider Ondaatje’s attitude and manner, as well as Ishiguro’s, admirably generous and beneficial to the creation of film art as a multi-facet and team production.
That was beside the point I was making. Adaptation equals faithfulness (to a certain large degree), whether one likes it not – if all films followed this advice: “Your only duty is to write a really good screenplay with the same title as my book”, the cinema world will turn into chaos demolishing great pieces of literature. Why call it an adaptation at all, then? I like The English Patient as a film much more than the book and have the same “VERY ELABORATE” Special Feature on my DVD with commentary…so what does it approve? As an adaptation, the film still remains inaccurate and therefore not so good (whether with Ondaatje’s blessing or not is irrelevant – we have his BOOK), but as a piece of cinema – a masterpiece.