This week I saw The Great Gatsby, something I’ve deeply regretted ever since. You can expect a less-than-complimentary review in the bear future, brace yourselves. I was thoroughly disappointed with the film, mostly because I’d read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel last year in preparation for the film, and really rather enjoyed it. This got me thinking about the best films adapted from books. However, the potential candidates for such a list would include roughly half of all films ever made, if not more, so I slimmed it down somewhat in the only manner I knew how, by making it about myself. Therefore, this is a list of my favourite films adapted from books that I’ve actually read, a list of books nowhere near long enough in my opinion, but with so many films to watch how can I hope to find the time to read more?
Anyway, the list is comprised of books I read before the films came out, some I was drawn to by the film, and others I read upon finding out the film was to be released, as was the case with Gatsby.
Honourable MentionAs much as I’d love Jurassic Park to be on this list, at present I’m only halfway through Michael Crichton’s so far excellent novel, so alas the best I can do is say the first half of Jurassic Park is my Honourable Mention. In terms of complete books, there are some adaptations that have done a stellar job in maintaining the themes and style of their source material – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is impenetrable and muddy, The Time Traveller’s Wife is bland and queasy, Touching The Void is gripping yet informative – whereas others have differed greatly from where they began – There Will Be Blood covers only a fraction of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!. I think I’ll settle upon Fight Club as my official honourable mention, and it remains the book I’ve read the fastest – in one sitting at that – and quite possibly in the same amount of time as it would have taken to watch the film. It is a rather slim book, you see, but well worth a read if you’re even a passing appreciator of the film.
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Although I don’t talk about it much, I’m something of a fan of the Harry Potter series. I’ve not only read but own the entire series of books – in fact we have two copies in our flat as my girlfriend was an avid reader too, and our first date was peppered with Potter talk – and I could have been found queuing outside the store on the day of the final book’s release, although in my defense that was unintentional, as I had the opening hours wrong by half an hour, and am generally an early riser anyway. The books are better than their teen fandom may lead you to believe, and the films are almost as good. When asked to pick a favourite, I generally opt for book number four, The Goblet of Fire, because of the series I find it has the most balanced blend of action – the Quidditch World Cup, The TriWizard Tournament – with the ever-increasing darkness that slowly seems to engulf every ongoing franchise. Also, there’s dragons – four of them! – as well as mermaids, and the introduction to the series of Brendan Gleeson’s irascible Mad-Eye Moody, one of my favourite characters, and Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy), who is just lovely.
9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ five-part science fiction comedy trilogy is my favourite book of all time, and one day I hope to retrieve my copy from the guy I lent it to six years ago. The fact that my favourite book has led to a 9th position on this list should say something to how disappointed I was with the film, which did little right other than casting Martin Freeman as unwilling hero and last man alive Arthur Dent. Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox was also an inspired choise, and I don’t even mind Zooey Deschanel as Dent’s dream girl Trillian. Mos Def as Ford Prefect, however, is something the film never recovers from. The film also suffers from a confused script, trying to cram too much into too little time, and an ending that never satisfies. So if I dislike it so much, why is it on the list? Well, however poorly adapted it may have been, it still features enough of Adams’ ideas to keep it entertaining and amusing. Also, Alan Rickman is a delight as the eternally depressed Marvin the paranoid android, and Bill Bailey voicing the running stream of consciousness for the sperm whale that pops into existence for a very brief – and highly unlikely – fall is just wonderful.
8. The Mist
The Mist is so far the only Stephen King book I’ve read, and if it hadn’t come free with my DVD of Frank Darabont’s film (his third adaptation of a King work) then chances are I wouldn’t have read it. I’m not all that glad that I did though, as the novella isn’t terribly good. The film also has its detractors, but I’m a fan of this kind of story – a small group of everyday people fighting off an unknown force – and enjoyed the direction taken with it, adding a threat from within the group as well as dealing with the origin of the attack. The film gets a lot of praise for its gut-punch ending – a new addition to the film not scene in the more open-ended book – but personally I think there is far more going for the film than just the conclusion.
Yep, I’m classing graphic novels as books, which is good because there’s another one yet to come on this list. I discussed Watchmen recently on my Top 10 Superheroes list – twice in fact – so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say, Alan Moore’s graphic novel was one I read upon hearing the basic premise for the then-upcoming Watchmen film. The book was great, from the artistic style to the directions the plot took, and I’d argue that Zack Snyder’s effects-heavy film was even better, although it helped if you’d read the source material, as there was an awful lot to take in if you hadn’t.
6. Into the Wild
It’s strange to think that there’s a film out there featuring Zach Galifianakis, Vince Vaughn and Kristen Stewart, and that I not only tolerate it, but love it. Jon Krakauer’s documentation of the true life story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a promising law graduate with a bright future ahead of him who burns or gives away all his worldly possessions to go and live in the wilderness, is a great read and a great watch. I hate to use the phrase, but it really is an emotional rollercoaster of a film, featuring some outstanding performances, particularly from Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt as Christopher’s buttoned up parents who have difficulty accepting or understanding his decision.
5. High Fidelity
I’m not really a huge music buff, so when I watch Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s story of a recently single record store owner and his eccentric employees (John Cusack, Jack Black and Todd Louiso) I pretend they work at a DVD store instead, something far more relatable. The book is great – I found it for 50p in a charity shop – it just would have hit far harder home with me had it been based around movies instead of music, but I can see how some people go for that. What I can most definitely relate to is Cusack’s character, Rob, a man constantly looking for someone to blame for his dissatisfaction with life, and who fills his time by obsessively compiling lists and rearranging his music collection. Why, only last weekend I re-sorted my DVD collection for no real reason other than I hadn’t done it in a while. Not sure I could quite handle organising it autobiographically though.
4. Sin City
Whilst I read Watchmen just before the film was released, I didn’t get to Sin City for some time after, when I discovered a comic-loving friend of mine owned the entire collection. I hastily borrowed the set from him and devoured it within a matter of weeks – for me that is a considerably short amount of time to read one book, let alone seven. The graphic style really appealed to me, and I love how practically every shot from the film is lifted directly from Frank Miller’s pages, but yet they’ve been expanded upon with the addition of colour, something otherwise missing from the monochrome novels. I’m tentative about the upcoming sequel in spite of some good casting choices – Eva Green, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Dennis Haysbert amongst others – because it’s a film that’s been in the works for an awfully long time, which is rarely a good thing these days. Still, if it’s even half as good as the first one I’ll love it.
3. No Country for Old Men
My second favourite Cormac McCarthy book so far (The Road is better, though I hear the film is worse) has led to one of my favourite Coen Brothers films (top 5 at least). I’m a fan of the Coens, and it is usually their way with words that keeps me hooked, but here they had the majority mapped out for them by McCarthy, so instead they made sure the right people were hired to say those words. Josh Brolin I can take or leave, but Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and Javier Bardem fully deserved that Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal of unstoppable killer Anton Chigurh. Add in Roger Deakins’ legendary cinematography and a great supporting cast – Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald, Stephen Root – plus an ending I adore, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a film.
2. L.A. Confidential
L.A. Confidential is one of those books, like the aforementioned Oil!, where the film has only taken part of the story, but the part it’s chosen is great. The book includes diversions into a Disney-esque figure creating amusement parks, and his friendship with the father of ambitious yet underqualified detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce in the film), but that entire storyline is omitted in favour of greater focus on the converging cases of Exley, brutish thug Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Hollywood schmoozer Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). The story has a great mix of intrigue, classic detective story and, at times, modern cop thriller, and it features some great twists and performances from one of my favourite casts. Director Curtis Hanson hasn’t made anything close to this before or since – Wonder Boys is OK, 8 Mile forgettable and the less I say about In Her Shoes the better – so I think James Ellroy’s novel probably has a lot to do with the quality of this film.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Well this is a bit of an obvious one, isn’t it? Sorry about that, but let’s face it, it’s an obvious choice for a reason. The trilogy, plus The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, although I’m positive the other two Hobbit parts will make it as well, are the very definition of epic, both in terms of scale and length, and it is that last point that’s the only reason I don’t watch the films more often. Fitting a viewing in requires a great deal of foresight and planning, but is always worthwhile, especially if watching as a marathon (which I’ve now done I think four times, twice on my own). The film is full of pretty much every kind of scene you could want, bar robot ninja vampires fighting alien dinosaurs in space, and whilst there are certain bits I’d happily skip through – most of the singing, for example – the level of achievement on display is nothing short of phenomenal.
So did I leave anything out? Well how would you know, you don’t know what books I’ve read! Instead, why not recommend to me some other great adaptations, or even the original books that inspired films, or even those that haven’t.