I mostly adhere to the conviction that film adaptations are never as good as the books they are based upon. As a result, I usually try to read the novel before I watch the film, not wanting the plot of a good book to be spoiled. That said, there are many film adaptations I truly love–most of them originally viewed when I was a kid and still somewhat unaware that films’ plots were often sourced from books. In some cases I still haven’t read the novel, experiencing a strange reversal of fear–that having built love for the film, the book will now disappoint. Below are a few examples of my favourite book-to-film adaptations:
Adaptations of Novels I Read After Seeing the Film
Based upon Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, the film of NIMH was released the year I was born. After being allowed to watch it two or three years later, I spent approximately two weeks requesting that people refer to me as “Mrs. Frisby” and that I be allowed to eat my meals off the floor, as a mouse would do. Although I eventually out-grew these affectations, NIMH has remained a favourite and, though I did eventually read the book, it failed to create the same magic experienced by a toddler viewing one of her first films.
Based on the German fantasy novel by Michael Ende, The Neverending Story eventually became a three film series. The first film (released six years before the second) is truly captivating, Henson-like puppetry bringing a luck dragon, a rock-eating giant and a racing snail to life. I still accuse my dog of being descended from the Gmork. The novel is far more complex, but the acting and classic 80’s special effects bring Ende’s world to life perfectly.
The quality of the adaptation of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride may have everything to do with the fact that Goldman also wrote the screenplay. An enduring classic full of humour, adventure and romance, the film captures Goldman’s novel wonderfully, including even Goldman’s fictitious presentation of the book as an abridgement based on the bits his grandfather read to him from S. Morgenstern’s original novel. No such original exists, although Goldman went to great lengths to dupe readers such as myself (see the “Reunion Scene” section of the novel’s Wikipedia page).
If you were a kid in 1993, then you both loved and feared several key scenes in Jurassic Park. Although purists were no doubt alarmed by key changes from Michael Crichton’s novel, including some differences in which characters survive the island, as a film, Jurassic Park is notable and convincing in its combination of traditional animatronics and more modern CGI technology. To this day, I find the seamlessness between the film’s human characters and its representations of dinosaurs convincing in a way more recent CGI often isn’t.
Adaptations of Novels I Haven’t Read
Probably the best part of High Fidelity as a film is the way it acts as a natural progression of John Cusack’s 80’s career. One can easily imagine a Lloyd Dobler, Lane Meyer or Walter Gibson ending up as a malcontent record shop owner. The personality of Rob Gordon also meshes well with these previous roles, a man who basically means well but falls victim to his own impulses and fears. Having read Nick Hornby’s About a Boy after seeing that film, I feel reasonably confident that High Fidelity has captured the feel of Hornby’s work and, to be honest, feel no particular drive to dilute the Cusack-ness of my experience by reading the original.
Although it’s well known that Stephen King dislikes Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel (a hatred I feel would be better reserved for the adaptation of Dreamcatcher whose only saving grace is an early scene in which Jason Lee fights a worm-like creature in a bathroom), I must admit to loving it. Having never read the novel, I understand that the main sticking point between the two representations regards how much of what happens at the Overlook Hotel can be blamed on the supernatural versus the psychological. Although I’m a huge fan of supernatural horror films, there is just something about watching the grinding of the fault lines in Jack’s mind, as portrayed by Nicholson, which makes it hard for me to imagine an outside sinister force as being any more frightening.
Although there are many films about friendship between women, I’ve found few as good as this one. Captivating in part for its graceful cuts between pre-World War 2 and 1980s Alabama, Fried Green Tomatoes captures US cultural changes, but is mostly a story of how friendship acts as a bolster, how non-romantic relationships can be the most vital ones in our lives. Someday I will read Fannie Flagg’s novel of the same name, but I know that when I do I will hear the book’s dialogue in the voices of Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson.
Another Stephen King adaptation, Stand By Me is based upon King’s novella The Body. As a young tomboy, I wished that someday my group of friends would experience an adventure like this one, though I hoped seeing a dead body wouldn’t be the objective in our case. As I grew up and saw many childhood friendships fade over time, the film became more meaningful still. Unlike Now and Then, a 1995 coming-of-age film targeted at girls, Stand By Me acknowledges the transience of both childhood and the friendships that mean so much during it. Whether or not King’s novella accomplishes this goal as gracefully as the film does (I will, someday, find out), I will be forever grateful to Stephen King for writing the story that became the film that has meant so much to me over so many years.