Thursday, November 20, 2008

Favorite Novels Adapted to Screen

One of my favorite modern Fantasy authors is Neil Gaiman. Noted as the creator of the Sandman graphic novel series, Gaiman's novels American Gods and Anastasi Boys are practically relavatory works of Fantasy Fiction. The magic in Gaiman's stories is rarely of the usual kind (much like that of fellow Brit author, Clive Barker) and his imaginative prose sets a tone unlike any other modern fantacist can. Neverwhere was my first Gaiman novel, and I loved it, but was disappointed by the poorly produced BBC miniseries of it. I read Stardust on the train bewteen Trenton and New York while working for the NYC Ballet and adored it. And loved the movie even more (more on that, later). Now, the brilliant stop-motion animation director Henry Selig (A Nightmare Before Christmas; James and the Giant Peach) is bringing one of Gaiman's many children's books to the big screen in 3D, no less.

Coraline tells the story of a girl who discovers a door to an alternate universe, and from what I have seen, Selig has gotten it just right. Which got me to thinking about what other movies got it just right when adapting a novel for the screen. For the record, here are my choices for the other movies that were translated to the screen correctly.



I read The Silence of the Lambs when it came out in paperback, without realizing I'd already seen the first adaptation of a Hannibal Lecter novel, Red Dragon, adapted by Michael Mann, creator of "Miami Vice." "C.S.I" star William Peterson is Will Graham, the FBI agent responsible for capturing the notorious Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter. Now on the trail of the Red Dragon, Graham must turn to teh mad genius for help in solving the case. Brian Cox created the role long before Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his turn at the part, and for my money, Cox's is the creepier interpretation. Mann's classic "MTV" editing style is well used in this adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel.


Charlie and The Chocolate Factory

I may be in the minority here (in fact, I know I am), but I far prefer Tim Burton's adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel to the 1971 version, starring the brilliant Gene Wilder. Yes, Deep Roy was all the Oompa-Loompas. But in the original illustrations, all of them looked exactly alike (and sang the words to the songs adapted by Danny Elfman). Yes, Veruca Salt is assaulted by squirrels instead golden-egg laying geese. But that's what happens to her in the book. Darker, weirder and so much closer to Dahl's original, Charlie... ranks among my top 5 Burton films.



Steven Spielberg's first big-screen hit literally invented the summer blockbuster. Over due and over-budget, plagued by mechanical effects problems, Jaws could have been just another B horror movie. But Peter Benchley's novel about a resort town terrorized by a great white shark was already a best-seller, and people flocked to theaters in droves and staying away from seaside resorts in record numbers. It's not just the monster that's terrific here. Iconic performances by Roy Schieder, Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw drive this story of Man Vs. Nature in on of the tautest thrillers, ever.



Rob Reiner also adapted the film version of Stephen King's short novel, The Body into the excellent coming-of-age film Stand by Me. In Misery, King's novel about an obsessive fan, Reiner is at the top of his game. James Caan plays romance author Paul Sheldon, whose character Misery Chastain has seen him through a best-selling, if not critically accalimed career.

After an auto accident in the mountains, Sheldon is rescued by his "Number One Fan," Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates in a Oscar-winning performance), a former nurse suspected of being an "Angel of Death" killer. Trapped in Annie's remote farmhouse, Paul has no choice but to write himself out of captivity. And did I mention the infamous "hobbling" scene?


Interview with the Vampire

Though author Anne Rice at first decried the casting of Tom Cruise as her forever 17 year-old vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, she relented once she saw Neil Jordan's lush adaptation of her homerotic first entry in what would become known as 'The Vampure Chronicles." Ultimately, teh film belongs to an ethereal Brad Pitt as the tortured Louis and young Kirsten Dunst as child vampire, Claudia. Brooding, dark and oh-do-sexy, Jordan's vision of Rice's world is completely defiled in the inept follow-up film, Queen of the Damned.


The Haunting

I've already discussed Julie Harris' astonishing performance here, but I must cite Robert Wise's 1961 adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House not only because it may well be the scariest movie ever made, but because it captures the mood and feel of Jackson's prose so brilliantly.


The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs is the first Thomas Harris novel I ever read. Jonathan Demme's 1991 adaptation won Oscars for Best Picture; Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins); Best Actress (Jody Foster); Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally) and Best Director. When I first saw this movie, I was astounded not only by the performnaces, but how closely Demme had come to re-creating the world I had imagined when I read the book.


Gone with the Wind

Director Victor Fleming (credited for The Wizard of Oz) had quite a year in 1939. Taking over for George Cukor, Fleming rendered novelist Margaret Mitchell's novel about the American Civil War and a spunky Southern belle into a cinema legend. Mitchell's sprawling tale was one of teh most anticpated films, ever, and if adjusted for inflation, is still one of the all-time top-grossers in movie history.


The Shawshank Redemption/The Green Mile/The Mist

Director Frank Darabount is one of three or so directors who has succesfully managed to translate novels by Stephen King to the big screen. All three of the above-mentioned films are remarkably faithful to the source material... with one exception. King's novella The Mist ends on a most ambiguous note - Darabount's adaptation ends on a truly devastating one (and the only possibly satisfying filmic ending)



I've already discussed the many merits of Stardust here, but I must also mention Matthew vaughn's 2007 adaptation Neil Gaiman's adult fairy tale as the archetypically perfect fairy tale. With fellow writer Jane Goldman, Vaughn manages to capture Gaiman's fanciful tale in all its glory, while managing to avoid some the novel' sslower parts. Pure cinematic joy.



George Seton's film version of Arthur Hailey's best-seller is inarguably the Grand-Daddy of '70's All Star disaster movies. It features a host of then A-listers (including Helen Hayes, Dean Martin and Sonny Bono) in a story of intrigue, affairs and mid-air exploisions. Thrilling stuff for the average beach-novel reader in 1970.

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