The Good, The Bad, and the Better-off Forgotten: Film Adaptations
Silence of the Lambs(1991)
Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation of Robert Harris’s chilling psychological murder mystery showcases Anthony Hopkins in what was not only one of his most chilling and memorable performances, but also one of the most infamous film villains of all time – Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Silence of the Lambs excels beyond any of the other adaptations due to the on-screen chemistry between Hopkins’ Lecter and Jodi Foster’s cold and extremely intelligent Clarice Starling.
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975)
While this adaptation is fairly close to the thematic tone of the book, which in itself is a literary achievement which appears on pretty much every ‘Top 100’ books lists, it’s the acting which brings these flawed and unlikeable characters to life. Not only does Nicolson excel as McMurphy, but he’s surrounded by a cast largely made up of unknowns – recruited through a mock therapy session – who support and compliment Nicolson’s character while exploring all facets of the troubled human mind and who are funny without making a mockery of the message of the novel.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch will always be one of the all-time best on-screen Dad performances, and though much of Scout and Jem’s plotlines are ousted to make room for more focus on the trial, this film adaptation stays true to the tone and emphasis of Harper Lee’s novel. This adaptation not only stays true to the characters, but to the monumental efforts of the novel with regards to the Black Rights struggle in America – an issue which was sadly still heavily relevant in the 60s.
With film adaptations, there are a few out there that improve upon their primary text, and I think anyone who’s read Jurassic Park will agree this is one of those times. Michael Crichton’s novel, while gripping and revolutionary in the historic sci-fi genre, had certain imagery issues in that it was very difficult as a reader to imagine the things described. However, Spielberg’s Cretaceous cult-classic managed to develop cutting-edge CGI and visual effects which far surpassed anything seen before, opening the world of the novel up to completely new dimensions.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Humphrey Bogart was undoubtedly the King of Film Noir, however his turn as the sarcastic and supremely intelligent Sam Spade in this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s most famous novel is, in my humble opinion, his best performance. While I’m a bit biased as I’ll watch anything with Bogie in it, his is a name which defined Film Noir as a period in film, and pairing him with visual titan John Huston and one of the great writers of Detective Fiction makes this one of the most truly unforgettable masterpieces of that and any other period.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
This may sound like a bit of an odd one but Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic was both true to the novel’s dark humour and inventiveness while adding a stylistic edge totally individual to the adaptation. George Clooney’s turn as Mr. Fox was a stroke of unexpected genius while the supporting cast around him filled the roles to such perfection that it was pure nostalgia with that certain Wes Anderson nuance.
Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The Harry Potter films had their ups and their downs (Chris Columbus I’m looking at you), but When Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron took charge he allowed the film series and its characters to grow up, capturing the increasingly dark tone which ended up defining the book series. Prisoner of Azkaban marked the first adaptation which bore any kind of resemblance to the books and may actually be the best of all the films (pause for reaction.)
Fight Club (1999)
Being one of my favourite films in its direction, writing and acting, it couldn’t really not make it on to this list. Though the film is fairly different from the book itself in its narrative construction, Chuck Palahniuk himself has praised David Fincher’s adaptation for its concise yet thorough portrayal of his characters and narrative, saying that: “I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make”. It’s often rare for adaptations to outdo their source material, but in this case Fincher really did the book justice and seemed to have a fairly rigorous and efficient system of weeding out the parts that were unneeded.”
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Alan Moore’s graphic novel provided a rich and diverse bounty of material for any filmmaker/scriptwriter and on paper makes for an exciting on-screen adaptation. However, what was eventually produced was a film completely lacking any of the originality, depth and really any resemblance to its source material and came out the other end as a very linear and boring carbon-copy comic adaptation that Alan Moore himself disowned. This seems to be a very common theme whenever adaptations of Moore’s work are involved (see Watchmen and V for Vendetta)
The Cat in the Hat (2003)
As a Dr. Suess fan (though I’m sure it’s difficult for anyone of my generation to claim they’re anything but), this was a truly thorough disappointment. I’m a true believer that child actors are very very hit and miss – and more often than not for me they fall in the ‘miss’ category – and it took a lot to surpass these particularly lacklustre rugrats as the worst actors in this film. But funnyman Mike Myers obviously saw that as a challenge. Acting purrs (HA) aside, the writing of this film completely destroyed the well-known style of Dr Suess and turned his most loved piece in to a disastrous paint-palette of parody.
X-men: The Last Stand (2006)
Okay. What the fuck was this. WHAT. THE. FUCK. I think any self-respecting X-men – or comic book – fan would agree that Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the single greatest arcs in comic book history and what this film did to that story is unforgivable. Having just seen the new X-men film this angers me even more. Stop fucking with X-men canon. The list of what’s wrong with this film is pretty endless but for starters: where was the Hellfire club? Where was the trial of Jean Grey? WHERE WAS THE AWESOME FIGHT ON THE MOTHERFUCKING MOON?! Just awful. Also nobody should ever be forgiven for writing “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch”.
Spiderman 3 (2007)
In a strange sadistic way, I was glad this film was such a complete and utter disaster. This was mainly because it validated my total and all-consuming hatred of Tobey Maguire. However, not only was the characterisation and casting of its main characters totally wrong, but somebody in the vast nothingness of Sony Pictures made the completely moronic decision to give the majority of their villain screen-time to Sandman, and left Venom – possibly the greatest and most iconic Spiderman villain OF ALL TIME – as some kind of rushed side-story villain. Maybe the script issues and horrible portrayal of Spiderman as some weepy, moody man-child could have been forgiven had it not been for this complete destruction of such an important character; but probably not.
A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Aw man I so nearly didn’t put this on here. There were so many elements that should have worked about this film. Jim Carrey was (contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs) actually a very good Count Olaf in my eyes. Yes he was a bit too kooky and not enough creepy, but when I read the books when I was younger I always imagined him in this role. All across the board the casting was actually pretty solid, particularly Billy Connelly. I think the real problem facing this film is that a) although they were children’s books, they most certainly were never PG and b) these books were always meant to be a saga; you were in it for the long game with Series of Unfortunate Events. I think the latter point is currently being addressed by the Netflix series – because it really always should have been a TV show, and I have very very high hopes for Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf.
The Last Airbender (2010)
I don’t even know what to say about this. I hate it. I hate everything about it. It makes me angry. I wish I could erase it from the collective memory of Avatar fans, but sadly I can’t. Just everything was wrong; visual effects, story, characterisation, scripting, imagery, symbolism, casting, direction. I could go on. I am a big big fan of Avatar, and I can accept that it just isn’t right for adaptation; and why M. Night Shamalamadingdong couldn’t see that I will never know. STOP PRONOUNCING AANG’S NAME LIKE THAT. GOD. I’m so glad they spared Toph. And that she couldn’t see it anyway.