Thursday 27 December 2012

Life of Pi and Other 'Unfilmable' Books That Became Popular Adaptations

We've all been there. You've just heard that one of your favourite books of all time is going to be adapted into a movie. How do you feel? Well if you're anything like me, you'll be crazy excited to begin with. "Oh my god! How cool would it be to see so and so do this on screen?" But then the doubts begin to sink in. "But who's going to direct it? And how are they going to pull off (insert key moment here) without ruining it?"

It seems to me that more films are based on books than ever these days and yet sometimes, this can be a huge risk. Popular books such as 'The Hunger Games' and 'Harry Potter' have enormous cult-like followings who will rain down their fury and discontent on a film if it's not been adapted properly.

But what is it that these fans want exactly? Is it too much to ask for a film to stay completely true to the original source material and yet still retain the ability to excite and surprise the fans who know every word inside and out? Some adaptations attempt to follow the books to the letter, which can result in disastrously flat and dull movies which have no spark of their own (hello 'Twillight'), while others can veer wildly away from the source material, to the point where the adaptation becomes almost unrecognisable (yes I'm looking at you 'I Am Legend'). Every now and again though, an incredible film adaptation comes along that actually does the original novel justice. Let's take a look then at some of these 'unfilmable' books that became hugely successful film adaptations.

Life of Pi (2012)
A boy stuck in the middle of the Pacific ocean with just a tiger for company. Screenwriter David Magee must have freaked his s**t out when he realised the difficulty of the task that laid ahead of him but 'Life of Pi' is a beautiful film that perfectly captures the strange atmosphere of the original story. Famed director Ang Lee did a fantastic job of exploring the books religious themes while ensuring the film still remains accessible to mainstream audiences. This should be big around Oscar time and its success so far is well deserved.

The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia Coppola took on a mammoth task for her directorial debut, as 'The Virgin Suicides' doesn't exactly scream to be adapted upon first read. The story of five sisters killing themselves is told in flashback, with fragments of their lives shared by an outside perspective and the whole thing could have easily fallen apart if not handled properly. What makes this adaptation so brilliant though is Coppola's realisation that the atmosphere of the film would be key to making this work, so much of it is shot with a hazy, dreamlike feel that is complimented perfectly by the now infamous soundtrack, which binds the ethereal tone of each scene together. 'The Virgin Suicides' shouldn't work as a film but it does and it became the perfect calling card for one of the best new directorial talents to debut in the last fifteen years.

Watchmen (2009)
This choice may be controversial for some, including the creator himself, but the film adaptation of Alan Moore's epic comic series definitely deserves it place here for me. 'Watchmen' is easily one of the best superhero comics of all time and I could spend days writing about all the accolades it has received, but all you need to know is that it ranks amongst the best works of literature ever created. So who in their right mind would even attempt to make it work on the big screen? Zack Snyder proved himself as a great director of spectacle and action with '300' and he does a fantastic job of condensing the twelve comics here into one feature film. Sure 'Watchmen' doesn't work at points and controversial omissions were made to ensure a sensible running time but considering the task at hand, I think Snyder did a pretty amazing job of things. Not every fan boy would agree but if 'Watchmen' had to be adapted into a movie, I'm glad it was Zack Snyder who took it on.

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

With 'Where The Wild Things Are', Spike Jonze had the opposite challenge that Snyder faced. How on earth could this miniscule collection of words and images be stretched into a full length feature film I hear you ask? I'll admit that the film isn't perfect but the story of the lonely boy Max escaping to a remote island and becoming king has a wonderful naivety about it which appeals to the child in all of us. Just like Coppola's work on 'The Virgin Suicides', the key for Jonze here was atmosphere. With a mixture of live action, costumes, animatronics and CGI, the 'Wild Things' world is brought beautifully to life, evoking the tone of the original illustrations by Maurice Sendak. Ok, the plot does lose its way somewhat in the last third but then I watched this film as a critical adult. Some of the best children's films possess a magic that goes beyond simple story structuring and I believe that I would have become lost in this world that Jonze has created had I just been twenty years younger.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
The inclusion of 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' may seem surprising to some but as someone who read the book first, I felt that this would be an extremely difficult novel to adapt successfully. Sure the subject matter is extremely controversial, dealing as it does with a high school shooting and the events that formed the killers upbringing but for me, I worried that the tone of the book would be lost in translation. 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' is told from the perspective of the mother, who writes a series of letters to a mysterious person that deal with issues of nature and nurture and how parenting styles could potentially account for the creation of a monster. My worry was that the mother's remorse and regret could come across as self-pitying or even an admission of blame. Of course these were aspects of the character's perspective but the complexity of her viewpoint needed to be fully realised on screen for the film to be effective. Luckily, Lynne Ramsay did a great job of directing 'We Need To Talk About Kevin', which was supported by phenomenal performances by Tilda Swinton as the mother and Ezra Miller as her psychopathic son.   

And here are five books that should never have been made into films...

Hollywood will always try to adapt books that seem unfilmable but I'm a little bit worried about some of the upcoming releases for 2013. These include some of my favourite novels, such as 'John Dies At The End', 'World War Z', 'Ready Player One' and Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' series. You never know though; some of these may turn out to be incredible!

So what do you think of my choices? Were these successful adaptations or did the filmmakers fail to capture the essence of the source material? Let me know what you think by liking, commenting and sharing below.

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