I’ve talked before about how difficult sequels are, but adaptations are even harder. When you’re lifting material and trying to transfer it to an entirely different medium, tough decisions need to be made. Trying too hard to stay faithful to a book when you’re making a movie can lead to trouble, since both have different audiences with different expectations built into them. Here are five films that I think manage to cross the line brilliantly. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of the film’s quality however, just my opinion that they did the best they could with what they had to work with. Except for “Moneyball.” Watch “Moneyball” right now.
5. World War Z
I think I’m just throwing this one in here because a lot of people are angry about it, since it strays so far from the source material. Also, I didn’t get to review it, so now you have to hear about it here. “World War Z” is a very good adaptation of the book. I say this because it is not a direct 1:1 transfer of book to film, which would have been a disaster. The book is a collection of narratives from tons of fictional “historical” accounts of a zombie infestation of Earth, and as a film that would have been a jumbled mess. A good TV series? Maybe. But definitely not a big budget movie. The film opts to take such a broad book and tie it all together by giving us a single main character to identify with, with a very easy-to-understand motivation. Rather than mashing together a bunch of different viewpoints into a two-hour movie, we catch glimpses of this global epidemic while the story stays focused on one narrative “spine” that all these other stories hang off of, like branches on a tree. Also, it thankfully excises a lot of the stupider aspects of the book, like the Japanese nerd who runs around with a katana or the underground bunkers that can contain literally every North Korean. Ugh.
4. Scott Pilgrim VS. The World
“Scott Pilgrim” is a very “out there” kinda book. It’s full of little references and in-jokes that only huge nerds and Toronto-nians would be able to appreciate. Take that and add in the strange plot and tenuous grip on reality and you make an absolute nightmare to pitch to a mainstream audience. What Edgar Wright produced is not that, and is definitely not a movie for grandma, and it isn’t trying to be. What he did do was give it a strong structure to hold all the wackiness together, while still keeping it crazy enough to appeal to the original fanbase. I was blown away that it worked at all, let alone that it was a pretty good movie in it’s own right.
3. Starship Troopers
This one is a lot like “World War Z,” in how its strengths are based on how it differs from the source material. The book “Starship Troopers” was a landmark piece of science-fiction literature, it was also kiiiiind of reprehensible, and a lot of people have made pretty good arguments that it was blatantly fascist and favourable of a military dictatorship. Paul Verhoven, the director of the film, certainly thought so, as his film is less a respectful recreation of the book and more of an out-and-out parody. The government of the “Starship Troopers” film is Nazi-like to an almost comedic degree, and the militaristic nature of the main characters is so extreme that you kind of find yourself rooting for the hordes of insect aliens. It also makes the movie a great honeypot to find out who among your friends is a closet fascist, when they unironically love the film’s message. It takes massive genitals to be picked to direct a classic science-fiction title, then relentlessly mock the crap out of it. For that, Paul Verhoven, I salute you.
2.The Lord of The Rings
“The Lord of The Rings” is such an epic, dense piece of literature that for decades it was considered totally unfilmable. When Peter Jackson did set out to film it, the production was a colossal undertaking that succeeded due to his ability to know what to cut and why. Gone are the chapter-long musings on the history of pipe-weed, gone are the digressions into folklore, and gone most importantly is *shudder* Tom Bombadil. Despite all of this, the films still retain the simple, pure-hearted, agrarian aesthetic that Tolkien set out to create. Unfortunately it’s still left a nasty surprise for anyone who saw the movies first then decided to read the books. I HOPE YOU LIKE BACK-STORIES TO EVERY FAMILY IN HOBBITON.
“Moneyball” is a book about statistics and efficiency, and how to construct a winning baseball team with a limited budget. The book puts the focus on Billy Beane, and the Oakland Athletic’s incredible 2004 season, but still often delves into long anecdotes about mathematics and numbers that would hold little interest to the average moviegoer. The great success of “Moneyball” was taking this insightful book and distilling it down to one of the greatest underdog stories in the history of American sports. It’s a lot like “World War Z,” I suppose, which makes it even weirder that they both star Brad Pitt. On the face of it, “Moneyball” is a movie about baseball, and mathematics; but really it isn’t about either of those things. The film zeroes in on the emotional core of the book, and executes it perfectly. Read the book and watch the movie, they are both great.