Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Road to successful film adaptation...


(by Claire Davis)

One of the best books I have read all year has got to be The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Stunningly written, heart-wrenchingly sad and one of the most unsettling stories I have read in my entire lifetime, its poetic language and beautifully bleak imagery left me with a very real terror at the possibilities of humanity, when the world as we know it comes to an end.

Which of course meant that the film The Road, directed by John Hillcoat, couldn't possibly match up to my expectations. Well, readers, I was actually surprised, and found myself to be wrong as I sat captivated in front of the movie version of the book last night. It was an extremely uncanny experience; as though somebody had climbed into my very own head, extracted the scenes from my imagination as I turned the pages of that book, and played them out on the big screen for me to watch. It could have been a projection of my very own perceptions. Powerful, upsetting, frightening and hauntingly (yet so paradoxically) beautiful, I was wholeheartedly impressed by the film.



Which led me to wonder, what is it that makes a good book into a good film? Most avid readers will hands down reject a film in favour of the original novel, and I myself have always been that way inclined. The Harry Potters started out well, but veered further and further away from what was vital to the narrative, to the point that it skipped important developments that had people blinking in confusion at the screen and, let’s face it, cringing at the acting. My Sister's Keeper dramatically changed – no, entirely scrapped – the twist at the end that made the book so unexpectedly brilliant, and the recent One Day was just embarrassingly dull after the book had been so funny, so real, so entertainingly unfair. I could go on about the page-turners turned movie-disappointments, as I’m sure you could list many of your own.

And yet, The Lovely Bones, after its success as a bestselling novel, had me gripped in Peter Jackson's dazzling adaptation, and blew the book out of the water for me (considering I never really understood the hype about it, maybe that's not surprising.) The visual effects were unlike anything I'd ever seen, the murderer chilled me to the bone and had me wondering at how was only rated a 12A, and the suspense combined with the tears made it an emotional roller-coaster of a watch. And, similarly, after last night, The Road had me terrified, it had me crying, and at various points had be completely awed by what was unfurling on the screen. I can only hope that Life Of Pi, one of my most beloved novels and winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2002, does itself justice as a film, due to be released later on this year.

So what do you think it is, readers, that makes a good book into a good film? Does it begin and end with the novel itself - was it McCarthy's flawless writing that put the same images into my head and that of the director, and made it so effortlessly easy to transform? Did One Day prove to be a difficult film to translate, from a character’s viewpoint to a linear narrative about two people that were actually too difficult to relate to in a darkened cinema? And why is it that Hollywood so often feels the need to change the genius of some novels – to dumb it down for their audiences, dare I say it, for the good of the film-watchers who haven’t read the book, even though they would probably enjoy it even more if it had stuck to the original plot?

Similarly, what can make a film surprisingly better than the book itself? Why did The Lovely Bones movie strike something within me that makes me want to watch it over and over, whereas I quite happily passed the book onto a friend, and told her to keep it; whilst it wasn’t a bad read, I wasn’t ever going to read it again, and I shrugged with indifference at the raving reviews, reaching for another paperback as soon as I had finished it.

I often play with the idea of the crossover between art and literature, film and moving pictures, and more often that not come to the conclusion that there is no answer for the formula between the two. Sometimes books are only amazing as books and should be left well alone. But equally, sometimes the right director comes along at the right time, happens to have the vision that matches what the readers wanted to see, and creates something equally uplifting as the novelist who had you turning those pages.

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