BY JON PILL
It is accepted wisdom that adapting a book is a task fraught with dangers – mostly angry fans of the book who didn’t imagine the book the way the filmmaker did, often because key creatives have never read a book let alone the one they are adapting.
The wisdom, however, isn’t wise. It isn’t even vaguely true.
Take for example: The film is always better.
It’s the most general generalisation you can get. And I imagine if you are a fan of a book that got – lets say ‘rearranged’ – rearranged in the move from ink to celluloid you can almost immediately see what’s wrong with the statement: It only takes one bad adaptation from book to screen to prove the statement wrong (thank you Karl Popper). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), for example. Or The Golden Compass (2007). Or Jackson’s recent Hobbit trilogy.
Go ahead and apply that logic the other way. When I was coming up with that Top 40 last week, I kept spotting films based on books up there. And most are as good as the books. Lots leave the book in the shade.
Popular opinion for example does not rate Mario Puzo’s The Godfather nearly as highly as Coppola’s and to take an example not on the list – so skipping over: Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, The Exorcist, Starship Troopers, etc… – Jaws by Peter Benchley is properly, properly terrible. Spielberg’s Jaws, on the other hand, is one of the great artworks of the 20th Century.
The book is not always better. It’s not even better often enough to make it a useful rule of thumb. Cus it’s not just bad books getting fixed on screen. Great books can be the source for great films. Fight Club is almost always the subject of intense close discussion as to whether book or film is better (the correct answer is ‘yes’), and American Psycho is basically the same thing as the book in a different format. Who out there has been disappointed by either the book or film of The Princess Bride.
Other adaptations work in concert with the book. Like Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, which is more of a dramatised and surreal ‘making of the book’ type story, than a straight adaptation, while still being thoroughly in keeping with the not-really-a-novel.
Bruce Robinson did something similar with The Rum Diary making a few changes that turned it into a bridging work between the rather straightforward book and Hunter S. Thompson’s later, more Raoul Duke-y, efforts.
Film is a great storytelling medium, every bit as rich and interesting and diverse as the written word. Assuming that moving from one to the other is a guaranteed omnishambles is daft.
So stop it. Stop repeating the flawed wisdom. Or I’ll go after something you love.