When They Turn a Classic Book into a Movie and Other Dilemmas

13 Mar

I’m several days behind on this piece of news, but on the off-chance you haven’t heard, the classic beat generation book On the Road is being turned into a movie and the trailer has been released:

Now, I’ve never read Jack Kerouac, but any lit nerd worth their salt knows someone who toted this book around with them in high school or early college (or maybe even beyond), and the idea of it being a movie now might be a reason for them to go into a period of mourning. This period of mourning might also be in part because Kristen Stewart, the highly emotive actress, is in it, but I digress.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Kerouac, I think we can all relate to the strange sensation of seeing a favorite book adapted to the big screen and thinking to ourselves, “My God, why the awful special effects? Why such dreadful casting? Why did they cut that wonderful scene in that wonderful part of the book that was so wonderful for me to read that first time around?” It’s always a shock, and it’s rarely done faithfully to the work itself. As obvious as it might be to point out, one of the few times Hollywood did try to make a movie that was completely faithful to the book was the seventh Harry Potter movie, and they cut that into two parts. There are also BBC versions of Jane Austen works that follow the text so closely they are nearly four hours long.

What say you, Better Know a Book-ers? Do you have a favorite book-turned-movie? Least favorite? What makes a good, faithful version that isn’t a million hours long?

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5 Responses to “When They Turn a Classic Book into a Movie and Other Dilemmas”

  1. The Chocolate Dictionary March 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    My favourite is the movie adaptation of ‘The English Patient’. With its shifting locations and time-frames, the story is anything but a linear. They even said the book was impossible to film. But somehow director Anthony Minghella managed to carry it off. He doesn’t just follow Ondaatje’s novel page by page – some parts are missed out, and the love affair between Almasy and Kathrine, which occupied little space in the book, positively blooms in the desert of the movie version – but he certainly manages to reproduce on screen the poetry of this famed novel. Memorably, the movie creates these intoxicating visual rhymes between Katherine’s body and the hollows and curves of the sand dunes, all helped by a score that seems both epic and intimate at the same time. All in all, a great success.

  2. johnlevimasuli March 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    The Great Gatsby has a wonderful adaptation, Norwegian Wood is fine, Salo by Pasolini is brilliant in its own right, Children of Men even surpassed the novel, and a lot more..

    Maybe its the subject matter. Some books (for instance 100 Years of Solitude or The Idiot) are better left as books. If it’s some Stephen King or Dan Brown, maybe it’s worth the shot.

    • Better Know A Book March 13, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      That’s a great point–it seems like genre has a lot to do with how a movie adaptation will fare. Mysteries, noirs, crime dramas, comedies, etc. seem liked they’d do better. Hence my surprise when they announced On the Road would become a movie!

      • The Chocolate Dictionary March 14, 2012 at 5:04 am #

        Very true. On the Road has a distinctive energy, spirit and ‘cultural niche’ about it that is difficult to capture on film. Look what they did with Heart Beat, the 1980 movie about the Jack Kerouac-Carolyn Cassidy-Neal Cassidy love triangle. Should have been fast and exciting. Turned out slow and unimaginative.

  3. Misty Dahl March 16, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    I cringed all the way through the trailer; I almost couldn’t finish watching it. How terrible it looks. I won’t be watching it. At least there isn’t a movie version of The Dharma Bums. Knock on wood. That would be truly horrible. I did like the movie Howl. I thought it was great artistically and a pretty good script of Allen Ginsberg’s poem and life.

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