Our Favorite Book-to-Film Adaptations

As we are in the midst of a surreal situation that movies told us would be a lot worse and chaotic than it actually has been so far – keep up the good work, people being good to each other is the way through, and all that nice stuff –  we could all do with some fun distraction. So, looking around the flat for some inspiration I focused on my collections of books and movies, which, to be fair, take up most of the space in here.

This is a two-pronged list; while it will be primarily about the movies themselves, I do recommend reading the source novels when possible for no other reason than the fact that reading is great. I’m also not going to talk about some of the more obvious adaptations (apart from one exception) as you all already know that Fight Club, Trainspotting, The Shining, and Silence of the Lambs all happen to be great. Lets go!

A Scanner Darkly: written by Philip K Dick and adapted by Richard Linklater

When it comes to adaptations of Philip K Dick’s work, most people will think of either Blade Runner or Total Recall. Both are great, sure, but they are far from good adaptations. Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly may be the most honorable when it comes to its source material. The book is a hallucinatory journey into the fractured mind of an undercover cop who is so fucked on the drug he’s trying to outlaw that he forgets who he is and starts investigating himself.

Linklater, who is more know for the more traditional hit School of Rock, finds a way to make things even more mind-bending by layering his actors and sets with beautiful, timeless animation. Add to that a star-studded cast featuring Keanu Reeves’ finest dramatic performance (help in no small part to the animation, to be fair) and we have a winner.

Crash: written by JG Ballard, adapted by David Cronenberg

Looking through the filmography of David Cronenberg, I realized that I was spoiled for choice. The Canadian director and pioneer of body horror, spent at least a third of his career taking novels that were considered unfilmable and proving that sentiment is only a challenge to any filmmaker worth his or her salt.

This man turned Willian S Burroughs Naked Lunch (a fucking horrible read) and turned it into a hard-boiled acid trip. He adapted Don Delillo’s Cosmopolis and turned it into a star vehicle (if you’ve seen it, you’d get the pun) for Robert Pattinson. He dared to make Spider, an adaptation of one of Patrick McGrath’s cerebral character pieces starring a frankly disgusting Ralph Fiennes. His greatest achievement is still Crash: his adaptation the JG Ballard novel about people getting horny from car crashes. Screw it (not the cars) watch them all – but start here, with a brilliant James Spader performance and a nuanced and mature look at sex, love, and attraction.

Wonder Boys: written by Michael Chabon, adapted by Curtis Hanson

Director Curtis Hanson’s most famous film is LA Confidential, adapted from James Ellroy’s bestseller, but we all know that one off by heart. So lets look at his far superior adaptation of Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s second novel.

Writing is such a romanticized act, but it’s not the most cinematic of processes. There is a reason that the best films about writing (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Adaptation) delve more into the creative process of writing than the act itself.

Wonder Boys is in love with writing, the literary scene, and the idea of artistic temperament, and that’s why it so shamelessly smashes all these ideas to pieces. It’s got an insanely great cast with Michael Douglas as an aging college professor, Tobey McGuire and Katie Holmes as his students: McGuire is a nihilist caricature who becomes more human as we go, and Holmes as the romantic whose crush on Douglas doesn’t mean she won’t criticize his 2000-page attempt at a literary follow-up. Robert Downey Jr excels in the wild card role of Douglas’ literary agent, way beyond the confines of Tony Stark. This is a hilarious film based on a hilarious book which deserve more attention.

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By Kevin Boyle

(header image via Empire)

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