Whenever I visit Granville Island to pick up some matcha from that little tea shop, I always ask the woman who serves me: “What are you reading?”.  We discuss and I always complete my purchase by recommending a book.  On my most recent trip, she had just finished reading (and throughly enjoying) one of my recommendations, Karen Joy Fowler‘s We Are Completely Beside Ourselves.   Pleased, I offered her another one: “This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.”  And then, offer her furrow-browed reaction: “They just made a movie based on the book – but don’t go see it.  Read the book instead!”

“Too late,”she told me, and the look on her face told me that her dissatisfaction with the film ensured she would never pick up the book.  I liken it to suffering food poisoning at an otherwise great restaurant.  After that bad experience, there’s no way you’ll be able to go back and fully enjoy yourself.  Just the smell of cumin or the taste of curry or the sight to Timothy Olyphant is enough to send you running for the exit.

Which is why I have – well, I want to say “mixed feelings”, but they’re not really mixed at all, so let’s go with – “homogenous feelings” about the announced big screen adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle.  I don’t care who write the script or directs or stars, the movie will NOT be as good as the book.  The best that can be hoped for is something different, a film no better or worse than the source material that, nevertheless, stands on its distinct own as an enjoyable product.

It happens, but rarely.  Most book-based movies range from disappointing to atrocious.  As I gave it some thoughts, numerous bad examples came to mind.  And a few singular good ones.

Here are my Top 5 Best and Worst Book to Film adaptations:

THE WORST

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

5. I AM LEGEND

The movie, based on the short novel by Richard Matheson, tries to go it’s own creative way – and fails miserably.  A film that will be remembered for only one thing: killing off the dog.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!4. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN

Okay, look, ANY film based on the works of writer Alan Moore are going to pale in comparison to the original.  The best you can hope for is “good but not close enough” (Watchmen) to atrocious (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).  Hey, I don’t recall Tom Sawyer in the graphic novel.  Oh, right.  He was added to appeal to an American audience (“Hey!  Tom Sawyer’s in this movie!  Let’s go see it!”said no one ever).  So disastrous that not only did Alan Moore disown it, but so did it’s star, Sean Connery.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

3. WORLD WAR Z

It’s the book’s fractured narrative that allows us a sweeping understanding of the global pandemic on both the public and personal level – and the attempt to capture it proves to be the movie’s undoing.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

2. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE

My favorite book in the series was the worst film in the series – as far I know given that I stopped watching after this one.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

 1. A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

My favorite children’s book series of all time.  The movie gets nowhere close to capturing its clever narrative and darkly humorous tone.

(Honorable mentions: Daredevil, The Fantastic Four [any version]).

THE BEST

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

5. THE SHINING

I know that author Stephen King was never a fan of the big screen adaptation, but I thought this was one of those rare instances where the  movie almost exists as a separate entity, a different version of the same story that is just as good as the original.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

4. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Like The Shining, this is a case of a film that charts its own stylistic path, creating a visual counterpart that pays its respect to the book but is still very much its own animal.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

3. THE PRINCESS BRIDE

I actually fell in love with the movie before discovering – and falling in love with – the book.  It helps that both were written by the same hugely talented writer, William Goldman.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

2. MISERY

Loved the book and loved the movie.  This is one of those rarest of instances where the book and film actually co-exist in the same creative world.  Whenever I watch the movie, the experience is complimented by elements I recall from the novel.  On the other hand, whenever I read the book, Kathy Bates is always Annie.

October 3, 2014: Best And Worst Book To Film Adaptations!

1. BLADE RUNNER

I’m sorry, Philip K. Dick fans, but this is one of those rarest of all instances where the movie is actually better than the book.

(Honorable mentions: Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, the 1973 & 1974 Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers, The Godfather)

Just in time for the opening of GONE GIRL…based on the excellent novel of the same name.

27 thoughts on “October 3, 2014: Best and Worst Book to Film Adaptations!

  1. Fine choices. You won’t get an argument from me.

    You can put Ender’s Game in the worst adaptation column.

  2. Totally agree about your best of picks, especially Misery which was brilliantly cast as well. I think too many movies take a successful book and try to cram too much of its total story elements into a screenplay for a two hour (or lately way too much more) movie. The result, like in World War Z, is a mess.

    Where was the tea shop in Granville Island? I don’t remember that, but I was pretty preoccupied that day in Vanc (had just gotten the call about my friends’ dog, Toby.)

  3. I just read your page over at IMDB.com and see that you worked on The Country Mouse and the City Mouse Adventures (TV Series). My kids love that show. Do you have any stories to tell about the production/writing?

  4. 1. I’m not sure I could keep up with you in Japan, but it might be fun to try. 😉 Count me in! Just give me some advance notice so I can break the travel plans to my co-workers.

    2. I agree with your “best” list. And I love the Musketeer movies from the 70s! Have you seen the BBC series Musketeers? Not exactly what Dumas wrote, be definitely in the spirit of the book.

    3 . I am Legend wasn’t as good as Omega Man and neither was quite as good as the book. I have nothing against Goblet of Fire. And The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I kinda liked that one, but I never read the book.

    I haven’t read Gone Girl yet. Movie first and then the book? Or wait and read the book at leisure and then watch the movie on DVD or Netflix at a later date. What a dilemma!

    Hey das! As long as your nieces are bringing souvenirs, have them pick up one for me, too!

  5. Worst adaptations:
    -I, Robot
    -Battlefield Earth
    -Rollerball (2002)

    Best:
    -Rollerball (1975)

    @The Hump, I didn’t think Ender’s Game was that bad. The only thing missing, really, was the exhaustion that Ender felt as the games progressed. This was probably due to the fact that we only got to see 2 games. There should have been MANY more shown. This movie should have been half again longer than it was. And, it should have included some of the material from Ender’s Shadow.

    Not looking forward to:
    -The Gunslinger series (how can they possibly do this justice?)
    -If anyone tries to film The Foundation Series, I know I’ll hate it.

  6. For me, under the ‘best’ category, was The Last Picture Show. The book was brilliant, but throughout the whole thing, I didn’t ever, ever get a handle on the Jacy character. Then I saw the movie and Cybil Shepherd completely nailed that role. I had to see the movie, in order to completely understand the book.

  7. Ron Moore is doing a GREAT job with Outlander. One of my all time favorite series & I was a little worried but it turned out to be wonderful

  8. I don’t have a lot of cross overs with books I have read and movies seen. It would hard to put “A World Restored” into a movie, but many aspects I am may have come to screen. Like “Twelve O’clock High” I have not read specific novel but read much of the period to include Big Week and the raids on Schweinhafen. If one were to read a book about the U-boat campaign, then see “das Boot” (different words same sound) both would bring a realization not realized by one alone. I did read much of the Tom Clancy’s Series of Jack Ryan. The movies were disappointing with the exception of Hunt for Red Oct.

    Of the two categories I know I have seen the most I have seen the latter group. “Clock Work Orange” is a college cult film and I still think about it as it still has relevance today. Horror/thriller is not my favorite genre. Blade Runner reminds me of modern Bangkok especially with the elevated train systems or vic versa.

    A bit off the subject matter is that I have been watching the series “Game of Thrones.” I think it is relevant as the series is based on novel by George R.R. Martin as you know. He is also a writer of some of the series. As I have been watching the episode with commentary, I watched the one commentary with Mr. Martin’s exposition. In it I get his thoughts on the series and the story he has constructed. He also explains the necessary changes in the story line in part due to the media telling the tale and enhancements outside his creation. Through his commentary, I have a desire to read his work. I did not realize the novel was so recent creations.

  9. Misery the movie was great thanks to the casting of Kathy Bates who brought to life Annie Willkes. Yikkes!

  10. i agree with you about goblet of fire. by that time i had seen the first three movies before i read the books and that was the first one where i had read the book first and it felt kind of choppy to me.
    another thing that bothered me about it was the length of the boys hair. i seriously doubt that boys at an english boarding school would be allowed to have their hair that long. even at a boarding school for magic.

  11. Absolutely worst adaptation of a book to a movie….Frank Herbert’s Dune.

    Had I not read the books before watching the movie, I would have never read the books…LOL….and I will never watch the movie again.

  12. I’m up for a group trip… Say what ever happened to the US Group Road Trip to sample pie? Or did I just dream that one lol.

    it’s interesting that I do love Stephen King film adaptations – Misery, The Shining, Shawshank Redemption, Cujo etc.

    One series I’m a massive fan of is Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. It is one of those series where the author does an excellent job of painting a picture so you know what a character looks like etc. Makes it difficult when you go to cast a movie. They’d been trying to make One for the Money for years and when I heard Katherine Heigl had been cast… Well I wasn’t impressed (mainly because of her comments towards writers on her TV show). She actually did an OK job, it was the rest of the casting that was bad. A pretty awful adaptation that has probably nixed sequels.

    Hope all are well. You got out of Japan at the right time. I hear they are having a typhoon. My niece is over there on holiday at the moment.

    So Joe, is all of the lawyering normal or is this going to be a massive production, hence the lawyering?

    Cheers, Chev

  13. Although this isn’t a big screen adaptation, here’s my vote for a show that was as good as the book: The miniseries for Pride and Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth). Love the book, love the series.

    I quite liked the Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen. I thought it was well done.

  14. I agree on some of the movies, love the Princess Bride also, Misery was just too scary for me, ouch, but Kathy Bates did a great job in the part. Legend really was bad, too many reasons. Sometimes if I have read the book, I do not feel like watching the chopped movie, very seldom as good. And if I see the movie first, can’t read the book, was working on Hunger Games when the movie came out…
    ~~P.S. @das, Inspector Lewis is on PBS Sunday night…(new)

  15. Adapting books is a hard job. Especially when it comes to condensing a whole novel into a 2 hour movie. People who have read the book with have imagined things differently to everyone else on the planet so when they’re presented with someone else’s imagined version it is very rarely going to match up with your expectations.

    Personally, I prefer seeing the movie before reading the book. While the movie might taint some of my imagination the book invariably offers much richer character and plot development allowing you to understand why things happen the way they do. It gives you the best chance to enjoy both media.

    That being said, a really bad adaptation might, as you say, turn people off reading the book. But a good adaptation might drive people towards the book, Game Of Thrones being a prime example. I’m unlikely to have ever bothered reading the books (not being a fantasy fan) unless I’d enjoyed the TV series.

  16. I had the misfortune of seeing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the theater. It was especially awkward because the movie had been someone else’s pick, and it’s hard to trash a movie without some people thinking you’re criticizing their judgement. (He hadn’t seen the movie beforehand either.)

    I agree that Princess Bride is one of the best. In fact, I think it’s better than the book. I didn’t like the book’s frame story, and reading it felt like watching the movie very slowly. All the best stuff from the book was in the movie. (Actually, very, very little of the actual plot wasn’t in the movie.)

    I agree with Goblet of Fire particularly in its Dumbledore. I don’t think Michael Gambon ever won my trust back after that completely un-Dumbledore-ish performance. There was a great comic someone did about that, but I can’t find it now.

  17. Misery was first thing that I thought of when I saw the blog title. Both the book and movie are excellent.
    I would have to say the movie version of Field of Dreams is much better than the book. Whenever I see the move, I always have a tear in my eye, when I finished the book I was just annoyed at the poor characterizations of Ray’s wife, and the whole JD Salinger thing.

  18. Slightly offtopic, I just saw a promo confirming that Sword Art Online 2 will be covering the Calibur and Mothers Rosary arcs(And with a new opening too). Gun Gale is over now, and next Saturday will be Episode 14.5(Titled debriefing). I think this season has been pretty good so far.

  19. @5. I AM LEGEND

    I didn’t mind this movie, I liked how they filmed 2 endings. This was one I hoped would get a sequel but not really bothered either way if it never happened.

  20. On the item Dune – imho the original movie was MUCH better than the TV version.

    Re: Harry Potter – the Dumbledore replacement for Richard Harris did not quite measure up.

  21. Joe, I am watching a bunch of “World’s Weirdest Restaurants” on a satellite channel (FYI). Would it surprise you to know they keep visiting Tokyo and Japan restaurants? Apparently the Japanese like to enjoy their food in weird ways.

    They were at the Ramen Museum. I don’t know if it was the same restaurant as the Museum, but a little girl said “everything outside is inside”. But I know you were there. They were going to a robot restaurant and I thought “oh boy!!”, but it was a different one than yours. These robots were on conveyor belts and after you punched in your order at your table, they would deliver it. There was an Alcatraz ER restaurant. (don’t go there). Namahage in Tokyo – another scary one. The kids couldn’t eat, they were too busy crying and hiding their eyes. The parents were talking about how “fun” it is…

  22. Bangkok, Thailand seems to like eating weird things in weird ways too… Maybe you should visit there.

  23. I thought that the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice did a wonderful job. It hit all the main points without making you feel like you were really missing anything. While I love the BBC Mini-Series, it’s nice to have a short hour and half version to watch when I don’t have the time for the 6 (or 7 cannot remember) hour commitment of the other.

  24. I thought the problem with War of Z was that it didn’t attempt to capture fractured nature of the stories and was far to focus on making Brad Pitt the super hero. If they did that I think they would have come up with a truly brilliant film, sadly it just ended up as a action film with an above average budget and a below average script.

    Hopefully in 20 years time someone will do the books justice.

  25. I preferred the alternate ending to the movie I Am Legend. Just as I preferred the alternate ending to 2012. World War Z I had to walk out of the room because I almost vomited.

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