Good Book-to-Film Adaptations?

Discussion in 'Film & TV' started by Boreas, Dec 27, 2017.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    A riff off a discussion from the 'Last Movie You Watched' thread. What films do you think have been really good adaptations of books?

    I think The Godfather was excellent. I could not read Mario Puzo's book because of poor writing, but Coppola wove his film magic and produced a gem. A case where the film adaptation is superior to the original novel.

    Philip Kaufman directed a masterpiece with his adaptation of Tom Wolfe's excellent journalistic narrative, The Right Stuff. One of the few times where both the source material and the adaptation have been absolute class.

    I already mentioned Robert Wise's excellent adaptation of Crichton's The Andromeda Strain and Peter Hyams' 2010: The Year We Make Contact as an adaptation of Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two. I think Wise's film is as near to a perfect science fiction book-to-film adaptation as I've ever seen.

    I've seen some other great SF films that I know were adapted from books, but I haven't read those books so I can't say.
  2. Tiran

    Tiran Well-Known Member

    I am not a big PKD fan, so many films based on his books are good adaptations because they are generally superior: Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly. But the reason Dick books make good films is because they are relatively simple ideas that can be explored in the form of a short story, novella or film. Most SF novels have too much going on to condense, which is why film versions of Dune, Johnny Mnemonic and even Starship Troopers are such a mess. I would not be surprised if Clarke kept his co-writing experience from 2001 in mind when he wrote 2010 to make it cinematic - he even corrects 2010 to be around Jupiter, like the film, instead of Saturn, as in the 2001 book.

    I mentioned thinking both versions of The Martian were good in the other thread. An SF mini-series that is just an awesome adaptation is Yukikaze. I quite liked The Edge of Tomorrow, but haven't read the novel.
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've read no PKD book except for two of his earliest pulp fests, but I've liked the films you've mentioned adapted from his books very much. Of the three you mention, I think the least of them is Minority Report, and I was really impressed by A Scanner Darkly when it came out (I have generally liked Linklater's films ever since the smash hit of my early teenage years Dazed and Confused).

    Now, despite all the niggling mistakes and complaints assigned to Lynch's Dune adaptation by critics and fans alike, I absolutely love the film. It's one of those unfilmable books, but I thought Lynch nailed the overall messianic feel of the book really well. I especially loved the aesthetics of Lynch's 'flawed masterpiece' and I'm soooo glad that Jodorowsky's aesthetics were not utilised when the project eventually landed up with Dino de Laurentiis and Lynch. They said the same thing about Lord of the Rings - about it being unfilmable - but honestly it's a much more straightforward story compared to Herbert's book, just that the scope was very grand. And I enjoyed the LotR films, in part because I hadn't read the books in years so much of my memory over detail was hazy.

    And I agree, the adaptation of The Martian was quite faithful, just that I was never enamoured of Weir's writing, and did not think much of the novel as a story. The biggest positive thing I can say about the film is that, due to its commercial success, we can hopefully look back with some more years worth of hindsight and mark the film down as significant for being a vanguard of an upsurge in hard science fiction films.

    I have the Yukikaze books! I will read the books before watching the anime. And All You Need Is Kill is a fun, fast-paced and absorbing read. Has a darker, more cynical tone than the Hollywood adaptation.
    Dtyler99 likes this.
  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Also, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) directed by Joseph Sargent was a really good film. I saw it for the first time relatively recently. Have not read D. F. Jones' book, which I've been told is also very good and has significantly more going on in it.
  5. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

  6. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    Lynch's Dune is completely ruined for me by the very last line in the movie. It jumps the shark when Alia says, "And how can this be? Because he is the Kwisatz Haderach!"

    Jodorowski's set and SFX concepts were cool, but a story coming from a man who had a golden turd as a religious object in a previous film, I'm glad that cooler heads prevailed.

    To me, there is yet to be a satisfying, definitive version of Dune.
  7. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I always thought The Lord of the Rings to be an excellent adaptation, while Jackson's The Hobbit was abominable.

    I haven't watched 1984 yet. I have read the book a couple of times. Although wonderfully executed, 1984 is such an oppressing and dispiriting story, I struggle to find the spirit to watch it. I have been told the film adaptation is very good.
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I understand how you feel! That final scene, visually speaking rather than the spoken line, is certainly egregious. Yet it doesn't ruin the film for me. I just blank it out. I think that Jodorowsky, from the few interviews I've seen/read and anecdotes from others involved in the project, was too far out there even for an out there genre like science fiction. I found his sets and designs almost at the point of breaking any credulity, despite having excellent artists on board like Chris Foss, Giger and Moebius. I like all three of these artists individually, but the only one who came up with designs (for characters) that seemed okay for the project was Moebius. I liked Jodorowsky's almost religious fervour in wanting to make this adaptation; it was even concomitant with the book's messianic theme. But his fevered vision of how he wanted to adapt the novel was neither feasible financially nor commensurate with the tone of Herbert's book. Like I said, despite the problems in production with Dino de Laurentiis' company, Lynch did a much better job than expected. And his version for me remains superior to the more plot-faithful TV mini-series that came later. Lynch's version had soul, whereas no amount of faith with plot and detail could ameliorate the soulless product that was the mini-series.
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  9. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    The problem is, as with LotR, Dune is held to a different standard by its legions of fans and therefore has less room to move in adaptation. It's all or nothing. Even Peter Jackson caught flak from deep-state fans by excising the Tom Bombadil side-story and bringing in a footnote (Arwen) as the main love interest. Adapting popular SFF is difficult because in almost every adaptation, one must make compromises for running time, story believability, or character development, among other elements. Having said that, I do agree Lynch's Dune was more successful in its finished product than 90% of the SFF adaptations out there (c.f., Ender's Game).
  10. Tiran

    Tiran Well-Known Member

    I didn't like Lynch's Dune because so much of it is hokey - the same reason it is hard to truly love anything that isn't straight-out comedy by Tim Burton: Both directors keep winking at the camera as if to say "Can you believe they okay'd me directing this?!!!" Much of the cast were people he preferred to use for comedic effect in later productions.

    The book Dune is plenty weird and disturbing, yet much of what was changed, removed or softened was what was interesting in the book to substitute focus on "Weirding" weapons, "Hearth plugs" and dermatology. It all looked like someone trying to desperately convert Anna Karenina into a Marvel Comics movie. The Baron dies looking like a popped balloon at a children's party. And much of the acting was just way over the top.

    The recent Logan movie managed to depict a young girl who, through acting, comes off as truly different and old in the way Alia is, which would have been so much better than taking a 5 year old and making her voice sound synthesized.

    The film overall reminded me more of other weird dark yet tongue-in-cheek adventures of the time - Flash Gordon and Excalibur.

    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I actually liked the over-the-top features of Lynch's Dune. The scene with
    the heart-plug and the Baron's oil bath with his manic expression and organ soundtrack
    was so damn queasy in a good way. It remains in my mind one of the most memorable scenes. As for the Weirding Modules, it makes sense in hindsight. Otherwise, you'd have the Weirding Way depicted in a similar fashion to how a Jedi might utilise the Force in combat. The use of the Weirding Modules was a good compromise, and it removed the possibility of comparison to Star Wars at the time. Plus it toned down at least one aspect of the mystical element of the novel, even though other aspects with the Bene Gesserit were fully incorporated into the film (e.g. passing down memories, etc.). Although, it might have been fun to see some Dune version of kung-fu acrobatics. On the whole, I'm fine with Lynch's introduction of the Weirding Modules - it was a clever work-around.

    Most of all, I love the baroque aesthetics of the film. Maybe Jodorowsky's visuals might have been even more impressive and flamboyant, but I'm personally very happy with Lynch's direction in that regard. It looked both somewhat mediaeval and space-age Victorian. Gorgeous sets, costumes and designs.

    As for the acting...yes, over-the-top in many regards, but I still loved it. It was more like stage theatrics, like watching a space-age Greek drama play out fully with all kinds of supernatural elements at play. Betrayal and Fates-ordained vengeance. Wonderful stuff.

    I like both films. But Flash Gordon is campy and tongue-in-cheek at an extreme end. I don't find Lynch's Dune campy in the slightest.
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  12. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    That is why it is called an adaptation, rather than a recreation. Particularly in SFF, if you can't connect story elements (Weirding Way, for example) to a less-informed audience, you lose them. Period. You have to separate the important story elements from the esoteric. It doesn't satisfy hard-core fans, but Hollywood movies aren't about hard-core fans, they're about receipts.

    Having said that, something like Star Wars, created specifically as a movie vehicle, has a canon that is based on what people see in the theaters. That is not an adaptation, but an original screenplay. And I agree. You had to step around the huge shadow of Star Wars because of that audience expectation.

    And I agree with you, Boreas, as cool as the Jodorowsky visuals are, his idea for the story line was deeply flawed. I think some people were put off by the Lynch film's baroque art direction, but it always seemed cool to me. It was just that last line...arrrgh!
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  13. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I think Lynch made the right move, all things considered, with his Weirding Modules. Otherwise, it might really have felt Star Wars-derivative for the general populace. The comparisons would have been natural, even though Herbert's work was over a decade older than Lucas' feature. The sad thing is that we never got to see a definitive Lynch cut of the film because he had a falling out with the producers over the 'extended cut', which is now credited to Alan Smithee.

    Also, @Tiran, I feel that much of the really interesting concepts in the novel are a little too cerebral to translate well onto the silver screen. To really keep faith with the plot and the more interesting concepts, you'd have to adapt the novel into a television series, which was done and and which did prove much more authentic in that regard. But for the limited time a film offers, Lynch's adaptation had to be as visually memorable as possible. Much of the novel is concerned with world-building and setting up a vast historical scope. And this, I think, Lynch managed to capture. Not to mention my original point of truly capturing the tone of the novel, that messianic impetus and the weight of inevitability.
  14. Tiran

    Tiran Well-Known Member

    I'm not offended by those things as a fan of Dune; I just found them clumsily unnecessary distractions. The film was always going to be full of novelties, and goofy sonic weapon you have to sneeze through isn't convincing future technology. And making a film where a small group of people have non-supernatural powers passed down through secret training isn't the Force - it is every kung fu story ever told. A handful of fight scenes, throwing a knife in some near impossible way, some verbal manipulation and some quick divination of Fremen secrets would have established "weirding" as the ninjitsu of the age. Instead we were given Mr. Microphone.

    Dune was reconstructed as a super hero adventure where Paul gets bit by the radioactive spider half way through the film and leads a triumphant Justice League to victory over the all too obviously evil Baron and Emperor. I would have rather witnessed a drama that depicts a Frodo or Aragorn-like hero, caught in events beyond his control, who sacrifices his humanity to save his people and the empire in general from what is essentially a corporate takeover. The audience would have understood that all well enough and would have enjoyed the bizarre mise en cine provided by shields, flapping airplanes, near-super human martial arts, blue in blue eyes and sandworms enough to not get bored as they watched a kind of reverse Greek tragedy play out where we watch the hero become what he despises, or fears.

    LoTR, the Matrix, even 300 or Spartan offer better examples of the kind of film that could have been made, but we got the heroic idealism of Superman or Star Wars instead.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  15. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Well-Known Member

    one day I will read Dune.
    but If the SyFy miniseries are considered "good" adaptations, I may skip it.
    Lynch might not have made something too accurate (although I read the description of the Ornithopters and I would say that is at least spot on) but it was highly entertaining, the best we have so far, and one of the better scifi movies from the 80s
  16. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    The SyFy Dune adaptation was terrible (IMHO). Do not judge the book by it's miniseries! Dune is a fantastic book that has defied adaptation because there is SO MUCH to it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Then tell me how you could possibly make it into a compelling movie or miniseries, without the exigencies of loud booms and pacy action so endemic to SFF visual arts today.

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