A brilliant book-to-movie adaptation is something to announce because turning a great literary work into a cinematic masterpiece is no easy task. To begin with, the writer and director must translate what is essentially a medium with only one characteristic: words. Sure, there are images, dialogue, descriptions, actions, and more, but it’s all at the behest and mercy of someone responsible for turning it into an audiovisual artifact.
When an adaptation is done well, it can illuminate previously unanticipated themes in the source text. Stanley Kubrick was a master at this and most of his movies were new adaptations. Take, for example, its latest cinematic offering, Eyes wide closed, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Relocation of Arthur Schnitzler dream story in a contemporary New York setting revealed to us the underlying sexual depravity that resides in restless sleep in the hidden shadow of the middle-class elite.
On the other hand, when an adaptation is poorly done, it enrages fans of the source text, who claim it’s pure blasphemy that a director got his hands dirty on such a definitive text. Take Frank Herbert’s much-maligned David Lynch adaptation Dunes as the most infamous example. In the 1980s, Lynch didn’t have the technology to give Herbert’s sprawling sci-fi epic the attention it deserved, nor did he have the time – desperately trying to put too much into one movie. By contrast, Denis Villeneuve’s recent adaptation of the novel has been well received by critics and audiences alike, with a bigger budget, much better technology and a slew of ultra-talented actors to boot.
Today is National Book Lover’s Day in the UK, so to celebrate we’re going to take a look at some famous books that – with the proper care, attention and budget – could be made into some of the finest pieces of cinema the world would ever witness.
8 books to adapt into films:
blood meridian – Cormac McCarthy
Arguably one of the best-written books of all time, it was championed early on by American literary critic Harold Bloom. blood meridian is set on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s. It follows “the child” as he joins a gang led by John Joel Glanton and antagonistic Judge Holden as they scalp groups of native settlers.
Filling the role of Judge Holden should be interesting; he is seven feet tall and is pretty much the most eloquent speaker in all of literature. Many attempts have already been made to turn the film into a cinema, including Ridley Scott and James Franco, but none have yet come to fruition.
A heartbreaking work of astounding genius –Dave Eggers
A beautifully sad memoir by author Dave Eggers, in which both his parents die of cancer-related illnesses, and he is tasked with raising his little brother Christopher.
New Line Cinema had purchased the rights to make the novel into a film, and a screenplay was written by Nick Hornby. But in 2007 Dave Eggers said it was unlikely his book would ever be made for the big screen, as New Line’s option on the film had expired.
A moving party –Ernest Hemingway
The legendary American man of letters’ memoirs during his time as a struggling writer in 1920s Paris. The book features vignettes with many other cultural figureheads of the ‘lost generation’, including Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.
In 2009, it was reported that Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel Hemingway, had acquired the rights to adapt the book into a film, although it never saw the light of day. A TV series has also been announced but has yet to be seen.
Walden -Henry David Thoreau
A book that serves as a philosophical reflection on avoiding the temptations of modern technology and living in simplicity in a natural setting. Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts, and the book tells the story of his time there.
It would be great to see a film adaptation, like In nature, only less stereotyped and more philosophical. A video game was made in the 2010s based on Walden, as well as a 1968 experimental film directed by Jonas Mekas, but so far no direct adaptation has been produced.
Q –Luther Blissett
A complex novel written by four Italian authors under the collective pseudonym Luther Blissett – a name borrowed from the former AC Milan and Watford FC striker of the same name. The novel recounts the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
Thom Yorke of Radiohead once said, “Oh, he’s a fucking ace!” But my miss, it’s her area of expertise, so she explained it to me throughout. Medieval church carnage. It’s mental. I want to make a movie out of it. It’s my next mission. However, Yorke has yet to get a chance to adapt the novel for the screen.
2066 –Roberto Bolano
A vast and sprawling novel tells the story of an elusive German author and the scholars who devote their lives to studying him. At the same time, the book informs us of a series of feminicides taking place in the city of Santa Teresa in northern Mexico.
The book was actually adapted for the stage by Spanish director Alex Rigola. It was then shown in 2016 in Chicago, and later that year Julien Gosselin adapted the novel into a massive 11-hour stage production. However, no one has produced a film version so far.
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance –Robert M. Pirsig
Pirsig wrote a fictional autobiography which was first published in 1974. Pirsig is a philosopher by trade, and the book features many philosophical discussions of the nature of technology, morality, and happiness as he travels from Minnesota to California on a motorcycle with his son, Chris.
It has been reported that Pirsig had in fact been keen on making a film based on his book, but only if it was entirely on his terms. It’s a pity that we never got to see the product of his desire. It might well have sounded like a philosophical version of Easy Rider.
The longest cocktail –Richard DiLello
First published in 1973, The longest cocktail is an account of the history of the Beatles’ multimedia company Apple Corps, their break-up as a band, and the start of each of their solo careers. The title refers to the habit of the national press to entertain celebrities with expensive drinks.
It was rumored that Michael Winterbottom was adapting DiLello’s book for the big screen, but that was in 2011, and nothing has been mentioned since. While the Fab Four have had more than their fair share of screen time, it would have been interesting to see an “insider’s” account.
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