Directly continuing from the last list about good films that poorly adapted their source material- this list concerns solid pieces of cinema that successfully adapt their source material. I couldn’t decide on specific ranking so the order is totally random.
Adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s Novel of working class Dubliners forming a soul band. The film follows Doyle’s novel very closely, unsurprisingly since he co-wrote the script. There are some minor alterations like Deco and Jimmy are co-workers in the book while in the film the former drives bus and the latter’s unemployed but these aren’t changes that truly affect the overall principal. The film also tones down on swearing which isn’t a bad idea because constantly hearing profanity could be more noticeable than constantly reading it. There are several scenes that capture the feel of the book and sense of place even if they aren’t directly taken from the source (e.g. the audition montages- which are a perfect addition to a story of this subject matter)
The ending is slightly altered but not in a way that conflicts with the original purpose of the novel. There’s also a slight simplification in the relationship with one of the old band members and the three backing singers, but again this doesn’t really do any harm to the overarching premise and it’s arguable that the film doesn’t have time to devote such focus on what’s essentially a running gag. The characters are brought to life well and there’s a solid balance in prominence, the chosen songs are the right ones and the humour, which is fairly universal even with the clearly Irish setting, is executed perfectly.
Something of a cultural phenomenon by now if mainly because of how much shock value it goes for .Bret Easton Elli’s book is The story of Patrick Bateman; an arrogant, immaculate Wall Street banker who adheres to several strict routines and is not only American but also a Psycho. Slick and sophisticated but complete and utter monster- not even beneath the surface, he’s pretty blatant about it. The film adaptation is well-paced, successfully translates most of the admittedly incredibly dark humour from the book and perfectly maintains the sense of wealth based shallowness and general twisted cynicism. Christian Bale’s impeccable performance saved Bateman from what could have so easily been a character too despicable to even attempt enduring the film (he’s still despicable, but his delivery and turn of phrase lessens it slightly). Bateman listening to ‘Walking on Sunshine’ after some incredibly mismatched deeds is such a strong idea that fits the original characterisation so well. The film Manages to directly quote some of the books articulate and professional sounding reviews on music and make them even more interesting by combining them with other important factors of the character (being a psycho).
There are quite a lot of book details missing in the film– but they’re practical omissions and entirely justified by the fact that many of them would be difficult to translate to film without delving too far into absurdist or even cartoonish territory (a piece of food being interviewed on a chat show for example). The ambiguity of the entire story is also communicated in the best way it possibly can be. One partial criticism would be that the film omits a scene where Bateman tearfully says he wants to be loved- which depending on interpretation can either further his madness or make him seem slightly sympathetic (not much though- he still completely lives up to the film’s title in both the American and Psychotic respects). The soundtrack also adds brilliantly to the sense of place the book sets up and uses pop culture references for similar advantage.
A cleverly balanced well linked genre mashup from Louis Sachar. It’s got magic realism, western vibes, and black comedy. The plot is well known, it seemed to be studied in a lot of UK schools in the last 10 years , and probably was a lot in it’s origin country of America too. The story is of Stanley Yelnats, an unlucky child who’s sent to a juvenile correctional facility where he has to dig holes after a miscarriage of justice. There are plenty of other subplots, all of which are incredibly relevant to the central narrative and often to one another – like a detective novel would except it’s not about a detective. The film follows the Novel very closely and transposes the historical passages in a fluid way that could have easily seemed muddled if in the care of less professional creative teams.
The clips about Stanley’s family history are well introduced too, giving the job of exposition to his grandfather (a virtually new character) since there’s no third person narrator to tell us what’s going on. The tiny details that are left out give the story a better flow, some of the changed details are practical to the new medium. For example, Stanley is thin from the start here since it was difficult for an actor to achieve such drastic weight loss over the space of a film, but the rest of his character doesn’t suffer. Other chances actually add a greater sense of drama and allow a more succinct narrative flow (the changes in Kissin’ Kate Barlow’s story, subtle as they are actually add a greater sense of impact) .The cast are well fitted to their roles and do great justice to the book’s characters. In general this adaptation should please most if not all fans of Louis Sachar’s novel and even audience’s members who are unfamiliar.
Of Mice and Men
Appropriately John Steinbeck’s character Drama set in the Great Depression leaves readers feeling exactly that emotion. The film is every bit as effective in emotional impact – thanks in no small part to John Malkovich’s performance as Lennie , which stands out for being both convincing and sensitive.
The story of two men coming to find work in a Soledad ranch after escaping false persecution results in seemingly simple but in fact multi-facetted storytelling that the film is able to live up to in spite of a drastic medium chance. The film allows very few alterations from the source material- a move that here works hugely in their favour. It’s not just Malkovich who delivers in his role though, Sinise and all other actors give believable and understated performances and the mood and setting is impeccably captured. There is a slight extension to the ending which adds to the feeling of hopelessness and arguably results in a more complete story while the opening scenes artistically captures a scene that isn’t mentioned until later in the book to add a sense of suspense that is perfectly suited to a story such as this one. We’ll never know what Steinbeck thinks but if I’d written the book I’d be incredibly satisfied with a film adaptation of this calibre.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Yes I know, doesn’t seem like the most obvious inclusion for a list of flattering adaptations. But to be honest, ignore the Muppet’s meta comedic flavouring and the story is fairly unchanged. The Muppets who were chosen to appear perfectly fit their Dickensian counterparts, the inclusion of a narrator allows some of the most poetic and amusing lines from the book to remain (few completely serious Christmas Carol adaptations quote the book as much as this one). Michael Caine stands out as one of the best Scrooge’s, since some performers think just because Scrooge is old and grumpy, he needs to cackle and dramatically contort his head like a mad scientist in a Saturday morning cartoon .
Caine plays him much more in the vein of what unhappy elderly misanthropes appear to generally be like in real life and did an even better job when it’s considered he was mainly interacting with goofy puppets that don’t even attempt to look or be human. The songs are infectious the seriousness of certain scenes is surprisingly well handled given the undeniably humorous concept they had to work around. Dickens’ complex and endearing moral tale is well served in this one.
The Great Gatsby
F Scott Fitzgerald’s romantic Jazz age tragedy is perfectly enlivened by Baz Lhurman’s input. Due to Lhurman’s grip on Quasi absurdity the heightened hedonistic reality that forever suggests discord is perfectly transitioned into this piece, the narration is cleverly interjected, and the artistically dramatic filming tricks are all appropriately placed. True, Daisy’s hair colour is changed but this is totally inscosequencial. Also Nick Caraway’s relationship with Jordan Baker is reduced but in a way that arguably streamlines the story and gives a sense of focus that films, which have got less time to tell stories, generally need.
The characters are played well enough that Fitzgerald attempts for empathy or de empathy are felt and all the important information is left in. Several of the scenes that involve intensity are so powerfully transferred from page. While the casually engaging language and scene building of the book is still worth being experienced, the film is a perfect for people who vare interested in learning the story but aren’t sure they’re willing to read the novel.