Top 10 Book to Screen Adaptations

Hiya Bookbaggers! Welcome to the second set of Top 10s voted by you 🙂 This has been a fun list to compile because there is so much to choose from. Movie and tv adaptations of books (and graphic novels) have grown over the last few years to the point that almost every movie that comes out seems to be a reincarnation of a famous book, and it looks to be a strategy that film-makers won’t be abandoning anytime soon.

So how was I to pick the top 10 out of this sea of candidates?  Well, first I gave myself some guidelines: they all had to be movies/shows I had seen based on books I had read (obviously), and they had to be adaptations that I felt did justice to the original. In my opinion an adaptation doesn’t have to be exactly like the book – it some cases that would be nigh impossible, and besides, film is a very different beast to the novel so it is bound to be different. The adaptations I enjoy are ones that are reasonably faithful to the original while adding their own unique charm, but overall they capture the spirit of the book rather than trying to fit in ever detail.

I still have lots of movies to see that are based on books I’ve read and vice versa so this list may be a bit lacking for some of you, but hopefully you’ll enjoy it anyway 🙂

1. Coraline (2009) 

Based on Coraline (book and graphic novel) by Neil Gaiman

I knew I wanted to see this dark fairy tale directed by Henry Selick (who also directed Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach) as soon as I saw the trailer, and at that point I didn’t even know that Neil Gaiman wrote the original tale. When I did go see it with my little bro, I was in love with the style and spooky/quirky story from the moment the opening titles started and I knew that I had to read the book asap! However it wasn’t until early this year that I finally got around to reading Coraline and realised how great the movie was. The movie achieved something that most adaptation don’t even come close to: it embraced the feel of the book and enhanced it with added detail. A film has a unique opportunity when recreating a story from print – it can visually show elements of the story previously only available in the imagination of the reader – and this can be done badly if the creators assume too much. I personally thought Coraline showed a love and real understanding of the book – its whimsy and darkness and humor – and using stunning visuals and talented voice actors created a cracker of an animated film.

2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I have said several times before that I saw the movie Howl’s Moving Castle well before I even knew there was a book, and it still remains one of my favourite anime films (along with several other Hayao Miyazaki films). When I read the book by Diana Wynne Jones I realised that the movie was quite different – it was a bit less creepy and a bit more cute, as can be expected from an anime motion picture – but the differences made it a better movie than if it had been a carbon copy of the original. Miyazaki created a grand anime fantasy saga that showcased the magic of the book, while also showing his brand of humor and a different fantasy element. The steampunk inspired flying machines in Miyazaki’s film were completely his own creation, as was the wartime setting but these elements wove together to make a great film. If Diana Wynne Jones can love it despite its differences (quoted here) then I certainly can 🙂

3. Chocolat (2000)

Based on Chocolat by Joanne Harris

This movie was a rare one that I saw after reading and loving the book. Normally my prefered order is adaptation then book, because the book is usually better so that way I will be pleasantly surprised rather that possibly really disappointed. In the case of Chocolat I thought the movie looked really well done and in the right vein as the book so gave it a go. Yes, there were some differences, such as the Mayor and vicar being separate people in the movie when he was one commanding character in the book, but the differences didn’t really bother me because at the heart of it, it was the same magical, delicious tale. Chocolat was asking for a visual representation – there was something about the sensual mixing of the chocolate and the descriptions of the quaint french town that needed to be on film, and the way that it was shot definitely didn’t disappoint. On top of this I thought the actors, namely Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and  Johnny Depp were perfect choices for the characters (they looked almost exactly like I imagined them) and the music was a atmospheric finishing touch.

4. Watership Down (1978)

Based on Watership Down by Richard Adams 

You’d think with how much this book has come up in my Top 10’s I would be sick of it, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon 😛 I made a terrible mistake when I borrowed this on video (video!) when I was a kid. Not because it wasn’t amazing – because it was. Not because it was too scary for my age group – hmm maybe a little. No, it was a mistake because I saw it when I was a chapter or two away from finishing the book and it kinda ruined the end for me. That’s the problem with book-to-screen adaptations – no matter how good it is, if you see it before you read the book, be ready for spoilers…and vice versa really. Anyway, despite my bad timing I was glad that I watched Watership Down because it was amazing. The movie is very true to the original story, including the harsher realities that easily could’ve been omitted so as not to scare the kiddies, and a good thing too! I was young when I saw it and I would’ve been able to smell the bullshit if those horrible parts from the book had been glossed over. The movie was so well done that to this day, scenes from it come to mind when I think of the book…as does Bright Eyes playing heartrenchingly in the background.

5. James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Based on James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl 

The first time I saw this movie was when I was at an adult party with no other kids, so my mum put me in a quiet room with a tv and played the only kids video that was there. I can’t remember If I had already read the Roald Dahl book, or just other stories of his, but I do remember that I was quite underwhelmed about being on my own watching a film I wasn’t interested in. That is, until the movie really started and I got so into it that I didn’t even notice when other kids arrived and wanted to play (play? are you serious? This movie is way too awesome!). What I loved most about the movie (besides the generally awesome story of a young boy flying across the world in a giant peach pulled by birds, with a cast of colourful bug characters) was the style of animation – those rough scratchy looking stop motion figures that can found in most Tim Burton related animations. The style just fit Roald Dahl’s work so well, especially since I was so used to the sketchy illustrations by Quentin Blake that adorned all his books. Whenever it was that I read the book (maybe I even read it again after seeing the film?) I also noticed that the film was quite faithful to the original, but at that point it didn’t even matter. I just knew that I loved it, and it is still one of my favourite “children’s” movies.

6. The Colour of Magic (2008)

Based on The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett 

This is the only tv adaptation on the list and also the only miniseries! The “movie” is actually in two parts and covers the plot of the first two Discworld books. It was coincidently only a little after I read The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic that I saw the DVD for this in my local rental place (which I never go to anymore since I get all my DVDs from libraries or Quickflix) and I was pretty excited to watch it as I loved Hogfather, which is another Terry Pratchett adaptation by the same creators. The miniseries is missing some details from the books (it’s just too hard to put some of Pratchett’s crazy words into a visual format) but the uniqueness of Discworld was left intact, and what I really liked was some of the actors that were chosen. David Jason was a perfect Rincewind, Sean Astin was surprisingly spot-on as Twoflower, Tim Curry was great (as always :)) as the evil Trymon, and Christopher Lee was born to be the rumbling voice of Death. I would’ve also included Hogfather, as I think it was a better “film” in general, but since I’m not up to that book yet (I’m being pedantic and reading them in order even ‘tho they don’t really need to be) it doesn’t meet my guidelines 😛

7. Oliver! (1968)

Based on The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

This musical classic was one of my favourite movies when I was a child. I didn’t really realise it at the time, but it was pretty amazing that a cheery musical extravaganza could be made from a story that’s quite bleak and depressing. When I did read the book (In a bumper classics collection that also included Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows!) I saw how sad the story of little Oliver Twist was and I was impressed with how close the movie got to the original story while adding some happiness and colour in the form of song and dance 🙂

8. Alice in Wonderland (1999)

Based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll 

There has been many adaptations of this classic story that remains one of my favourites, and while I enjoyed them all to some extent this one was the closest to the book and is also an entertaining film in general. The movie covers all the important parts of the book, including parts that are often omitted (i.e. when Alice encounters the Griffin and Mock Turtle) with a bit of Through the Looking Glass thrown in for good measure. The costumes and special effects are accurate without being too flashy giving the movie a nice literary feel rather than looking like a big blockbuster like other adaptations (being a Tim Burton fan I did like his version, but it often strayed into blockbuster territory). I also thought the characters were well cast, with Tina Majorino playing the wonderfully sweet (and brunette!) Alice; Miranda Richardson as the bossy and self-important Queen of Hearts; Martin Short as the quintessential Mad Hatter; Gene Wilder as the melancholy Mock Turtle; and the fabulous Whoopi Goldberg grinning away as the Cheshire Cat.

9. Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)

Based on Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

This is a beautiful film that fully captures the original story – a fictional telling of Dutch painter Vermeer during the period when he painted his famous work Girl with a Pearl Earring and the relationship he formed with the maid that posed for him. The movie perfectly illustrated the tension between Vermeer and the other characters; the beauty of Delft; and the intricate process of mixing paints in that period – all the elements that I loved in the book but in a visual form! I also thought the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the beautiful maid Griet was flawless as she looks remarkably like the girl in the original painting and played the coy but curious character very well. I especially liked the effect in the movie where a shot of a famous Vermeer painting would start the scene and then would blend into a live action shot which mirrored the painting – very clever, and emphasised how well they recreated everything.

10. The Hedgehog aka Le Hérisson(2009)

Based on The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery 

I told you a while back that this movie may get on this Top 10 list – and this was before I had even seen it! As soon as I was a few minutes in to watching, I knew that It would get in even if that meant that another selection was knocked out (that selection was True Blood, the series based on the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. I figured since I had expressed my love for both the book and tv series many times before it could afford to be bumped off :P). The thing that really endeared me to this movie was how it was adapted. The book is told in first person through the eyes of two main characters, and one of these characters – Paloma Josse – communicated solely through a series of journal entries, so I was wondering how they would do that in a movie, and do it well. The clever way that the creators got around this story-telling device was changing the format in which Paloma told her story – instead of her recounting what she planned to be her last days and a final examination of mankind around her, the Paloma in the movie was shooting a film where she narrated her thoughts about the world. I found this very clever and sophisticated of the film-makers – instead of forcing the written form into the film they embraced their own format and it fit really well. Another element that was added that I really dug was these little sketches and collages that Paloma creates that transition into quirky little animations that were the perfectly at home in this movie.

Well there you go you guys – I had heaps of fun compiling and writing this list and I’m glad you voted for it 🙂

And sorry it’s a tad late – I almost finished it on the 29th of October and was planning to post both lists before November began but then I was overwhelmed by study and work. I will post the second half asap but as I’m still pretty busy, it may not be up for up to a week. But stay tuned – I hope to do a small post or two soon also, as well as a few reviews that have backed up, so my recent absence will be rectified!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s