Book Meme Day 19: Favorite Film Adaptations of Books

I have already modified the original meme to allow for multiple choices, and I will now modify it even more to allow for multiple meanings of this exceedingly vague topic. The original topic of “favorite book turned into a movie” does not allow for substantially different books for me to feature than the previous topics, and also says nothing about the quality of the film. For instance, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court has, to my knowledge, never had a very good straight adaptation, but someone could conceivably choose it for the original topic even while despising its film versions. But since I am a film buff as well as bibliophile, I am turning the question so it allows me to feature films that I think are also very good of themselves. But first, my three interpretations of the topic (as I’ve modified it), along with my three film choices.

Also – and this should go without saying – these choices are limited to films I have actually seen.

1) Favorite Book Turned Into a Film

The Ringwraiths were spot-on in the movies, especially the scene where the hobbits are hiding under the tree root.

Well, that would have to be The Lord of the Rings – the Peter Jackson trilogy. For all that they changed or left out – the songs, the poetry, the humor of the Elves, the confidence of Aragorn, the moral conscience of Faramir, the reducing of Gimli to comic relief, the Scouring of the Shire, etc. – I believe there is more that they got right. The epic scope, the themes of friendship, forgiveness, and the importance of never giving in to evil, and much more.

Although, I still hold out the hope of one day seeing a grand film adaptation of Perelandra; since the book is almost a textbook example of “unfilmable,” such a film would probably have to be animated. And very philosophical. I mean, hey, they made an opera of it!

One day I also hope to see a fantastic adaptation of The Lantern Bearers, which I think could easily become one of the great historical epics of film, if it is done right. But alas, I wait still.

Nevermind. Moving on.

2) Film That Best Represents Its Source Material

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch. I was astounded, upon seeing the movie, how exactly he fit my mental image of Atticus. The tone of his voice, the way he carries himself, the tender nobility and humble love in his eyes…all of it, there. Additionally, the children are perfectly cast. They’re real kids, not child actors, with all the spontaneity and intensity that implies. It is also helpful that the script is nearly identical to the book, only cutting a few scenes due to time and pacing constraints. To my recollection, everything in the movie is also in the book, and it is all represented in the right way. The music (by legendary composer Elmer Bernstein) is justly one of the most famous movie themes, evoking the carefree world of childhood imagination. The directing is also masterful, setting the right and bringing out the book’s themes.

3) Film That Most Improves On Its Source Material

I already know there will be some disagreement here, based on yesterday’s post, because I’m going to say the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Kevin Reynolds and starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, and Richard “Marcus Aurelius/Dumbledore” Harris.

First and foremost, this is one of the last true adventure movies that Hollywood has made. In the past decade or so, “action movies” have supplanted the adventure genre, replacing exciting stories with endless combat and chases. They are more about adrenaline than the wonder of exploration and imagination. But The Count of Monte Cristo is in the glorious tradition of the old swasbucklers like Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk (both featuring Errol Flynn), in which an essentially good man suffered terrible trials and had to find the right ways to fight back, all the while visiting exotic locations, making friends and enemies, and generally having some great adventures. There’s a liveliness and joy in its storytelling, despite the dark-ish nature of its revenge tale. Its very well-paced in three acts, and in each Edmond transforms himself completely into a new person. The change Caviezel effects is astounding – he’s almost unrecognizable as the same person in the three acts, but the change is entirely through grooming, clothing, and the way he carries himself and speaks. When he returns to Paris, it is completely believable that his old friends would not recognize him.

This movie has everything I desired from Dumas’ book that Dumas did not deliver. It trims the soap opera fat that I did not care for (the meandering subplots with less-than-intriguing Parisians) and brings out the story’s key elements. There are some great swordfights, that are thrilling and well shot, without that horrible shaky-cam that infects Hollywood like a plague nowadays. Also, I think, some key relationships are deepened. The decision to make Albert actually Edmond’s son rather than Fernand’s is brilliant, for even though it does mean that our hero had immorally slept with his fiancé before their marriage (an action I of course do not condone), it explains some things much better: Mercedes’ quickness to marry Fernand after Edmond’s arrest, Albert’s innocent nature and sense of honor coming from both Mercedes and Edmond rather than just Mercedes, and why Fernand doesn’t like his own son (he subconsciously realizes that Albert is more like Edmond than himself). The emotional threads are clarified, given motive and substance, and played out to an exciting, dramatic conclusion.

I love it. It’s fantastic entertainment.

EDIT May 25:

On reflection, I have concluded that this list is inadequate. I still agree with my choices for the categories above, to some degree, but feel that I have left out too many excellent film adaptations of books.

For instance, how could I have neglected The Princess Bride? I grew up quoting the film, and only discovered the book in my teenage years. Both are excellent: witty, romantic, adventurous, and hilarious. The movie is more accessible than book, which is filled with Goldman’s elaborate ruse in which he tries to convince the reader that he is merely “abridging” an original, older text by S. Morgenstern in which the author supposedly went on for dozens of pages about trees, the minutiae of packing royal luggage, and such boring materials. He claims his abridgement is “the good parts version.” Some readers may not catch on to Goldman’s trick – there is no real Morgenstern, nor kingdoms of Florin and Guilder, of course – because he plays it so straight-faced and with such casual detail, and those that do catch on may not find it funny (for example, my father), but for those that do, it puts a fun twist on the central story. The book and film benefit from having the same writer, and thus maintain the same ton and essential appeal. Pure entertainment, beginning to end. Both versions are iconic.

I must also add The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), which together form the best adaptation of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers that I know of. I only just watched them over the past three days, and I think they are actually much superior to The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) that I list above. They manage the same effect – trimming the fat while crafting the most excellent adventure promised by Dumas – while remaining far, far truer to the text. I cannot think of anything significant in these films that was not in the book, nor of anything from the book that I missed in the films. They retain the adventure and the comedy in equal parts, with dashes of drama thrown in to give the proceedings just enough gravitas to get by.

A hilariously stolen breakfast.

And is there a better all-star cast for such a movie? Charlton Heston makes a devious, but strangely honorable Cardinal Richilieu, Christopher Lee is imposing as Rochefort (and it’s great to see Lee have some fun with his character’s humiliations), and Michael York proves excellent as the young, naïve, but lively d’Artagnan (sort of like Luke Skywalker, with more passion). The Three themselves are excellent – Richard Chamberlain as the kind, refined Aramis, Frank Finlay as the hilarious and friendly Porthos, and Oliver Reed as the intense Athos. Faye Dunaway is a perfect Milady de Winter, and even eye-candy Raquel Welch shows some comic talent as the bumbling coquette Constance Bonacieux. The sword-fights are superb, some of the best I have seen. Swashbuckling with all the energy and joy of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone’s best duels, but with more genuine strategy and convincing moves. Really, really fun movies.

To be honest, I am such a film buff that I think I will have to return to this list and add movies as I think of them. Only movies for which I have read the source books are candidates, but still, there are likely so many…

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Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

21 thoughts on “Book Meme Day 19: Favorite Film Adaptations of Books”

  1. Yeah, I liked the movie Monte Cristo better than the book. I actually have read all of the book but the last perhaps three chapters. Oops. I kind of burned myself out reading it for hours on end during slow days at work during my year tutoring writing at the local community college, and when I got to the end, wasn’t terribly satisfied by it and thus left those last chapters unread. But I enjoyed the movie because, to quote William Goldman of Princess Bride fame, it’s the “good bits version.” And it had the kind of ending I would have liked.

    I probably need to see To Kill a Mockingbird Again. I loved the book so much that the movie couldn’t really compare. But it’s been long enough since I read the book that I could probably evaluate the movie better on its own merits if I watched it again.

    Of the LotR movies, I have to say Fellowship is my favorite because it’s closest to the book, and has the most character development. But I agree, despite some poor revision choices (you have to question the sanity of somebody who wants to alter Tolkien!), overall, the movies are very good. I think the two changes that bugged me the most were Aragorn’s reluctance and the whole Faramir takes the Ring to Osgiliath thing. Well, the Faramir bit upsets me the most because he is my favorite LotR character and…and… *huff* They destroyed a big part of his admirable good character. Also, I was wondering the other day, what if the LotR had been made into live action films in the ’80s? They would either be awesome or just terrifyingly awful. I’m inclined to think the latter is a little more likely. I think it’s a good thing the books managed to make it to the 2000s before being made into movies.

    1. Ha, that’s a good description of the movie, the “good bits version.” And it does have a more satisfactory ending, although Edmond’s promise to use his wealth for good rings a little hollow because he already has got his perfect revenge and doesn’t have to forgive or sacrifice anything. That prevents it from being a truly great classic. But otherwise it’s a really great, fun movie.

      Yes, another way we overlap! I remember, by the time ROTK came out, that I said I thought Fellowship was technically the best made of the trilogy. I liked the more leisurely pace, the establishment of characters, the wonder at Middle Earth. But I also felt that the editing was stronger, whereas in TTT and ROTK the editing felt looser, that scenes needed more trimming. Yeah, those were probably my two biggest annoyances with the trilogy — Aragorn’s reluctance and Faramir’s temporary giving in to the Ring — although I thought Faramir was perfectly cast in David Wenham. Even with the script change, he’s one of my favorite characters in the movie trilogy. My other biggest beef is the flanderization of Frodo into — you’ll allow me a slight exaggeration, with no disrespect meant to Elijah Wood — this baby-faced whiner afflicted with constant constipation who is incapable of moving backwards without tripping, and once down is incapable of getting up. Blech.

      Also, I agree about the ’80s. There are some great things that could have been done with the series then, but it might not have been worth the risk! +)

      1. Your description of Frodo made me laugh. After seeing FotR for the first time, I remember thinking that Frodo had only one facial expression: brows drawn together in constant worry. I do agree with you on the treatment of Frodo. But at least Sam survives as a strong character.

        You will have to forgive me for not agreeing about David Wenham’s Faramir. I don’t really have a problem with his acting, but he just doesn’t look the part to me. He doesn’t look Gondorian; he’s too fluffy and ginger. Maybe that’s too shallow of a complaint, but that’s my opinion. I think he should look more like this.

        1. Fair enough. Wenham fits my mental image a little better than that picture — Faramir just feels like a gentle, noble ginger to me — but part of that might be the movies taking over. And yeah, Sam is great in both.

          1. I’m not 100% sure one this, but it seems to me that the Numenoreans were supposed to have dark hair. Well, a lot of Tolkien’s key characters and people groups had dark hair, and usually grey eyes. Actually, I believe that is how Faramir is described in the books. There is that lovely scene with him standing on the walls of Minas Tirith with Eowyn, and their hair, his dark and hers light, mingling in the wind. But yeah, despite John Howe’s paintings (which are lovely) the Noldor, including Fingolfin, were supposed to be dark haired, as a general rule. You have to look in the Histories of Middle Earth to find that, though.

              1. No. You may be thinking of the house of Finarfin, which was notable among the Noldor for their gold hair, inherited from Finarfin’s mother Indis, who was of the Vanyar. Feanor had raven hair, as did most of his sons, with the notable exceptions being Maedhros, Amrod, and Amras, who were redheaded like their mother and her father. Don’t feel bad for not remembering; not all of that is in the published Silmarillion. It’s in the Histories of Middle-Earth. I told you I was obsessed! None of that is to say you shouldn’t enjoy whatever portrayers of said characters that you like. I’m just letting my geek out of her box for a bit. 😉

                1. *waves* Hi geek! You’re always welcome around me.

                  Ah, Finarfin. What a great name. Finarfin. The downside is that’s it’s terribly hard not to adopt a silly accent while saying it.

                  In high school I would have remembered it was his house and not Feanor’s — I did, after all, read obsessively Unfinished Tales and the two Books of Lost Tales. But it’s been awhile. I do feel ready to get back in that groove…

                  *something suddenly clicks* Ginger elves! We need to see more ginger elves! :0

  2. Hecks yes on the ginger elves! I think I told you Maedhros is my favorite Tolkien character. That’s partly because I really liked the story of his rescue by Fingon from Thangorodrim, and partly because he is an awesome redheaded elf.

    Fingolfin is one of my favorite elf names, though I kind of can’t escape thinking about the sport of golf when he comes up. I hope he shall forgive me for such a breach to his dignity. 😛

  3. *smacks forehead* I totally fell for Goldman’s claims in Princess Bride. Probably because his little interruptions to the story were so annoying – he had just separated from his wife and was checking out bikini-clad girls at the pool, and he generally struck me as a jerk, rather than clever.

    I would list Princess Bride as one of the films that improves most on its source material. I enjoyed reading more about Inigo and Fezik, but there were differences in the book that bothered me. For instance, Wesley actually slapping Buttercup (not just threatening to), and Wesley having had “experience” (sexually) while off on his pirate adventures, and Buttercup being so dumb.
    Of course, that didn’t stop me from buying the book when I found it in hardcover for less than ten bucks.

    1. True, I think Goldman went overboard with his ruse, and didn’t come off as a particularly likable guy himself. The fake frame story was pretty amusing for the most part, but it got a little tiresome after awhile. The expanded info on Inigo and Fezzik is probably what I like the most about the book, as well as the funny asides that wreak havoc on historical continuity. Buttercup is pretty dumb in both versions, though I suppose in the movie Robin Wright’s actual beauty and acting skill mitigates that somewhat.

  4. XD Love the Tolkien-debates! Faramir (and Boromir as well) ought to have dark hair and grey eyes, but that doesn’t bother me. I feel that the films slaughtered Faramir’s character, as well as Denethor’s… and didn’t do favors to Gimli (why does everyone make fun of the dwarves!) or Legolas, or Frodo, or Eowyn. Also… my biggest pet peeve, because it could have been so easily fixed and needed no explanation, was that Glamdring didn’t glow! Come on… Sting glowed, and they explained why, is it so much of a stretch to let Gandalf’s sword glow as it should? Humph.
    On the whole, though, I think the films did very well. It is nigh impossible, I think, to do justice to Tolkien on film. They managed to keep the spirit and the feel of the books fairly genuine, and included a good deal of the original language. I enjoy the films.

    Of the other films above, I’ve seen Princess Bride, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and read both. I agree with your comments on them. I am curious of the other two.

    1. True, another glowing sword would probably have been a good thing. Also, same with Aragorn’s sword at Helm’s Deep — I remember a line from Tolkien about his sword glowing red in the sunrise, with the implication that it may have been a bit more than just the sunlight. Very sad not to see that in the film.

      The Musketeers films are hard to get ahold of, but very worth it. The plot wanders a bit, but so does Dumas’ book. The characters aren’t as admirable or moral as I would like, but it’s the same in Dumas’ book. They’re loose in various morals, but not in their courage, loyalty, or honor. The movies possess an irrepressible good humor and adventure that I find irresistible.

  5. True, but then they did change which sword he had when he was at helm’s deep. I am fairly certain that, in the book, he already had Anduril when he left Rivendell. In the films, he doesn’t get it until he is about to go to the paths of the dead. That said, though, it would have been great to have it glow in the final battles.

    I have never had much of an interest in Dumas’ work, but that is changing as I grow older.

    1. Ah, that is right, he already had Anduril in the book. (*sigh* So much to reread.)

      Well, I’ve read his two famous ones, and enjoyed them both, though they were much more soap-opera-y and less action-packed than I’d expected. I enjoyed The Three Musketeers more than The Count of Monte Cristo, but Mel from The Egotist’s Club really likes the latter. I haven’t read any of Dumas’ sequels to Musketeers.

  6. It’s never-ending, my friend. Never ending. But then, would we want it to end?

    Dumas isn’t top of my list, but I would like to give his work a try some day.

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