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General discussion about what's out for the couch.
274

Books into Movies
Topic by: underdog
Posted: September 25, 2003 - 1:27 PM PDT
Last Reply: January 8, 2004 - 4:40 PM PST

page  1  2  3      prev | next
author topic: Books into Movies
JHeneghan
post #21  on September 26, 2003 - 12:01 PM PDT  
Actually, I would suggest selecting a list of authors that your class may be interested in and then searching IMDB for them as writers. IMDB will tell you if a movie was based on a short story or novel and will provide a pretty complete listing of what adaptations have been done. I don't know if your class is interested in comparing how different directors presented the same story, but you could find that sort of comparative info in IMDB.
postmod
post #22  on September 26, 2003 - 9:28 PM PDT  
well, on the old sci-fi/horror kick...

though william gibson's better known for his novels, so far only his short stories have been made into movies. the stories, published as the collection "burning chrome", are pretty good. the movies...well...

johnny mnemonic
new rose hotel

on the other hand stephen kings' short fiction, while of middling quality, has yielded some damn fine movies, as dh22 pointed out:

stand by me
apt pupil
shawshank redemption

though of course also some awful ones that i'm not going to bother to link, like maximum overdrive, sometimes they come back, children of the corn, and graveyard shift. anyway, hardly highbrow. but what can you do...
postmod
post #23  on September 26, 2003 - 9:35 PM PDT  
and don't forget the brief but good supertoys last all summer long!, maybe the ultimate weird source choice for such a damn lengthy major motion picture,
underdog
post #24  on September 26, 2003 - 10:10 PM PDT  
> On September 26, 2003 - 9:35 PM PDT postmod wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> and don't forget the brief but good supertoys last all summer long!, maybe the ultimate weird source choice for such a damn lengthy major motion picture,
> ---------------------------------

Hmm, thanks, I'd forgotten about that. Dunno if I want to subject people to the entirety of AI (I find it half amazing and half torturous and depressing) but it'd be a really interesting study. Particularly given the fact that two different film "auteurs" had a whack at the story's translation to screen.

Speaking of William Gibson (from your prior post), I'm sorta glad no one's tried to make Neuromancer into a movie, or for that matter most of his recent books (as far as I know) -- they just stand so well as sci-fi books, y'know? That's one of our subjects of discussion -- what films lose or gain from the translation, from an adaption. More often it's the former.

I'm just re-reading Jonathan Lethem's wonderful Gun With Occasional Music (a Philip K Dick meets Raymond Chandler genre-bender) for a class, and the first time I read it I remember wishing I could get the movie rights so I could adapt it. Now, I'm just thinking, naw... this is so imaginative. Onscreen someone could ruin it. (There are talking animals in this noirish world, and lotsa weird stuff that works well on the page. On screen it could end up like Howard the Duck. No offense to those HTD fans.)

ANYway, thanks for the ideas!

C
msilenus
post #25  on September 27, 2003 - 11:30 AM PDT  
Yeah Im glad too they havent tried to translate Gibson's books like Idoru into films. New Rose Hotel was alright but it seemed as if they ran out of money towards the end of the movie what with all the flashbacks etc.-MS
oldkingcole
post #26  on September 28, 2003 - 12:00 AM PDT  
Movies adapted from books....

These first four are the ones I usually use to support my argument (which might make for a good discussion/debate topic in your class) that movies translated literally from books tend to be inferior to movies translated loosely from books. Note that I use the term "translated" purposefully. Prose and film are different media and utilize different "languages," so I feel "translation" is the term that best captures the process of going from one to the other.

Anyway, the films are all sci-fi or fantasy movies:

First, we've got Planet of the Apes (1968) -- a classic and a great movie, in my opinion, which has been loosely translated (both literally, since the original book is in French, and in my sense of the term) from Pierre Boulle's novella La Plančte des singes

Next, we have Blade Runner -- a classic and a great movie, in my opinion, which has been loosely translated from Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Then, for contrast, we have 1984 -- neither a classic nor a particularly great movie, in my opinion, yet translated very faithfully from George Orwell's classic novel, 1984.

Reaching way back, one could also look at The Wizard of Oz -- a classic and a great movie, in my opinion, loosely translated from L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Given my preference for loose translations, you won't be surprised that I also have liked movies that use books merely as springboards to explore territory that is influenced by but not bound by the original source. Adaptation is the most recent of these, but there have been others. In the spirit of the Kaufman "brothers" film, I'll refer to these movies as "adaptations" rather than "translations." Some particularly good ones are unfortunately not yet available on DVD. They include Dennis Potter's marvelous "adaptation" of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland combined with the life of Carroll himself, into the wonderfully surreal and suprisingly deep movie Dreamchild. And who could forget David Cronenberg's "adaptation" of William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (oh, my, it's listed in the GC catalog! When did this come out on DVD? Glad to see it!!)

For reader discussion:
The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies: Literal or Loose? To their benefit or detriment? You make the call.
oldkingcole
post #27  on September 28, 2003 - 12:11 AM PDT  
> On September 25, 2003 - 2:14 PM PDT underdog wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> The Swimmer is a great call! Thanks. I have that one in my queue; will have to move it up.

It's an interesting film, for sure. But frankly, I'm not sure that the writing is especially strong. It has some good stuff in it (the constant presence of alchohol, for example, as a means of avoiding facing reality) but the film feels more like an interesting experiment to me than a completely successful one.

Definitely worth seeing, though, and then you can make your own call on the quality of the writing.
oldkingcole
post #28  on September 28, 2003 - 1:28 AM PDT  
More translations from prose to screen...

Several Twilight Zone episodes were based on short stories by science fiction writers of the time. A particularly memorable one was "It's a Good Life" based on the Jerome Bixby short story (that's the one starring a very young Bill Mumy who can "wish" anybody into the corn field at any time -- I can't find it among the Twilight Zone DVDs in the GC catalog, though circumstantial evidence at imdb suggests it may be in the 40th anniversary DVD set). While searching for it, I saw there was also an episode called "I Sing The Body Electric," which is presumably based on the Ray Bradbury story.

Back to book translations, there's Johnny Got His Gun which Dalton Trumbo translated to screen from his own novel. It's not out on DVD yet, though, and I've never seen it.

There's also Deathwatch based on my favorite D.G. Compton novel The Continuous Catherine Mortenhoe (also known by its alternate title The Unsleeping Eye). It's been a while since I saw Deathwatch (starring Harvey Keitel!), but I recall being disappointed. The book is terrific, though, and perhaps could still be made into a good movie. I'd want David Cronenberg to direct it, because, well, who else could do justice to a story about a reporter, whose eyes have been replaced with television cameras, who is given the assignment to follow a woman who is dying of a terminal disease for the benefit of his pain-starved audience in a future world where disease and death are uncommon? Alas, Deathwatch is not available on DVD, and The Continuous Catherine Mortenhoe is out of print. :-(

On stories or novels that might make interesting source material for screenplays...

I haven't read this book since I was about 16 years old, so bear that in mind, but at the time, I found it had a very cold and lonely quality to it. Shortly after I finished reading it, I read a letter published in a sci-fi magazine which suggested that it would make a great Stanley Kubrick film. That idea has stuck with me. The book in question is Poul Anderson's Tau Zero about a crew on a spaceship whose engines lock in the "on" position, causing them to accelerate forever. Because of relativistic time-dilation, they have to come to terms with the fact that the universe outside their spaceship is aging millenia for each second they experience. It leaves them utterly isolated from their pasts and from any human connection outside the ship. Done right, I reckon this could be made into a compelling film.

A book which I think would make a great movie is Kenneth Brower's beautifully written double biography of scientist Freeman Dyson and his comuning-with-nature son George. The book is The Starship and the Canoe. Freeman dreams of building a starship, called "Orion," which will will work by lobbing nuclear bombs overboard and detonating them behind a "pusher-plate" at the rear of the ship. The impact will of each explosion will push the ship further along on its interstellar destination. George, on the other hand, who lives in a tree house and has abandoned nearly all of the trappings of modern living, dreams of building a canoe and sailing it up the northwestern coast. There's a poigniant parallel there: both men long to escape, but each in a different way. And the story has everything from nuclear physics conferences to nature-adventure episodes, plus it has the added advantage of being a true story.

This topic is frustrating me, though, because most of my pulp-fiction magazines are boxed up in a storage bin 600 miles away. I have memories of a Keith Laumer story about an assassin who comes to a planet to kill a giant, but whose mission is complicated by the respect and friendship that grows between the two men. Good story, well written, and might make a good film. I also have memories of a Lucius Shepherd story about a teenaged boy living in the future in a beach community, who finds an old automaton man from the past (roughly from our era) washed up (?) on the shore. They talk some, the man (?) from the past plays music (??) or something, and somehow it carries a transformative power that changes the boy's perception of the meaning of life. Well, obviously the plot details have faded from my mind over time. What stuck was the haunting mood and imagery. It would be a challenge to translate to screen, but could pay dividends if done well.

And speaking of challenging, no one's done Dick's Man In The High Castle yet, and it's probably his best work. Or for a real challenge, how about tackling Barry Malzberg's Beyond Apollo, a relentlessly first-person/subjective account, from a narrator who is quite probably insane (if I recall correctly, cuz it's been a couple of decades since I read the book).

Ok, I'm going to shut up now!
oldkingcole
post #29  on September 28, 2003 - 1:30 AM PDT  
> On September 28, 2003 - 1:28 AM PDT oldkingcole wrote:

> There's also Deathwatch based on my favorite D.G. Compton novel The Continuous Catherine Mortenhoe

Oops, that should be The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (Katherine with a "K" not a "C") -- in case anyone is trying to track down a copy of the book.
dwhudson
post #30  on November 9, 2003 - 5:09 AM PST  
Just a note in passing: I really like this piece by Joseph O'Neill in the NYT. He starts out addressing the question, Why aren't there any good movies based on books by Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and John Updike, and then, the gist: "[T]he final, most basic point: the greater the novel, the more it is apt to embody the special, nonreplicable properties of the written medium; the more likely it is, to adapt Dylan Thomas, to move from language rather than toward language. Similarly, the finer the movie, the greater its tendency to emerge from visual images rather than flow in the direction of visual images."

underdog
post #31  on November 10, 2003 - 8:50 AM PST  
That's a great piece. Thanks for passing it along, David!

I always wonder why people try to translate great novels into film anyway -- unless they are so cinematic and crying out for the movie adaptation, which is rare. More often, I think if film producers are that desperate for a story, they should remake books with good stories but which aren't particularly well written or classic. Steal the plot!

I sometimes comb through used bookstores looking for old pulp novels or genre fiction to see if there's something out there like this, unfilmed, not famous, good story.

Instead, we get The Human Stain.

On the other hand, I thought they did a good job with The Hours, which seemed fairly unfilmable. There are definitely plenty of other exceptions.

C
thejasonholland
post #32  on November 13, 2003 - 7:53 AM PST  
An interesting twist would be to talk about direct collaborations between filmmakers and authors. It seems that when artists from two different media can come together and create something so effective and extraordinary, it stands at the top of cinematic quality.

Look at Hitchcock's carreer. He collaborated with Steinbeck, Thorton Wilder, Raymond Chandler, and many others to make some of his most memorable movies. Certainly, Shadow of a Doubt is to be an example of especially because its edgy homefront setting of a murder. Wilder's downhome feeling mixed with the master of suspense's spine-tingling direction.

Almost all of Kubrick's films came from books or stories. I think with 2001: A Space Odyssey he had a direct relationship with Clarke on the possibilities of what was possible and going to happen on screen.

Coppola and Puzo worked with each other to create all three Godfathers. You can see if you've ready the book where Francis' input and direction lead the story astray from Puzo's original story- creating an even better experience and fuller story.

Movies and the written word have been best friends since the begining. The Birth of a Nation was based on the work of Thomas Dixon and Griffith took cues from Charles Dicken's style of storytelling with the Romantic flair of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley series.

The relationship between writer and director is probably hit or miss most of the time. Either something really great is going to happen or its going to be a car wreck. But, that working relationship is still fascinating no matter what turns out. I guess even more so when the results become legendary.
hamano
post #33  on November 14, 2003 - 6:25 AM PST  
> On November 13, 2003 - 7:53 AM PDT thejasonholland wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> But, that working relationship is still fascinating no matter what turns out. I guess even more so when the results become legendary.
> ---------------------------------

I don't know if you were here back on Oct. 28 when dwhudson put a link in the GC Daily about a director who thinks that cinemah is a slave to literature. Read this article by DW about Peter Greenaway and his contention that the "first tyranny of cinema" is that "it's still text-bound". Greenaway is right, of course, but it's also like saying that the first tyranny of chocolate is that it's still taste-bound. At least to me, anyway.

Adaptations are interesting because it creates new camps of fans, those who "approve" of the adaptation and those that "hate the movie version" often regardless of what the author thinks. Is it better to be slavishly faithful to the book (Harry Potter) or just use it as a guidepost (Apocalypse Now)?
dwhudson
post #34  on November 14, 2003 - 12:22 PM PST  
> Greenaway is right, of course, but it's also like saying that the first tyranny of chocolate is that it's still taste-bound.

Ha! Excellent analogy!

> Adaptations are interesting because it creates new camps of fans, those who "approve" of the adaptation and those that "hate the movie version" often regardless of what the author thinks. Is it better to be slavishly faithful to the book (Harry Potter) or just use it as a guidepost (Apocalypse Now)?
>

That's one good comparison; another one that might be easier to think about is between Harry Potter and LOTR because both are relatively faithful to the original books. And yet the results are so very different. Columbus's mistake has been to paint by the numbers; all the scenes are there, but there's zero imagination at work. Jackson, on the other hand, knows how to breathe cinematic life into the telling of his tale. So maybe its not a question of faithfulness?

Hopefully, Cuaron will liven up the third Harry Potter, btw; the trailer looks promising.
postmod
post #35  on November 25, 2003 - 3:19 PM PST  
i remember greenaway saying similar things around the time the english patient came out, which apparently seemed to him the epitome of all that was wrong with contemporary cinema. as interesting as many of his points are, i still feel unclear on what exactly he has trouble with--linearity, narrative? though i have to agree with him on the english patient...enough with the swelling strings, already.

i feel like greenaway is also underestimating cinema--it seems to me that no only are films pulling away from a straightforward representation of a text, they are increasingly better than textual source material. off the top of my head, i'd say

silence of the lambs
blade runner
last of the mohicans
fight club
lord of the rings (apologies to rabid tolkein fans)

are better than the books they were based on, in some cases because the books weren't so fantastic to begin with, but for all also because their stories work better visually then on the page. particularly with fight club--the twist was immensely more effective onscreen than in text. but i dunno--maybe greenaway's dislike is for literate fiction adapted to the screen?

i've kind of forgotten where i'm going with this, plus my grilled cheese is getting cold. but any thoughts on movie adaptations that are better than their source books?
underdog
post #36  on November 25, 2003 - 4:25 PM PST  

I agree with these choices toastgirl -- I couldn't get more than halfway through the LOTR trilogy but love the films. (Not that there isn't some value and importance in Tolkien's ouevre -- did I just say 'ouevre'? sorry -- and in parts of those books it's brilliant. But... I'd rather read something else and see those movies.)

Another one: About a Boy. Now, don't get me wrong -- I dig Nick Hornby, and liked both the book and the movie adaptations of High Fidelity. But the movie version of About a Boy was a bit superior to the book, I felt more emotionally attached to it. For once I was actually not annoyed by a child actor, whereas I was a bit annoyed by the character in the book.

Another author I am a fan of but have to admit that a couple of the movie versions of his stories improved on the original (at least for me): Dashiell Hammett. See The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. (The books are fun though.)

C
dpowers
post #37  on November 25, 2003 - 4:29 PM PST  
blade runner... i think i got more out of the book. definitely found it more thought provoking than the movie, even though i saw the movie first.

we keep coming back to books and movies. one time i even tried to come up with something like this:

movies are an overeducated society's attempt at cave drawings

for which i wanted to lay the blame on books. dunno.
hamano
post #38  on November 25, 2003 - 5:29 PM PST  
Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeersbook was better than the campy movie, but only if you read it in Japanese (well, I've never read it in Fench...) The clunky English translation I read made me prefer the movie versions. I don't know why French/German/Italian lit reads better in Japanese rather than English. Maybe it's the typical Japanese translators' propensity to add copious footnotes to explain historical and cultural references in the original language version that are hard to understand...

> On November 25, 2003 - 4:29 PM PST dpowers wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> movies are an overeducated society's attempt at cave drawings
> for which i wanted to lay the blame on books. dunno.
> ---------------------------------

You feel that literature was a sort of stop gap interim step between cave drawings (static pictures) and movies (moving pictures)? That would be interesting...5000 years of culture reduced to "making do" until humans figured out how to make pictures move.

One thing I wonder about is whether the cave drawings really represent a record of what our ancestors saw or experienced? Maybe the drawings are a "peaceable kingdom" type wishfulfillment fantasy, an imagined scene of abundant game or a successful hunt. But probably not. If cave drawings were a precursor of imaginative literature (and movies), there'd be pictures of stick figures mating...
postmod
post #39  on November 25, 2003 - 7:41 PM PST  
> i've kind of forgotten where i'm going with this, plus my grilled cheese is getting cold.

i guess this would make a cannibal. ohohoho.

re blade runner, i dunno. whenever i read philip k dick's books i want to pull my hair out because it seems like he has the ideas for several books and tries to cram them into the space of less than a full-length novel. for me, do androids dream of electric sheep? was a mediocre sci-fi novel (with, like, the best title ever) but a great film in blade runner.

philip k dick's work seems the cumulation of good cinema/blah source material (sorry dpowers, if you're a fan)--both the visual nature of film and the necessity of chopping down the storyline to focus due to the limited span of time in a film have extracted the best of the always striking and provoking ideas contained in his books.

speaking of, paycheck looks rather good.
dpowers
post #40  on November 26, 2003 - 12:41 AM PST  
i'm not a p.k. dick maniac, i just liked the book a little better, it allowed me to go more directions. a lot of redundant production design in blade runner, the scene is "x" so the scenery looks like "x." the book was dense with concepts, which seemed more appropriate, and i liked the unclear time setting of the book, was it hammett's time, was it the future... it's uncomfortable that blade runner feels the same every time i see it. i want it to change and it doesn't.

(granted if i were on the proverbial deserted island i would not necessarily bring a can of descriptive text, but i do like a good looking movie.)
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