Book to Film Adaptations – Always a Good Idea?


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Many of the most anticipated releases of 2012 were book to film adaptations with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey being the most significant.

The appetite for literary adaptations onto the big screen looks to increase throughout 2013 with Gangster Squad and Les Misérables already pulling in huge crowds. Possibly the most eagerly awaited release of 2013 is Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby in May.

This is my take on some of the best and worst adaptations to date.

The Good

  1. 1.   Forrest Gump- Forrest Gump is one adaptation which was actually a flop as a novel. Before Paramount Pictures picked it up in 1994, Winston Groom’s novel had only sold 30,000 copies. The story was brought to life by Tom Hanks as Forrest, telling the affecting tale of a ‘stupid’ man who nonetheless has a simple wisdom.
  2. 2.   Vanity Fair- William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair charts the life of selfish but beautiful Becky Sharp as she goes to any means necessary to advance her social status in early 19th century Britain. Becky is a captivating character but in the novel the drama is somewhat lost amongst lengthy descriptions of the politics of the era. In the 2005 film Reese Witherspoon shines as the sly yet charming anti-heroine.
  3. 3.   Trainspotting- Danny Boyle’s 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel was seminal in its raw and honest portrayal of the gritty lives of a group of heroin addicts in a deprived area of Edinburgh. Welsh’s novel was already highly successful in its own right but the film catapulted the novel to cult status and Ewan McCregor to fame.


The Bad

1.One Day- David Nicholls 2009 novel charts the lives of Emma and Dexter on the same day for 20 years, beginning with their graduation from university in 1988. The 2011 film fails to capture the depth of the novel. Jim Sturgress and Anne Hathaway star but lack chemistry. There’s also the small matter of Hathaway’s terrible Yorkshire accent.

2. The Great Gatsby(1974)- The film’s strength is the extravagant sets and costumes but it focuses too much on appearances and fails to portray any true emotion within the characters or towards the 1920’s ‘Jazz Age’. Mia Farrow and Robert Redford are aesthetically pleasing leads as Daisy and Gatsby but are effectively one dimensional characters. The film is faithful to events of the book but does not capture the true spirit of the novel.

3. Water for Elephants- Sara Gruen’s novel tells the tale of Jacob Jankowski, a student vet who is forced to quit before his final exams, when his parents die and he loses financial security. Catching a ride with a passing circus he works as their vet, dangerously falling in love with the circus master’s wife. The tale is one of promise for screen but the trailer’s claims of a love story to match Titanic fall massively short due to the mismatched pairing of Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the leading romantic roles.


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