Junk Drawer: Novel-to-Film Adaptations

BY KYLE VAN DEN HEUVEL, ALEX GRUBER, CHRISTOPHER HEIM, ANASTASIA MONTAVON and COLIN HERZOG

 The gang picks the few times the movie was better

Kyle: “Watership Down”

            “Watership Down” is probably my favorite film-to-novel adaptation simply because I feel it is one of the most faithful transitions I have seen. The film version of Richard Adams’ “Watership Down” could have easily been watered down for small children, but Martin Rosen showed quite graphically the difference between a film about rabbits and a film about bunnies. The unique animation style paired with the sometimes brutal story give it a feeling like no other. A great voice cast does not hurt either with John Hurt playing the main character Hazel.

 

Anastasia: “Jaws”

            I’ve seen plenty of novel-to-movies adaptions, and most of the time I’m able to read the book first. Unfortunately, the movie falls flat nearly every time. It was hard to pick a favorite, but I have to go with “Jaws.” The book is still better, but on the other hand, more people die in the movie. The movie was impressive for its time, and today it still manages to scare a few people (even though to me personally it’s more of a comedy).

Alex: “Matilda”

            Among my favorite books and book-to-movie adaptations is “Matilda.” The children’s novel comes from Roald Dahl, the British author of such favorites as “The Witches” and “The BFG.” “Matilda” takes its name from an extraordinary young girl with telekinetic powers who finds ingenious ways to best cruel and arrogant adults like the Trunchbull. Other than moving the setting from the UK to the US, the movie follows the book pretty closely, much to its benefit. It also has a glorious library scene in its introduction. “Matilda” is a joyful celebration of creativity, knowledge, and friendship in both versions.

Colin: “Cloud Atlas”

Based on the book of the same name by David Mitchell, the story follows six tales scattered throughout space and time as they tackle everything from slavery, escaping old folks homes, founding religions and cloning, and so much more. I saw the movie first before reading the book, but I confess that, to me, the movie managed to surpass the book (mostly)—what really helped it was its ability to segue and interweave the multitude of the ongoing stories simultaneously, either through voice over narration from one story while the visual from another was playing, but both were related—it really took advantage of the medium to improve upon an already fascinating story technique from the book and really make it its own. I know that the Wachoski siblings may not have the best rep for most people, but man, they and the cast really make something different here as they juggle six different periods and six different genres that, thanks to the connections and transitions, feel like a cohesive whole or one large story. Does it always make sense? No, but the aesthetic and the emotion manage to make up when the continuity may not line up perfectly. It’s not for everyone, but to me, it surpasses the source material.

 

Chris: “Apocalypse Now”

I know I’m cheating a little given that this 1979 Francis Ford Coppola war epic is not a straight-forward adaptation of the 1899 Joseph Conrad novella “Heart of Darkness.” But despite the updated setting of the Vietnam War, the basic story remains about the same. Personally, I never clicked with Conrad, and the book was a drag to read despite being only 80 pages. This was due to Conrad’s ultra-dry writing, slow pace, redundant dialogue (take a shot every time the novel says “darkness”) and anti-climactic ending. I thought the film did a better job at creating a brooding atmosphere while also conveyed the themes of chaos vs. order in a MUCH more compelling way.

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