Literature has always been a hugely influential area of source material for film. From classical works to Shakespeare and even more modern books, film has always sought to adapt literature. Joining me this week is my good friend and keen bibliophile Hannah Lathem (Who is on Instagram @oexas – https://www.instagram.com/oexas/). There are so many great examples that it’s so hard to whittle it down to just 5, this means that classic films such as Silence of the Lambs, The Princess Bride (I will get it in to a top 5 once), 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Fight Club have missed the cut for me. But here it is, our Top 5 Films based on books.
- Shuggie: Blade Runner – Based on sci-fi legend Phillip K Dick’s book ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a remarkable and marvellous sci-fi film. Whilst there may be the dilemma of which version of the film, I’m going to ignore that and just say Blade Runner. It remains one of the best explorations of what it means to be human and artificial intelligence ever. It also works as a true noir film. Harrison Ford gives one of his strongest non Han/Indie performances and Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty is incredible. Whilst the film may deviate from the book substantially, it holds true to the themes, and this is often one of the strongest ways of making an adaptation for me, and Blade Runner is one of the best.
- Hannah: The Great Gatsby (2013) – Being the fourth on-screen adaptation of Fitzgerald’s incredibly popular work (no doubt by its inclusion in nearly every English literature syllabus ever), this version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the jaded, mysterious Jay Gatsby, stands out for its impeccable cinematography and music. Though the acting is not exactly incredible, the entire ambience of the movie screams of speak-easies and flapper girls, illustrious parties and the idea of ‘letting go’ in more than one sense. Carrey Mulligan makes an excellent Daisy, bringing a mix of subtle quirk and whimsy dreams that are certainly, as is true to all the characters, helped along by the excellent work of the costume designing.
- Shuggie: Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh is great writer, and Trainspotting is easily the best of the adaptation of the works. It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s a very real portrayal of addiction. For me it’s probably Danny Boyle’s best work, and his use of music throughout the film is on par with the like of Tarantino. Ewan McGregor is absolutely fantastic as the central character Renton, and Robert Carlyle steals scenes as Begbie. Trainspotting is probably one of the greatest British films ever made, and is a superb adaptation of Welsh’s book.
- Hannah: The Lord of the Rings series – No list from Shuggie, or myself, would be complete without a mention from one of the greatest series out there. The Lord of the Rings brings Tolkien’s world to life spectacularly and epically. However, these movies are nowhere near perfect adaptations from the books. Tolkien’s works are drawling, though enjoyable, and it’s easy to see why Peter Jackson and his team would make major tweaks to make it fit on screen. By no means does this distract from both the books and movies’ appeal, one simply needs to take them as separate (and marvellous) entities. The actors do a marvellous job, to the point where it’s difficult to discern their real life personalities from those of their characters, and the soundtrack, by the incredible Howard Shore, is nothing short of tear-jerking.
- Shuggie: Die Hard – Die Hard is, without question, the single greatest action movie ever made. There isn’t even competition in my book. With some changes from the book, Nothing Lasts Forever, it’s not necessarily a film that you think of as being based on a novel. The fact that it has managed to become such a huge cultural icon, transcending the work it is based on, is a huge testament to the film. Bruce Willis’ John McLane really sums up the every man hero, as the ordinary cop who ends up in this extraordinary situation. The really star of the show however is Alan Rickman as villain Hans Gruber, a character so good that he would probably earn his place on a top 5 film villains list as well.
- Hannah: The Help – Difficult stories are incredibly difficult to write, and likewise difficult to translate to an on-screen audience. The Help, led by the incredibly talented Viola Davis and the sprightly Emma Stone, offers a glimpse into the world of black maids in the 1960s. This movie is one that rises tears in your eyes throughout, in particular through a scene where Skeeter (Stone) finds out her childhood maid passed away – or, indeed, when Aibileen (Davis) is fired. The cultural and religious undertones are helped along with bright colours, rare happy moments, but one is entirely aware of the sordid past of American Slavery that lie underneath.
- Shuggie: Jurassic Park – I love Jurassic Park, for me it just beats out Raiders of the Lost Arc as Spielberg’s best ever work. It’s mixture of awe inspiring wonder, great characters, and even some proper elements of horror combine to make it, in my eyes at least, a near perfect blockbuster. The animatronic dinosaurs are so hugely impressive for 1993, and not only hold up today, but look just as good as anything in last year’s Jurassic World. I like Michael Chricton’s novel, but seeing the dinosaurs on screen is something else.
- Hannah: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – By far the darkest Harry Potter movie, Half Blood Prince (even for this fact alone) is my favourite in the franchise. Though nearly everyone on this entire planet would tell you the films are nowhere near as good as the books, Half Blood Prince manages at least to be incredibly enjoyable, harrowing and hold that kind of Hogwarts-is-our-home familiarity. A particular performance of note in this movie comes from Tom Felton, who takes Draco Malfoy from a bratty pre-teen to a young man wrecked with conflicting emotions. The undertones of this movie, particularly helped by the beautiful cinematography, make this instalment one of note. It makes me wish entirely that every Potter movie shared the same darkness and depth.
- Shuggie: The Lord of the Rings series – So I’m choosing to count this as a single entry here otherwise my top 3 choices would all be Lord of the Rings films and there are so many other great examples to explore. But the Lord of the Rings trilogy are both my favourite ever films and my favourite ever book, which makes it an easy pick for the top spot on this list. The films are such a perfect adaptation because they don’t try and use everything, only what would work, leaving out great sequences such as the fog on the barrow downs or the scouring of the Shire. The cast are all perfect and the battle scenes are still some of the best ever put to screen.
- Hannah: The Martian – This may be the single best book to movie adaptation out there. Matt Damon, as the sarcastic, funny and somehow completely relatable NASA Astronaut Mark Watney so deeply embodies his character that there isn’t anyone on the planet (or another planet) who could do it better. His performance is utterly stellar as a standalone, but the performances of his crewmates, particularly Jessica Chastain, are equally strong, despite their limited screen time. It manages to perfectly balance the storylines of Earth and Mars, provide a humour similar to the book (which at first I would have thought difficult to translate on screen), provide the scientific jargon that filled pages of the novel without making it dull, and a great soundtrack to boot.
So there you have our favourite book to film adaptations. What do you think of our choices? What are your favourite films that were based on books? Let me know.