Literary adaptations

With Charlie & The Chocolate Factory about to hit our screens, and countless film adaptations of classic books everywhere you look (from Lord of the Rings to Sin City), how does everyone feel about the age-old problem of transferring a story from page to screen? What are the pitfalls and dangers? What works (and what doesn't)? Any thoughts about books that have been made better by cinematic translation?

For what it's worth, I'm not holding out much hope for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. It should be fabulous - Burton's visual flair married to Dahl's twisted imagination - but having seen snippets of Johnny Depp's bizarre Anne-Robinson/Peewee Herman characterisation, I have to say I think it's going to be disappointing. As so often with Burton recently, the idea is great, but the execution looks fundamentally flawed.


Edmund Hardy said...

Dahl has attracted good films in the past - live action and cartoon - perhaps because his books are vividly described, with watertight plots. I'm not looking forward to the already-mentioned-in-interviews-with-Burton family-values ending to Charlie.

I think adaptations from novels either work because of the novel being intensely described and beautifully plotted - Silence of the Lambs; Oliver Twist; The Tin Drum - or if the film-maker is radical and bold, such as Ruiz's Time Regained or Truffaut's Jules et Jim.

Otherwise, its either Merchant Ivory (but why does Henry James make fertile source material?) or else stealing the name but changing the content, as far as I can see (which isn't that far, as my optician pointed out this morning).

Edmund Hardy said...

And books made better, two gangster tales: Harry Grey's stilted, limited memoir The Hoods became the magisterial, I think flawless, Once Upon A Time In America. Also Mario Puzo's baggy sensationalist account of the mafia became... etc.

Sadly, Gangs of New York, a witty, dicey account of criminality and politics became the overblown Braveheart-esque film with THAT Irish accent in it (apparently DiCaprio was trying to do an Irish-but-diluted-by growing up in NY accent, or that's what Scorsese said in the DVD extras...).

Darren Arnold said...

I think the best film of a book I've seen is "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas." Anyone who's read the book should be able to see how Terry Gilliam not only follows the "plot" of the book, but also perfectly captures the spirit of the piece. Not many adaps ever pull this off - some manage to convey the essence of the book, others stick to the story, but for some reason not many filmmakers have been able to do both...