What are some good movies that have faithfully represented the book they're based on?
May 21, 2007 1:57 AM   Subscribe

So many of my favourite books have been turned into bad movies. I'm trying to find more movies that properly represent their source material. Your recommendations, please?

So we all probably have an enormous list of movies that we've detested because they're so far removed from the books that they're based on. I'm looking for movies that have got it right. Off the top of my head, the one's that I've most enjoyed have been "The Butcher Boy" (based on Patrick McCabe's novel), "Door In The Floor" (based on the first part of John Irving's novel "A Widow For One Year"), "To Kill A Mockingbird" (Harper Lee, of course) and hmm well I'm bogging down around there. Further recommendations would be greatly appreciated!
posted by h00py to Media & Arts (89 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Fight Club makes some minor changes to the source, but is remarkably accurate to the mood and tone of the book ( partially as both the book and film rely on narration ). I'd argue Bladerunner properly represents its source material in some senses, but diverges from the original gigantically.

Oh, and the Lord Of The Rings films do an excellent job with the source in my book, although some would wish to burn me at the stake for saying so.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:14 AM on May 21, 2007

The first Harry Potter movie was a very faithful representation of the book, faithful enough that it was just as bad as its source material.
posted by NortonDC at 2:18 AM on May 21, 2007

Silence of the Lambs.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:29 AM on May 21, 2007

Big Fish, which was actually better than the book in many ways. Here is what BoxOfficeProphets has to say about it.
posted by dnthomps at 2:34 AM on May 21, 2007

Master and Commander.

A brilliant take on the Patrick O'Brian 'Aubry' books. My wife totally didn't get it, (hadn't read the books, not a big fan of sailboats) I was totally enthralled. Similar reaction among other male friends.

I also recently saw 'Parfum.' I read the book when it came out and so am hazy on how very closely the movie followed, but I remembered the tone of the book and thought the movie was very true to that - especially the ending (which is _not_ Hollywood but pretty effing cool).
posted by From Bklyn at 2:35 AM on May 21, 2007

There's actually a lot.

Elmore Leonard's been done proud 3 times
52 pickup
Get Shorty
Jackie Brown

The Maltese Falcon, is nearly identical scene by scene. Quick read too, a couple of years ago I read it by lunchtime and watched it in the afternoon. Very enjoyable.

While we're on Hammett, The Thin Man is pretty faithful as adaptations go.

About a Boy is well done too. Demonstrates how, in the translation to film, certain plot elements can be efficiently streamlined without damage to the material.

I'm sure there's many more.
posted by asavage at 2:38 AM on May 21, 2007

Not a film, but Brideshead Revisited is a very, very good adaptation of a book.

TV series made from books work really well. There is enough time to do a book justice. Compare the Dune movie against the mini-series.
posted by sien at 2:41 AM on May 21, 2007

- Trainspotting
- staying with Nick Hornby, I thought High Fidelity was true to the idea of the book. I thought I would hate it because they'd transposed it from London to the US, but it worked really well.
- Going back a bit, I remember Tom Jones as being pretty true in spirit to the book, no mean feat considering its length.
- A Clockwork Orange, maybe?
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:42 AM on May 21, 2007

I thought Dune was faithful (the David Lynch version), especially considering its insanely complex source material. I think it's a great movie but others disagree and there's a pretty polarised view out there.

A lot of modern books are written as proto-screenplays. This is sensible because movie fees are likely to earn an author more than royalties ever will.

When reading The Da Vinci Code, I couldn't help think that it read like a long detailed treatment for a movie. Actually, that was a pretty faithful movie adaptation too, even if it totally failed to bring across the magic and mystery of the book.

But this has been going on for years. I recently read Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (surely a classic of contemporary American literature?), and although it was written back in the early 80s, it too suffered from the movie-treatment failing. I've never seen any of the movies based on it, however.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:10 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and 'L.A. Confidential' really does justice to the book.
And I'll second the Elmore Leonard mentions.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:19 AM on May 21, 2007

I don't think About a Boy was true to the book at all, but a very good movie nonetheless.

The Princess Bride. Also second Rings and Falcon.
posted by ewkpates at 3:26 AM on May 21, 2007

'Black hawk down' by Mark Bowden. Yes, it's gung ho, but it's well reported and the film is quite faithful to the book.
posted by NekulturnY at 3:28 AM on May 21, 2007

I thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a good translation.
posted by efalk at 3:30 AM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

I disagree with the Da Vinci Code being true to form.

The one movie that I've found to be dead on with the book, is The Green Mile by Stephen King.
posted by wile e at 3:37 AM on May 21, 2007

Brokeback Mountain (though it was a short story) is by far the most obvious recent example of this, to me.

Enduring Love, also.

The Last King of Scotland.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:51 AM on May 21, 2007

How about Bicentennial Man? It's based on the original "Positronic Man" short story by Isaac Asimov, and the "Bicentennial Man" novelization by Robert Silverberg. The movie was incredibly touching, and watching it gave me the impression that the "feel" of the original short story/novel was successfully retained.
posted by gaiamark at 4:11 AM on May 21, 2007

posted by Martin E. at 4:18 AM on May 21, 2007

Shawkshank Redemption was a great adaptation of Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption"
posted by sharkfu at 4:19 AM on May 21, 2007

Rosemary's Baby.
posted by Gungho at 4:19 AM on May 21, 2007

Wonder Boys really does justice to the book, even though it was heavily abridged.
posted by fire&wings at 4:35 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of great recommendations! I've thought of a few more that worked for me (the temptation to list the ones that didn't is almost overwhelming and I admire everyone's restraint so far!): "Jude", "The Accidental Tourist", "The Last Picture Show", "Once Were Warriors", "The Snapper" and "Monkey Grip".
posted by h00py at 4:37 AM on May 21, 2007

"In Cold Blood" is a fine adaptation of the Capote book.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 AM on May 21, 2007

I think Sofia Coppola's film version of the Virgin Suicides translates the eerie vibe of the book really well.
posted by mjao at 4:52 AM on May 21, 2007

Stand by Me <= The Body, Stephen King
posted by MtDewd at 4:57 AM on May 21, 2007

Most would disagree - but American Psycho was an interesting take - I'm fairly certain that the dialogue was taken directly from the book (which would be fairly unusual - if it's in fact, true).
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:28 AM on May 21, 2007

Shopgirl by Steve Martin (and then starring Steve Martin.)
posted by santojulieta at 5:38 AM on May 21, 2007

Sorry to be an interloper, but you might like a lot more "book movies" if you realize 90% of them are an exercise in adaptation, not rote replication.

Adaptation means things will naturally blur and smudge. The most boring thing in the world would be a book to be recreated page by page, line by line into a movie script. They're inherently different mediums.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 5:49 AM on May 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

The Godfather and The Quiet American (2002) are a couple that spring to my mind, at least in their tone. (The former probably because Mario Puzo was the screenwriter, too.)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 5:51 AM on May 21, 2007

Maybe cheating since it's a miniseries (and 5 hours long!), but the BBC's Pride and Prejudice was a very well done and touching scene-by-scene adaptation of the book.
posted by twoporedomain at 5:51 AM on May 21, 2007

The most boring thing in the world would be a book to be recreated page by page, line by line into a movie script.

Harry Potter springs to mind.
posted by stammer at 5:53 AM on May 21, 2007

I found Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" to be an amazing cinematic adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's book.
posted by tperrigo at 5:59 AM on May 21, 2007

The Sheltering Sky
posted by Otis at 6:01 AM on May 21, 2007

Sin City was a comic, not a book, but the film version used the comics as storyboards, and hence was extremely faithful.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 6:04 AM on May 21, 2007

Seconding the Lynch Dune and Trainspotting.

American Psycho does take dialogue from the book word-for-word in many scenes.
Dagon (actually an adaptation of The Shadown Over Innsmouth)
Although a play and not a book, I've always found A Streetcar Named Desire very faithful, to the point of being shocking given the era it was made. Also Baby Doll, but it's another Kazan adaptation of Williams, so no surprise there.
The Exorcist (the first one, from the 70s)
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:05 AM on May 21, 2007

Seconding, particularly:
Virgin Suicides
BBC's Pride & Prejudice
About a Boy
the first Harry Potter

and adding...
Room with a View
High Fidelity
Bridget Jones' Diary
Willy Wonka (both versions, actually, altho different)
posted by nkknkk at 6:05 AM on May 21, 2007

I am incredibly satisfied with Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" to the big screen. I think it was very poorly and misleadingly marketed, hence the bad rap. It's really one of my favorite ghost stories and also pays meticulous attention to tons of details from the book, almost to a fault at times.

I'm also partial to "The Ice Storm" which departs from the book in plenty of places (like an adaptation should) but does wonders in capturing its essence.

Ditto on "Requiem For A Dream" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".
posted by hermitosis at 6:15 AM on May 21, 2007

Because Paul Newman is under-represented,
Cool Hand Luke
The Hustler
posted by qldaddy at 6:20 AM on May 21, 2007

The BBC Adaptation of Titus Groan, which they called Gormenghast was excellent. Again, a miniseries.
posted by nita at 6:24 AM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: Just a quick note, I'm happy with quite a few movies that have been adapted heavily in order to make it to the big screen, and I absolutely recognise that changes are often necessary and in some cases enhancing (Fearless, War of the Roses). What I'm looking for (and have been given!) are recommendations for adaptations that retain the feel of the book. Sometimes it's not possible, but clearly sometimes it is, because look at all the excellent examples in this thread!
posted by h00py at 6:25 AM on May 21, 2007

An odd one, but Graham Greene's The Third Man. Graham wrote a novella solely to help him work out the screenplay; it wasn't originally intended to be published but was, after the success of the film.

As mentioned above, the 2002 version of Greene's The Quiet American is much closer to the original source than the 1950s version, which ripped most of the anti-Americanism out of the book. Also, Greene himself wrote the screenplays to many of his movies, just check for the dual credit "Book Author/Screenwriter" here.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 AM on May 21, 2007

Some plot streamlining occurs, yet Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly is probably the strongest attempt at accurately capturing a Philip K Dick (or anyone else's) novel I've seen, particularly in tone.
posted by dong_resin at 6:30 AM on May 21, 2007

The film of Enduring Love differs from the source material in quite important ways.

I agree with Lockeownzj00 that films should be thought of as seperate entities to the source material. However I would disagree that: "The most boring thing in the world would be a book to be recreated page by page, line by line into a movie script." Fight Club is a pretty good counter-argument to this.
posted by ninebelow at 6:35 AM on May 21, 2007

'Black hawk down' by Mark Bowden. Yes, it's gung ho, but it's well reported and the film is quite faithful to the book.

Except that the film leaves out any mention of the U.S. helicopters firing rockets into a building hosting a major clan meeting - killing many women and old men - right before the "black hawk down" episode. Leaving out the primary precipitating incident for the attack by the Somalis on the downed US troops isn't really being "quite faithful" to the book.
posted by mediareport at 6:43 AM on May 21, 2007

Besides asavage's list, a bunch of Elmore Leonard's westerns have been made into faithful movies.

Valdez is Coming, for instance.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:46 AM on May 21, 2007

Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is actually better than the book.
posted by drezdn at 6:47 AM on May 21, 2007

Being There
posted by bluefrog at 6:56 AM on May 21, 2007

Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974); both based on Dumas' The Three Musketeers.

Michael Radford's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984).

Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff (1983).

2001: A Space Odyssey (the book and movie were done concurrently).

Red Dragon was made into movies twice: Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986) and Brett Ratner's Red Dragon (2002). Manhunter's pretty faithful to the book; Red Dragon is too, but it also feels like a Silence of the Lambs prequel.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:58 AM on May 21, 2007

Nthing L.A. Confidential and adding the original Manchurian Candidate.
posted by Lucinda at 7:05 AM on May 21, 2007

Not sure this truely counts, as it was a BBC TV adaptation, but The Lathe of Heaven is surprisingly true to Ms. LeGuin's novel. Which is good because its a terrific story.
posted by elendil71 at 7:38 AM on May 21, 2007

The English Patient is in my opinion an excellent adaptation of a book. It necessarily leaves a fair bit of material out (if they hadn't, the movie would have been probably 4 hours long), but it captures the flavor of the original very well.
posted by deadcowdan at 7:40 AM on May 21, 2007

Second Brideshead Revisited. My mom had a copy of the book that we took out when it was broadcast and you could follow right along.

A Room With a View is very faithful to the book - to the point that the chapter headings appear onscreen.
posted by plinth at 7:52 AM on May 21, 2007

Bit of a tangent, but I became so much happier with film adaptions and enjoy them much more after becoming a bit more technically familiar with the medium and seeing how and why the film shouldn't be faithful to the book.

The recent Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy film may not be a good example, but I'll mention it because Hitchhikers Guide is a book I know very well, yet I remember a point in the film where I had the sudden feeling that even though I'd read the book many times, and this film conveyed much of that feeling of reading the book, I didn't know what was going to happen to next. WRT to a classic story, it made me, as Madonna might say, "like a virgin" :)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:04 AM on May 21, 2007

Wonder Boys really does justice to the book, even though it was heavily abridged.

Cannot agree more. First one I thought of.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:05 AM on May 21, 2007

The Year of Living Dangerously. I love the book and I love the movie
posted by Danf at 8:06 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Pretty much my favorite ever in this regard: Jesus' Son.

Also, I'll third Wonder Boys.

And keep an eye out for Into the Wild, which isn't coming out until later this year, but is pretty amazing.
posted by dogwalker at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2007

The Clint Eastwood film "Blood Work" based on a book by the same name.
posted by acro at 8:28 AM on May 21, 2007

I can't think of any off the top of my head, but if you need a starting point (i.e., what books have been made into movies in the first place), you can try this database. Or the Scripter Awards.

Actually, I'll summarize the award site for you (only started in '88):

Capote \ 2006
Million Dollar Baby \ 2005
Seabiscuit \ 2004
The Hours \ 2003
A Beautiful Mind \ 2002
Wonder Boys \ 2001
The Hurricane \ 2000
A Civil Action \ 1999
L.A. Confidential \ 1998
The English Patient \ 1997
Sense and Sensibility \ 1996
The Shawshank Redemption \ 1995
Schindler's List \ 1994
A River Runs Through It \ 1993
Fried Green Tomatoes \ 1992
Awakenings \ 1991
The Accidental Tourist \ 1990
84 Charing Cross Road \ 1988

I'm amazed at how many of those were based on non-fiction books.
posted by timepiece at 8:37 AM on May 21, 2007

And I did not forget '89 - they evidently didn't award it that year.
posted by timepiece at 8:40 AM on May 21, 2007

The version of "1984" starring John Hurt EXACTLY matched my vision of Orwell's world. It was like someone snatched images out of my head and put them on the screen.

That said, I'm not always a fan of that effect. Unlike many people I know, I HATED the Peter Jackson Tolkien films. I hated them because to me, it seemed like he'd illustrated the novels in the most facile way. Elves look exactly like I'd imagine they'd look; Gandalf looked just like a garden-variety wizard, etc. The book said that Sauron was a giant eye -- so guess what? -- he was a giant eye. But he wasn't SCARY. If he'd been scary, that would, in my opinion, "more properly represent their source material" than just slavishly following the description in the book.

Jackson seemed to me like an administrator (he got the job done), not a visionary. He didn't put any of himself in the films. I wish they'd been directed by Ang Lee. He would have maintained the feeling of the source, but he would have layered his own sensibilities on top. I heard that Stanley Kubrick once considered adapting "Lord of the Rings." THAT would have been something.

(A great example of the opposite effect is "Deadwood." It's a western, but it has a really distinctive look. It transcends the genre cliches. It does this in its writing, of course, but I'm talking about the visuals here. The cinematography looks as if a very specific artist -- with his own style -- crafted the images.)
posted by grumblebee at 8:43 AM on May 21, 2007

Two movies based on non-fiction works that stay fairly close to their sources, I think, are Goodfellas and A River Runs Through It.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:44 AM on May 21, 2007

I don't know if this qualifies specifically, but Vladimir Nabokov actually wrote the screenplay for Kubrick's "Lolita."
posted by rhizome at 8:53 AM on May 21, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas was remarkably faithful to the source material.
posted by Phlogiston at 8:58 AM on May 21, 2007

Vladimir Nabokov actually wrote the screenplay for Kubrick's "Lolita."

Sort of.
posted by grumblebee at 9:01 AM on May 21, 2007

John Irving's books are usually long and have a lot of characters, so they're tough to adapt. The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules were faithful adaptations with compressed timelines and composite characters.

Simon Birch is a decent adaptation of the first part of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but it leaves out all the good stuff. The Hotel New Hampshire is a good adaptation of the novel, but the novel's almost a self-parody.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2007

Willy Wonka (both versions, actually, altho different)

Interesting. I would argue that the first version is an example of a movie not being faithful to the book -- arguably for the better. The inclusion of Slugworth and Wonka "testing" Charlie gives a decidedly different spin to the narrative.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:15 AM on May 21, 2007

Being There
posted by bluefrog at 8:56 AM

I'd actually say that the movie's an improvement; the novel's good, but a lot of the central message has a lot more impact when you can see and hear televisions.

Oh, and put me down as another vote for Wonder Boys being a great adaptation. With a great Dylan song!
posted by COBRA! at 9:41 AM on May 21, 2007

Say what you will about the movie, and perhaps a graphic novel doesn't count as a book, but 300 is one of the closest movies to the source material I've seen.

They used the graphic novel as a storyboard for many scenes, and the dialog is essentially word-for-word to the word balloons in the novel.
posted by wubbie at 9:45 AM on May 21, 2007

The Talented Mr. Ripley.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:48 AM on May 21, 2007

The novel of 2001 was written at the same time as the screenplay. The novel acts as a kind of fleshed-out rendition, explaining some of the more obscure concepts, and provides background scenes that didn't make it into the movie.

2010 was critically panned but was faithful to the book. That might be why it was considered so bad.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:49 AM on May 21, 2007

Several people have mentioned the advantages that miniseries have in adaptation. The recent British miniseries of Bleak House is smashing. Some details are "off," and a lot of material is necessarily telescoped, but the casting is brilliant and the pacing gives you that feeling of reading a book so good you can't put it down.
posted by Orinda at 9:50 AM on May 21, 2007

"Little Children". With the exception of a (very) slight alteration of the ending, maintains the essential plot elements of the book while accurately recreating the feel and themes of the novel.
posted by The Gooch at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2007

BBC tv miniseries to book -- 'Fingersmith' -- Sarah Waters
posted by acro at 10:11 AM on May 21, 2007

Misery by Stephen King. Great book, great movie.
posted by bove at 10:32 AM on May 21, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Virgin Suicides
Fight Club

Ultimately though books are different than film and often faithful reproduction is a bad move for a film maker. The Film Adaptation is an wonderful and hilarious exploration of screenwriting in general but especially that based on literary source material
posted by subtle_squid at 10:43 AM on May 21, 2007

The Andromeda Strain is one of the Crichton movies that stays faithful to the book. Moreso, than say Rising Sun, Disclosure, Jurassic Park, etc.
posted by stovenator at 11:09 AM on May 21, 2007

Waiting to Exhale was very faithful to the book. Of course, it helped that Terry McMillan cowrote the script, too.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2007

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the recent Children of Men, which I heard was a very faithful adaptation (I haven't seen it personally).
posted by timepiece at 11:52 AM on May 21, 2007

There's "The Woman Chaser", which I mostly liked. That is, it was a very memorable experience watching it and I couldn't look away. I haven't read the book, but I've read reviews saying it was very faithful.
posted by Green With You at 12:03 PM on May 21, 2007

2010 was critically panned but was faithful to the book.

I've got to disagree with that one. Both 2001 and 2010 were written during the cold war, (1968 and 1982, I think), but in both cases the books depict a future where the cold war has thawed a little, but more importantly, the scientists from the US and USSR are friends - a "science transcends national borders" kind of thing.

Watch 2010 (and to a lesser extent 2001) on the screen and the feeling is far more cold-war mentality, down to the impending threat of global war that forms the backdrop of the film. It's far more "confrontational" and I think that completely changes the feel of the story from the book.

Still, I quite enjoyed the film, it's just a pity it wasn't made before Star Wars changed the public's perception of what a sci fi film should be.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 12:22 PM on May 21, 2007

The Princess Bride.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:41 PM on May 21, 2007

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the recent Children of Men, which I heard was a very faithful adaptation

That's just not true. For just the most obvious example, Kee, the pregnant woman at the heart of the film, is nowhere to be found in the book. In fact, the director deliberately chose not to read James' book:

Cinematical: I've heard that you didn't read the (P.D .James) novel before you started working on the film.

Alfonso Cuarón: What I was attracted to was the concept of infertility as a premise. I was not really interested in doing a science fiction film, so I had completely disregarded it. But the premise kept haunting me...So I asked my writing partner, Tim Sexton, to read the book, and I said, okay, I don't want to read the book because I don't want to sidetrack myself or second-guess myself. I had a very clear vision of the movie I wanted to do. So I said to him, you read the book, and based on this movie I'm telling you, there are elements of the book which you will write into the movie. That's what happened.

More here. Honestly, the movie Children of Men belongs nowhere near this thread; the climax of the book is completely different than the one in the movie.
posted by mediareport at 4:54 PM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: As a followup to the comments regarding film being a completely different medium to books, the thing that I find most baffling is when the rights to a book have been obtained (most probably at great expense) and then the story is almost completely changed. Is the title retained because the filmmakers wish to attract the audience that bought the book? If so, I guess I can understand from a purely fiscal point of view (ready made audience = profit!), but if the filmmaker has a desire to stamp their own impression on a story (or the bones of one) without sticking to the actual book, why not just write, or have written, an original screenplay that swipes the bits that they want from a given novel, and then change the character names completely? "Chocolat" comes to mind as a good example. I loved the movie (having seen it before reading the book) but it bares almost no resemblance to the book at all! It's not like all movies (or books) are 100% originals - similar themes are rearranged all the time. I don't have a problem with variations on a theme, but why not give it a new title if it varies astoundingly from the book which inspired it? Maybe it's an ethical thing. I'm open to all explanations as I'm merely a watcher, not a creator.
posted by h00py at 7:23 AM on May 22, 2007

Best answer: hoopy, I have a couple of thoughts about your question:

1. a film doesn't just pop out of the oven. It's cobbled together gradually, by a large number of collaborators, over an extended period of time. During that time, things drift.

Let's assume that the person who bought the rights to novel X did so because he loved the novel and wanted to see it "faithfully" rendered into film. (That's not necessarily a good assumption, but let's run with it.)

This guy is probably a producer. He can't make the movie hmself, but he can get the ball running. He'll contact actors, directors and financiers. The ones that sign on may only choose to do so if certain changes are made to the basic story. The producer may tell some of these people to go fuck themselves. But other may be integral to getting the movie made.

I'm being neutral about whether these changes are good or bad. Some may be travesties; some may enhance the work; some may turn it into to something just-as-good but different. some may be made for commercial reasons, but by a stroke of luck, they may wind up improving the work aesthetically; etc. The bottom line is that the work will change.

Let's say we cast Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep. Both demand minor changes. A backer -- who works for Ford -- wants the hero to drive an American car (not a German car, like he does in the novel). The producer feels like these changes leave the soul of the book intact. (He's making an interpretative decision here -- another producer might feel differently.) He accepts them, because he admires those actors and he needs the money from the backer.

He then needs to find a screenwriter. In Hollywood, many films are written and re-written by multiple writers. Each one will want to put his own stamp on the story. These changes may be big, but even if they're small, when you add them to the changes that have already been made, the story has drifted quite far from the original.

A similar process happens when the director comes aboard. The director may demand changes (or he'll refuse to work on the film). Changes also might occur naturally during filming: an actor does a clever bit of improv; a location gets rained out the only day they can use it; etc.

This process of evolution happens again when the director is finished and the editor gets ahold of it.

And I've truncated the process. There are also costume-designers, studio executives, test-screenings, etc. etc. etc. that all have a hand in crafting the final product.

2) No film can ever be literally faithful to its source, because its source is printed words on paper. The best a film can do is to create a visual metaphor for the printed version. And metaphors are a matter of personal taste. I may feel that my metaphor captures the story perfectly; you may disagree. I'm claiming here that, in a sense, your question is meaningless. All movies are adaptations, and there's no meter by which we can say whether an adaptation is faithful or not.

But there's a "come on!" feeling that many people have. "Come on! That movie was nothing like the book and you KNOW it!" In my experience, that feeling is mostly concerned with PLOT. If the plot of a movie is very different from the source, people will say it's not faithful. And you're welcome to agree with this. Just note that it's an arbitrary way of defining faithfullness.

I'm a director -- of stage plays, not films -- and I don't even consider it my job to be faithful to the source. In fact, I don't even really know what that means or how to do it.

As I see it, my job is to be faithful to the STORY. Which is not the same as the source. What do I mean by "the story", then? I mean that when I first read a play like, say, "Hamlet," something excites me about it. The thing that excites me may be "what Shakespeare intended" or it might be something my brain invents when it collides with the play. My job is to keep that flame alive and try to convey it to an audience.

So I'm really telling MY story, not Shakespeare's. I CAN'T tell his story, because I'm not him. I don't know what he intended. I can't just stick his words up on the stage on a big placard for everyone to read. I have to make choices. And those choices will be my choices, based on how my own internal workings have responded to the play.

Why do I still call it "Hamlet" and not "Grumblebee's Play About Some Guys in Denmark"? Tradition, mostly. That's how we deal with titles in theatre and film. We generally keep the titles from the source. I can't say I put all that much thought into that aspect of production. The title is something that goes on the poster. (And, yes, you're right about the "built in audience part".)

Am I being dishonest? Am I leading people on into thinking they're going to see "Hamlet" when in fact they're going to see something else? It depends on how people approach theatre. IF they expect plays and films to somehow bring an author's story to life "faithfully," then I guess I am misleading them.

But no one feels mislead when they go to a jazz concert and hear an improvisation. No one says, "Hey! Twinkle Twinkle Little Star doesn't go like that!" If you go see plays and films in that light -- if you see them as improvs BASED on a source -- then you won't feel cheated when, in fact, that's what they turn out to be. But whether you feel cheated or not, that's what they are.

To me, as an audience member who thinks this way, it's useful to keep the title unchanged. As with Jazz, I enjoy knowing the original and comparing it to a particular interpretation. If the title gets changed, I might be robbed of that.

Incidentally, I had a really interesting experience when I saw the John Hurt version of "1984," (based on a novel I've always loved). SPOILER AHEAD: In the novel, Winston Smith has a really complex relationship with O'Brian. O'Brian tortures Smth, but Smith loves him. Loves him and hates him. (To me, simultaneous feelings of love and hate are what this novel is about.)

Smith also has these dreams about his father. In the film version, you see the dreams, and in the same actor who plays O'Brian, also plays his father! This isn't in the book at all, but it's brilliant. Now, it's not stranger for a film to contain something clever that wasn't in the book version. But what's strange is that when I saw it, I had an intense feeling that this choice was more true to the book than the book was true to itself. It's as if the filmmakers got to the core of the book, found a hole that Orwell didn't notice, and plugged it up.

That's totally subjective, of course, and I don't mean to imply that it's anything more than my feeling. But in the end, that's what we're left with when we watch movies. Our feelings.
posted by grumblebee at 11:24 AM on May 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

catch-22 was pretty close, IMHO
posted by prodevel at 11:35 AM on May 22, 2007

movie Children of Men belongs nowhere near this thread

Huh. Now I'm wondering where on earth I heard that, and why it won this year's Scripter Award. Obviously I hadn't seen it myself (though I did read the book).
posted by timepiece at 1:54 PM on May 22, 2007

Response by poster: grumblebee, thanks so much for your comment. That makes great sense to me and I very much appreciate your input. You have definitely answered the second part of my question (and there were so many good answers to the first part that I couldn't mark them all, so thanks to everyone who added their recommendations).
posted by h00py at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2007

The first Harry Potter movie actually messed up quite a number of details - petty stuff for non-fans, but when the focus is on super faithful retellings, the small stuff stands out.

I'd say the 3rd and 4th HP movies (the 3rd in particular) stand out in terms of capturing the style and essence of the story. They didn't keep the entire storylines, and there are still those nagging details, but the feel of the story was just like what the books were trying to evoke.

I thought the Tim Burton version of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory captured Roald Dahl's subtle sadism and humour really well. His stories are actually really creepy when you think about it, but the creepiness is disguised.
posted by divabat at 10:13 PM on May 27, 2007

MIAMI BLUES is a great adaptation of Charles Willeford's book.
posted by cinemafiend at 4:53 PM on June 5, 2007

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