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The scent of bitter almonds

I saw Love in the Time of Cholera last night, and while I won't launch into a movie review here - you'll Bardem have to wait for Friday for that - it did get me thinking about film adaptations of great books. (As did that unfortunate post about The English Patient being horrible, but I'm trying to put that behind me.) Why is it some adaptations work so spectacularly, and others don't? It can't merely be a matter of the screenplay; obviously changes are needed when you're jumping from one medium to another. The English Patient deviated from the book because it had to. The Harry Potter movies instantly improved when the screenwriters stopped trying to cram every single page of the books into the movies.

Some films deviate less successfully. I understand why Tom Perrotta changed the ending of his Little Children for the screen, but I didn't much like it, as it skewed the entire satiric point of the book.

And some adaptations are simply so breathtaking that you're dazzled all over again. I was shaken by Mira Nair's The Namesake in a way I was not moved by Jhumpa Lahiri's fine novel, though I did like the book quite a bit. But seeing those characters and feeling a part of their lives, especially through Nair's wonderfully vivid lens, was more powerful than reading about them in the first place.

Unfortunately that's not an experience that happens often. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's story of Florentino Ariza's eternal devotion for Fermina Daza (who is, let's face it, something of a bitch) feels more like telenovela than the grand love story it is. Javier Bardem is terrific, as always, but something's missing, and it's hard to say what it is.


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The book "A Passage to India" made me want to poke my eyes out...but I liked the movie...

Connie Ogle

Good example...I am also looking forward to Atonement, which opens in December. Loved the book, but you have to wonder how they stuffed that into a 2 hour movie. Then again, the director is Joe Wright, who managed the seemingly impossible feat of making an excellent 2-hour version of Pride and Prejudice.

Jill Cassidy

Plus, James McAvoy, hubba hubba. How did Sean Penn's movie of All the King's Men blow when the book was so great?

Connie Ogle

Wait, wasn't James McAvoy the half-goat dude with vague child molester-ish vibe in "Chronicles of Narnia?" Now that was, I suppose, an OK adaptation, but I was never a fan of the books and found the movie boring until Tilda Swinton showed up. It's probably not good that I was rooting for her to vanquish those little British brats and that pushy lion.

just saying

one of the truly wonderful literary adaptions of recent times: Brokeback Mountain.

another: Mystic River

books to movies that never translate:anything by stephen king. except Carrie.

another bad one: Interview With the Vampire. for me anyway. lots disagree.


Vampire was not a great adaptation; partly that was Tom Cruise who was just never scary. (Kirsten Dunst excellent as the little girl vamp, though).

Another great translation: Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, which started life as Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch. Leonard books lend themselves to film because they're so dialogue driven (Out of Sight another good example.)

Brokeback was genius. I'm still cranky that Crash won best picture that year...

Phoebe Flowers

I couldn't make it through "Atonement," the book, a fact that became immediately clear a few weeks ago when I saw a trailer for its adaptation before "Gone Baby Gone" -- which was a quite good adaptation, and another one where the changes that were made made sense, although I do agree that it was unfortunate that Angie was made so peripheral -- and nothing I saw in the trailer reminded me of anything I had read in the, you know, 50 or so pages I struggled through. So I might really like the movie!

I seem to consistently have trouble with adaptations (e.g., "The Namesake," "Wonder Boys") when I've read the books within the previous year. I need time to forget some things, or else I spend most of the movie trying to figure out why the hell they gave the dog a different name. (This actually happened with "Wonder Boys.")

"Brokeback Mountain," like "The Ice Storm," is one of the best adaptations ever ever EVER. Movies like that make me want to write adapted screenplays for a living. (Or, not for a living. Just for fun, which is not a concept I associate with any other kind of writing.) Speaking of which, Rene Rodriguez has totally failed me on our brilliant plan to team up on "The Ruins."


wonder boys is a great movie...

Connie Ogle

Wonder Boys IS a good movie.

An adaptation that didn't work quite so well: the recent Into the Wild...it made Chris McCandless a little more heroic than he was (really he was just a knucklehead who didn't know a topo map from his elbow) and please, lay off the Christ allusions, we GET it already.

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