I recently put up a piece over at Aleteia on some books that are going to become movies soon. I’m particularly intrigued by the effort to put Dante to the screen. It might be amazing or it might be a huge, glorious disaster. Either way, it’ll be fun to find out. I’m most excited, though, for that Catch-22 mini-series. Catch-22, in my opinion, is somehow an underrated novel. I know we’re all familiar with it and it does tend to be in the canon of high school lit, so in that sense, sure, it’s rated pretty highly, but as far as high school lit goes, it rises above many of the other options. For instance, it ages far better than Catcher in the Rye. Catch-22 manages to be both laugh-out-loud hilarious and intensely, seriously dark. If a film can capture both the hilarity and the pathos of Heller’s genius, it’ll be a show well worth watching.
There’s always some trepidation when a book is turned into a movie because there’s a good chance the movie will ruin it. That puts all us readers in an awkward position because we have to be the truth-speaking snobs and speak truth to power, like, “It wasn’t as good as the book.” and, “For the love of God can we stop with all the Little Women adaptations already because Winona Ryder already embodied the perfect Jo and at this point it’s overkill.” And then there is the inevitable Anne With An E situation in which the resulting interpretation of the novel is so messed up you seriously consider canceling your Netflix account as a protest and the only reason you don’t is because they just debuted Orson Welles’ final, insane movie that you want to see really bad.
Sometimes, book-to-film works very well:
Doctor Zhivago – glorious pacing and cinematography
The Leopard – everything about this film is perfection
The 39 Steps – Hitchcock can do no wrong
Apocalypse Now – A good example of breathing new life into a classic
Clueless – I’m not ashamed to admit that this adaptation of Emma is flawless
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Gene Wilder version, obviously
Sometimes it doesn’t:
The Remains of the Day – It tries so hard but really struggles with the subtlety and control of the novel. The ending in particular is not quite right.
Lord of the Rings – all the CG and attempts at expressing the huge imagination of Tolkien fall short. The length of the battle scenes is really tedious.
Dune – Multiple attempts are all bad but fascinating, especially David Lynch’s
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Johnny Depp version
What do you think? Should film-makers leave well enough alone, or is there a legitimate contribution that film can make in bringing the written word to life?