Book adaptations are not always a disappointment. Whilst plenty of fans complain about the misrepresentation or loss of their favourite character or the changing of major plot points or important themes, there are also the films and TV shows that do books justice, transforming them into a different format whilst keeping essential parts that make them good adaptations. Maybe they capture an notable narrator in some way, make changes or cut out unnecessary material that actually make it a better experience, or just faithfully capture a book in a new way. However these adaptations work, they form an extra way to enjoy your favourite books, or even make a book even better.
There are plenty of books that don’t work in certain adapted formats. The Harry Potter films have to cut out so much that without book knowledge they can be at times confusing or incomprehensible. I couldn’t make it further than one episode of the Wolf Hall TV series before I got before, despite enjoying both books. The Baz Luhrmann film of The Great Gatsby is fun, but it can’t quite match up to the book.
On the other hand, both Trainspotting and Filth show that adapting Irvine Welsh’s books can make very different yet still fantastic and dark films. Plenty of classic and hugely popular films and TV shows are based on books, though sometimes loosely. I’ve picked out a few where I think the adaptation has been particularly notable to me, and would be interested to know which book adaptations are most important to other people.
- American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis’ novel is an onslaught of brand names, restaurant reservations, and graphic violence and sex. The film version pares this down into an unnerving vision of a psychopathic killer hidden in yuppie culture, talking over the action and dancing around the room to Huey Lewis and the News.
- The Shining – Even though I was a fan of Stephen King, I didn’t actually read the book until after I’d seen Kubrick’s film. The psychological tension of following Danny around the Overlook Hotel can’t quite be matched by the novel, which differs in some major ways.
- A Single Man – Tom Ford’s film of Christopher Isherwood’s novel somehow takes the breathtaking prose style and uses a visual beauty to get across a different, but somehow recognisably similar too, take on how the story is told. The ending differs too, but it is a case where both the book and the film feel valid in their own right.
- Fight Club – One of the most famous cases of the adaptation surpassing the fame of the book, Fight Club has contributed to the cultural zeitgeist in a way that angers its author Chuck Palahniuk and allowed plenty of people to misunderstand and misrepresent its ideas of toxic masculinity and violence. Regardless, the film is incredibly good, with a great soundtrack and cinematography that gets across its twist and the bizarre perspective of its messed-up protagonist.