/Answers: The Best Big Screen Adaptation Of A Beloved Book

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. Tying in with the upcoming release of The Dark Tower, this week's edition asks "What is your favorite movie adaptation of a beloved book?" As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team.

fight club

Peter Sciretta: Fight Club

I'll admit that I don't read a whole lot of books and the ones I read are usually after seeing the movie version. I don't typically like to read a book before seeing the movie adaptation, especially after a couple bad experiences with adaptations not living up to my expectations. I've realized that I enjoy the medium of film much more than the written page, so I'd rather wait to see the big screen version first and if I like it enough, dive into the book for the "deleted scenes." I much prefer this trajectory and really don't have the time to read many books these days, so it works out.

However, book that has the best big screen adaptation is probably Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Director David Fincher's cold, calculated, minimalistic style is so perfect for the story, and Jim Uhls' screenplay perfectly captures the flavor and tone of the original novel. If anything, Fincher did too good of a job of putting the viewers in the mindset of our narrator, played by Edward Norton, and thus there has been a lot of bros who may have taken some of the Project Mayhem stuff a bit too seriously.  It's one of the rare movies that improves on the source material, with an ending that even the author has admitted is better than his original book.

Gone Girl

Hoai-Tran Bui: Gone Girl

When I think of the best book-to-movie adaptation, I think of Gone Girl. The film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's work by master craftsman David Fincher was just so good that while watching it, I had wished I'd never read the book so I could've experienced the movie for the first time. I know that's a weird way to compliment just how good the film — or the book — is, but both the film and the book stand on such equal footing with each other that it feels like weighing them against each other would be redundant. Because Fincher did it. He pulled off the perfect adaptation.

Just like Amy Dunne pulled off the perfect crime in Gone Girl, Fincher's film adaptation is meticulous and calculated. It took the warring POV's of the book between Nick Dunne's self-deprecating, flawed all-American boy and Amy Dunne's dreamy girl in love depicted in her journal entries — then it turned it on its head. Perhaps the one thing the movie does better than the book is the reveal. Ben Affleck's pitch perfect casting as a husband whose actions and face you can't trust seems all the more menacing than the untrustworthy narrator trope that the book uses. And Rosamund Pike's Cool Girl speech packs so much more of a wallop when it's set to her triumphantly driving away from her cheating husband that she just implicated for murder.

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is a riveting murder mystery set to the backdrop of an idyllic Midwestern suburb, with shades of feminist messaging about internalized misogyny. Fincher's film elevates the story from what could have been a hackneyed Lifetime movie into an exploration of the darker nature simmering under suburbia, and gives us one of cinema's greatest female villains in Amy Dunne.

o brother where art thou

Ben Pearson: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I loved the stories of Greek and Roman mythology so much when I was a kid that I ended up getting a Classics minor in college so I could learn even more about them. And while The Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, may be the bigger and more popular of Homer's two epic poems, it's The Odyssey, the story that deals with the aftermath of the Trojan War, that always captivated me the most.

While I have a nostalgic soft spot for the straightforward 1997 TV miniseries adaptation starring Armand Assante, I much prefer the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a looser, shaggier adaptation that takes some liberties with Homer's source material but still manages to be a magnetic retelling of the classic tale. The hallmarks are all there: the Sirens, the Cyclops, a lead character named Ulysses (the Roman equivalent of Odysseus) who's on the run and trying to return home, and the relentless spirit of Poseidon determined to undermine our hero at every turn (represented here by the terrifying Sheriff Cooley). The warm, sepia-toned cinematography, southern locales, and toe-tapping diagetic music make this one of the most fascinating film adaptations of a classic story in recent memory. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be off singing "Man of Constant Sorrow" for the rest of the day.

lord of the rings

Jacob Hall: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The crazy thing about Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's genre-defining novels is that they diverge wildly from the intent of the source material. Jackson and his team took a trilogy of melancholic stories about the the perils of an industrialized society, the beauty of nature, the weight of history, and the horrors of modernized warfare and made...a riveting adventure movie. Sure, Tolkien's ideas are still present, but they're texture. They linger in the background instead of stepping to the forefront. Because that forefront is full of orcs getting their heads chopped off.

But I've come here to praise how the Lord of the Rings movies adapt Tolkien. These films, each of them a masterpiece, may not capture the novels to the letter, but they capture the memories of the novels. They're less a strict adaptation of the books and more of a big screen take on the sweeping contributions Tolkien made to the larger fantasy canon. It's almost like an adaptation of a tabletop RPG based on Lord of Rings, an epic story where the players, each of them well-versed and deeply in love with Tolkien, have embellished Middle-Earth just a bit to adhere to their particular whims and flights of fancy. Tolkien purists scoff at Jackson's action-packed approach, but it's the work of an artist so drunk in love with a world that he's built it into something personal, something that has come about from years of just thinking and dreaming about it.

In an alternate dimension, there's a Lord of the Rings movie trilogy that is quieter, sadder, more mellow, and more in tune with with Tolkien. But in this dimension, I'm happy with the adaptation that captures the feelings the novels left with me, that I have lived with for years, rather than the direct text itself.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Ethan Anderton: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

As a brisk 200-something page read, Stephen Chbosky's coming-of-age tale doesn't have the length that makes many novels difficult to adapt, but it's the spirit and emotion of the book that makes it hard to realize visually. Chbosky's book spends so much time inside the head of our main character, Charlie, as he struggles with social anxiety, teenage awkwardness, making friends, falling in love and coming to terms with a tragedy in his life that he's buried deep in his mind. Visualizing all of that always seemed like a daunting task, but since the movie is written and directed by Chbosky himself, he knew exactly how to bring the story to life.

Helping the movie accomplish this is an incredible performance by Logan Lerman in the lead, not to mention outstanding supporting performances by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller as Charlie's new best friends. Combined, the trio captures the uncertainty that comes with growing up, the good and the bad of being best friends with someone, and so much more. Plus, there's the amazing soundtrack that fuels the entire movie.

If this movie was in anyone else's hands, it might have been a disappointment (unless maybe Cameron Crowe directed it), but Stephen Chbosky brought his magnificent story to life in the most beautiful way, and generations of teens will be moved by it for years to come.

requiem for a dream

Christopher Stipp: Requiem For a Dream

When the right work meets the right artist that wants to make it into a movie, there can be an amazing transcendence of the written word. While screenplays on their own are works, blueprints, on their own, a book is something gnarled, complex, and the job begins with deconstruction – what stays in, what doesn't make the cut, decisions on how to capture the essence of the story's being, etc. It's addition by subtraction. You can't film all that's been written and for the literary adaptations that have nailed the transmutation the results have been glorious. Books like Fight Club and Jurassic Park have both have succeeded in going from page to screen but, for me, it was Hubert Selby, Jr.'s Requiem for a Dream that has only enhanced my passion for the film that Darren Aronofsky adapted in 2000.

One of the key reasons why this novel was just begging to be made and why Aronofsky was perfect for the job is because that the issues that the novel raises when it comes to addiction still resonate today. For those wondering, the novel was published in 1978. Aronofsky brought the book into more modern environs without missing a single beat. Even though Trainspotting can be credited with creating just as dismal of a portrait when it comes to those who are dependent on drugs, Requiem for a Dream deserves credit for not giving any of its characters any potential for a happy ending. This is how many addicts find their end – they're lost to themselves and lost to society.

Aronofsky handles the material with such care and he is acutely aware of the nuances of what makes the book such a gripping read. Without any hesitation, I would give this book and show this movie to anyone who is flirting with the idea of getting involved with hard drugs. It's a sinister spiral and the book and movie both end the way they should: brutally.

Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men

Jack Giroux: No Country For Old Men

Joel and Ethan Coen's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel is extremely faithful, bu that's not why it's my favorite adaptation. Despite remaining so close to the original story, they were never faithful to a fault. They nipped and tucked a few things – like Llewelyn Moss and the hitchhiker – but everything they took out and kept felt right. They kept most of McCarthy's story and never deviated where they didn't have to. It was a great story on the page and it makes for a great story on the screen. It was translates so naturally to film: the characters, the heaviness, the humor, and the suspense, all captured by the Coen Brothers.

They managed to tell the same story while offering a very different experience. The filmmakers' sensibilities are perfectly in tune with McCarthy's story of death. They can blend unsettling violence, big belly laughs, and suspense while crafting an endless list of characters who are impossible to forget. That makes them more than qualified to adapt one of McCarthy's novels.

I've always loved one cut they made: Carla Jean Moss doesn't call it in the end. Instead, she calls out Anton Chigurh and his coin. It's cruel and unfair, and she says so. Unlike her husband and others, she went up against Anton Chigurh without a weapon.

The Dark Tower Trailer Breakdown 61

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