The Dark Tower Trailer Breakdown 49

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.

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