What Makes A Good Movie Adaptation?

Film adaptations are a tricky business — make too many changes and you’re guaranteed to upset existing fans (see Watchmen). On the other hand, stay too faithful and your flick runs the risk of appearing slavish or even pointless (see, ironically, Watchmen). Sometimes though, a movie manages to strike all the right notes and goes on to please old and new fans alike.

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Last night, I caught a media screening of the latest Carrie remake which is based on Stephen King’s first published novel. In the past, we’ve looked at how movie remakes are mostly rubbish and we’re sad to report that Carrie does little to buck this trend.

As the titular Carrie White, Chloë Grace Moretz is far too pretty to convince as a friendless high school outcast (if anything, their attempts to “uglify” the actress have only rendered her more attractive). The climactic showdown at the prom is also problematic; it somehow manages to both underwhelm and be too over-the-top.

However, it was the unnecessary deviations from the book that I found the most jarring. While I understand the need to update certain aspects of the story to fit the modernised setting, most of the changes are clumsily handled and contribute nothing of importance. A subplot involving camera phones and YouTube videos really doesn’t go anywhere; it’s just sort of there. The filmmakers probably would’ve been better off keeping the tale in the 1970s. While we wouldn’t call the movie terrible, it mostly fails as both a remake and as an adaptation.

This got us thinking about what makes a great adaptation. Respect to the source material is obviously key, but it goes a lot deeper than that — you need to know what to adapt and what to leave on the page, how long to spend on certain scenes and whether to cram the whole book into one movie or go for a multi-part adaptation (Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy clearly got this aspect wrong).

Naturally, choosing the right actors also plays a huge role. While it’s impossible to match the imagination of each and every fan (we all picture characters differently after all), some actors are completely miscast; Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula being a standout example.

With all that in mind, what movie adaptations do you think got it right? As mentioned, they don’t necessarily have to be 100 per cent faithful so long as they capture the spirit of the original story and delight existing fans. Off the top of my head, I’d personally rate The Thin Red Line, The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Last Of The Mahicans (1992), Blade Runner, Stand By Me, Trainspotting and The Shawshank Redemption.

Meanwhile, some awful adaptations we can think of include The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, The Time Machine (2002), Bicentennial Man, The Scarlet Letter (1995) and Dreamcatcher.

We’re keen to hear your own thoughts on book-to-film adaptations. What are your personal favourites (or biggest disappointments)? Share your nominations in the comments section below.

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