Book-to-film adaptations that deserve another shot
- Kirstyn Smith
- 20 March 2015
With the announcement of a new Little Women film, we look at book to film transformations that could have gone better.
It has been announced that Sarah Polley is to direct a new version of Little Women. Alongside producer Amy Pascal, the pair are introducing a new take on the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, adding to the line of Little Women films, the most recent being 1994’s retelling, starring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale.
The recent spate of film remakes and remake announcements – Ghostbusters, Annie, Terminator – is generating discussion about the need for remakes rather than original films, but it is one thing to remake a film; quite another to turn a book into a film.
With this in mind, we’re taking a look at some book-to-film transformations that could have gone better.
A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Lemony Snicket’s 13-book children’s series is for young readers with a more macabre imagination. The first three books were squeezed into the 2004 Jim Carrey film, leading to a mixed critical response, and plans for a Harry Potter-esque franchise were quashed by Paramount, Dreamworks and Nickelodeon. While a film to coincide with each individual book would be overkill, another look at how to transform a long series into an easily franchiseable series would an interesting evolution in book-film development. Roger Ebert commented that ‘this one is a tune-up for the series, a trial run in which they figure out what works and what needs to be tweaked’, a trial run that, sadly, fell flat.
The Rum Diary (2011)
The film was nearly 11 years in the making, which isn’t the best sign, particularly when the author – in this case, Hunter S Thompson – calls the process a ‘waterhead fuckaround’. However, it all came together in 2011, to mixed critical opinion. The film is largely disjointed, thanks to the attempts to include many of the book’s pivotal scenes, regardless as to whether they fit into the plotline or not. On top of this, a big character in the book, Yeamon, is cut from the film, and the ending is changed, to purists’ dismay. There were also complaints from animal rights groups due to a scene that showed an actual cock fight.
Not strictly a film, but two-part television movie based on Stephen King’s coulrophobic horror novel. While there’s nothing strictly wrong with a film being a bit 80s (read: cheesy), the film came up against criticism thanks to its melodramatic scenes, particularly in the second of the two halves. The child actors (including a young Seth Green playing one of TV’s best wideos) outshine their adult contemporaries to an embarrassing degree, but even they can’t take away from an overly OTT retelling of a genuinely scary book.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (2005)
A double whammy: author Roald Dahl disowned the first film, 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, annoyed because there was too much focus on Willy Wonka and not enough on the protagonist, Charlie, as well as disagreeing with a number of plot changes. These days, the film is considered a cult classic.
The book was adapted again in 2005 as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and received, for the most part, favourable reviews. However, Johnny Depp’s childlike, Michael-Jackson take on Willy Wonka made for uncomfortable watching at times. Gene Wilder, the original Willy Wonka, originally chose not to see the film, stating: ‘When I saw little pieces in the promotion of what he was doing, I said I don't want to see the film, because I don't want to be disappointed in him.’ In 2013, he called the film ‘an insult’. Some books are, perhaps, untranslatable onto the big screen, particularly those as globally revered as Dahl’s. This one might be an untackleable project – then again: hold your breath, make a wish …