Category Archives: Books

Books to Movies: Getting Adaptations Right

movie adaptation
Steven Spielberg managed to not mess up Michael Crichton’s brilliant novel Jurassic Park.

We love books here at the America’s Dental Bookstore Blog. Fiction, non-fiction, action, adventure, romance, epistolary, biographies, science, no matter the subject or genre, we love it. But we also love movies. Earlier this year we posted an article on our favorite espionage films. As the year 2014 has progressed, there have been a few films that have been released which are book adaptations. Unfortunately, most of these movies are adapted from young-adult fiction—a genre which by its nature tends to be ‘thin’ in terms of plot and characters. Some examples:

  • Vampire Academy: Released February 7, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, this movie garnered an abysmal 10% on rottentomatoes. It also only grossed $15 million worldwide against a $30 million budget.
  • Endless Love: Released February 14, adapted from a well-received novel by Scott Spencer, scored a 15% and a mere $20 million in box office returns.
  • Winter’s Tale: Also released on Valentine’s Day, this movie was based on the novel of the same name—a novel which had received significant praise upon publication. In the process of making the movie, however, the book’s strengths failed to come through. The movie was panned and made only half of its budget back.

We’ll admit that adapting a book for film is certainly a difficult task. There will always be aficionados of the books who will find fault with the movie. There will always be film critics who won’t like how the novel’s words, characters or story translate to the big screen. That being said, it is not impossible to turn out a great movie adaptation of a book. Just take a look at our favorites and you’ll see that a book can be faithfully and effectively adapted for cinema.

No Country for Old Men

movie adaptation
Javier Bardem won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of No Country for Old Men’s villain Anton Chigurh.

The Coen Brothers adapted Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 neo-Western novel into an equally bleak and arguably better-than-source-material movie. Winning Best Picture of 2007, No Country for Old Men made a masterpiece out of one of McCarthy’s lesser quality works. Don’t get us wrong: the book is solid, but when compared to The Road or Blood Meridian, it’s just okay.

L.A. Confidential

The source material for this 1997 film—James Ellroy’s 496 page novel—is not just long, but extremely dense. In order to cut his manuscript down, instead of removing plot lines or characters, Ellroy removed  every unnecessary word from every sentence, creating a unique style of prose. With such a daunting task ahead of them, it would seem director Curtis Hanson and screenwriter Brian Helgeland were destined to turn out a lesser adaptation. Instead, their film garnered them 9 Academy Award nominations, a few wins, and really invigorated the careers of Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.

movie adaptation
Four officers in the L.A.P.D. that each go about solving a murder their own way in L.A. Confidential.

A Clockwork Orange

One of the most controversial films upon release, Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novella proved to be a classic in waiting. At the time, the film divided critics, but still managed to get a Best Picture nomination in the end. Over the years, however, critical reviews have shifted from divided to nearly universal praise. Kubrick’s films tend to be ahead of their time. A Clockwork Orange has become more relevant, according to some, due to its portrayal of violence as a glorified act, something that the media today all too often does.

The Godfather

movie adaptation
Marlon Brando, already well-known, earned his second Best Actor award for the Godfather. The newcomer, Al Pacino, would receive a nomination for supporting role. The Godfather launched Pacino’s career.

Mario Puzo’s novel is definitely great. It was one of the first best selling, if not original, novels about the Italian Mafia. Puzo’s book was more as a pulp/crime story than literature. When the novel became a success, Hollywood became interested. A number of directors were contacted, but many were busy with other projects. Finally, after Francis Ford Coppola‘s ideas for the adaptation, Paramount gave it the greenlight. Working with Puzo on the screenplay, Coppola created a work of art. Work a stunning cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Diane Keaton, the Godfather transcended Puzo’s source material. It has become not just the definitive mob movie, but one of the greatest films of all time.

Die Hard

movie adaptation
We bet that the producers at the time had no idea how iconic and timeless Die Hard would become.

A lot of people don’t know that this late 80s action flick was based on a pulpy, thriller novel from 1979. Written by Roderick Thorpe, Nothing Lasts Forever follows retired NYPD Detective Joe Leland as he visits his daughter on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. She works for Klaxon Oil Corporation in a 40 story building, which comes under siege by German terrorists. Like in the film, Leland (a.k.a. McClane) runs around barefoot, assisted by an LAPD Sergeant, taking out terrorists. The book, however, ends darkly with Leland most likely succumbing to his wounds. The movie, however, sees Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman go head-to-head, attempting to outwit the other though by using very different methods. Both are fantastic in their roles, elevating the movie to something for than just a shoot-em up.

A Few Great History Books

When it comes to books, all we sell are dental books. That said, books are very dear to us, books of all shapes, sizes, subjects, and genre.

Recently a friend asked for advice when it came to finding an engrossing and scholarly but accessible general history book. This question really got me thinking and as a result, a list of suggestions was drawn up.

  • William McNeill’s The Pursuit of PowerDense, yes, but important, truly. Spanning roughly a 1000 years (actually more because the first chapter summarizes ancient societies), McNeill traces the path by which the West—namely Europe and then the U.S.—became the dominant military power on the globe. Though Eastern powers, notably China, have nearly caught up, McNeill shows in his book that Western societies possessed unique qualities that contributed to their precocious military developments since the Middle Ages. His main argument: commercial transformation in society forced militaries to respond to market forces in ways previously unseen. This may make the book sound like a purely military history book, but it’s not. McNeill covers vast amounts territory including the technological, social, cultural, economic, and psychological causes and effects of Europe’s military development. Really an incredible synthesis of history, with plenty of footnotes.

    William H. McNeill
    Professor William H. McNeill with a number of his books. All his books are great, but another especially fantastic one is Plagues and People.
  • Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and SteelWe’re not biased towards Western history, but this volume on why/how the West came to dominate the world is too fascinating to be left out of this list. Diamond has an interesting background for writing a history book. He has degrees in physiology and biophysics. This, however, makes his approach in this title most interesting. Rather than arguing the old view that the West’s superior intelligence led to their dominance, Diamond starts at the beginning of civilization. He outlines how geography, diet, climate, linguistics, human biology, and animal domestication all profoundly shaped the development of society. Of course, it doesn’t answer all questions and critics have said that much of it is derivative (sometimes compared to McNeill’s book above). Still, it is more than worth your time to read.

    Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Without the domestication of animals during the Neolithic Revolution, there’s little chance humans would’ve invented the wheel. Without an obedient draught animal, how would carts be pulled?
  • Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: a World History: It’s rather courageous to write a world history book based around one commodity. Some charge that this book is gimmicky or overly emphatic, but it’s still a riveting read nonetheless. Kurlansky begins his whirlwind global journey in China, and then moves to Egypt then Greece, Rome, and beyond. We take for granted that around a century ago modern chemistry and geology revealed how prevalent salt was on the earth. Until then it was one of the most sought-after commodities. It has played a significant role in human survival—most notably as a way to preserve meat. It has led to wars and political upheaval—e.g.  Gandhi’s salt march. Indeed without a correct balance of salt in our blood, we would die.
  • Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s MenWhile not a general history, this is suggested because Americans really need to understand why Iran “dislikes” us. In 1953, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was removed by an American C.I.A. orchestrated coup d’etat in an operation called Ajax. The reason: Mosaddegh nationalized Iran’s oil to the detriment of Britain’s, and our, interests. Since the early 20th century, Britain had controlled the oil fields of Iran through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (where BP, British Petroleum comes from). Without this company, Britain’s supply of oil would be severely reduced. Hence the coup, the reign of the shah, and the dissatisfaction that would eventually cause the 1979 Revolution, a hostage crisis, and subsequent poor relations with the West.