Category Archives: Movies

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.

Our Favorite Spy Films

Last Friday the spy movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit came out. With it’s January release date, it seemed like it wasn’t going to be an earth shattering piece of film. And the verdict on rottentomatoes seems to confirm this: “It doesn’t reinvent the action-thriller wheel, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit offers a sleek, reasonably diverting reboot for a long-dormant franchise.” With a 60%, it’s just passable as a movie to see.

But it got us thinking about…what are the best spy films? And what does best mean? By critical consensus or by box office receipts? We decided to sort of mix the two criteria with our own subjective favorites.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Párizsi Udvar in Budapest, the setting for the opening scene that sets the plot in motion.

Some critics and viewers complained that this film is slow. The pace is better described as deliberate. Real spycraft is a gradual, steady game of either spinning a web of deception or cornering your opponent. In the case of le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it’s a superbly crafted mole hunt for the traitor inside “the Circus” a.k.a. MI6. Rather than explosive actions and personalities, this movie was about Gary Oldman’s quiet, resourceful and cunning George Smiley using deduction and reason, instead of gadgets and car chases, to defeat the enemy.  Shrouded in muted, drab colors and set in a gray early 1970s London, the film’s look evokes the moral ambiguity of espionage as personnel and assets are thrown out once their use is gone. Really a great recent spy film—and excellent book.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

The Hunt for Red October
The Red October is the name of the Soviet Typhoon-class submarine that has gone missing. Red October is an allusion to the Bolshevik Revolution that took place in October 1917.

This movie’s actually more of an action/thriller than spy film, but since its central character is Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst, we consider it an espionage movie. The plot concerns a Lithuanian naval captain, played by Sean Connery, who’s dissatisfied with the U.S.S.R. and decides to defect to the Americans. When he attempts to do so, the entire Soviet navy is sent after him while the U.S. navy—believing that this renegade Soviet commander is actually a madman about to start a nuclear war—also hunt him. Only Jack Ryan, played by Alec Baldwin before he got into comedy, believes that Captain Marko Ramius is defecting. The film has great characters, settings, military and technological aspects, and stands up well to the test of time. Nothing about it seems dated.

Body of Lies (2008)

An underrated spy thriller, Body of Lies may at times be a little hard to follow, but it’s easily one of the best movies about post-9/11 espionage and al-Qaeda.  Leonardo DiCaprio is field agent Roger Ferris who jumps between the U.S., Iraq and Jordan trying to ensnare a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem. Russell Crowe plays his boss who routinely messes up Ferris’s field operations by running his own operations without informing his subordinate. British actor Mark Strong is the head of Jordan’s intelligence group, G.I.D., in a great performance that highlights the complexities of spycraft in the Middle East. It’s a dense, but smart plot that shows the complex nature of society and culture in Arab countries.

Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger introduced the concept of the Bond car, equipped with all sorts of weapons and gadgetry.

Critics and the cast may like From Russia with Love the most out of the early Bonds, Goldfinger is, however, the quintessential 007 movie. Hardly a realistic spy film, this Connery flick laid out the formula: it had the quirky gadgets, the pre-credit action sequence, the song played over the opening credits, uniformed henchmen, and so much more that all subsequent Bonds would borrow from.

North by Northwest (1959)

Before Bond hit the big screen, Hitchcock rolled out this impressive Cold War spy thriller. In probably the worst case of mistaken identity, Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. It’s got some amazing scenes: Thornhill running through an open field as a plane tries to run him down,  a chase across Mount Rushmore, and an iconic dramatic score to underpin it all. Eva Marie Saint is also excellent as the semi-femme fatale.

North by Northwest
After Cary Grant evades a chasing plane, it crashes into an oil tanker. Just because the film’s from 1959 doesn’t mean it can’t have over-the-top explosions like modern films.

Those are our choices, but it’s by no means definitive. There were a lot that we didn’t include for reasons of time. To name a few that we also love: Casino Royale, Three Days of the Condor, Eye of the Needle, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Munich, The Quiet American. We suggest you see them all.

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