Books are such individual things, like good and bad friends, and so much creations of the receiving imagination too, that seeing a film adaptation can be a nervous thing. Here are Phoenix Ark’s Top Ten travesties and triumphs, and the reasons why. Please send in yours!
The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, directed by Anthony Minghella. (1992 and 1996) Points – 7. Perhaps a high ranking because of our like of Ralph Fiennes, only on film, not stage, but the acting was very strong across the board, and parts extremely moving, with Minghella’s sensitivity for story and cinematrography. However, they completely voided the true reason the bomb-defusing Sikh lover goes home; not just the death of his friend, but the dropping of the atom bomb, that changes the world completely, in a rich and complex narrative about borders – in love, memory and fact – and how we get hurt, and find and lose identity.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres, directed by John Madden. (1994 and 2001) Points – 4. Pretty, but Nicolas Cage’s bogus Italian Captain made it awful, and there was no space for the sensitive literary narrative of ‘Il Homosexuale’, who loves and protects Corelli. They also gave a beautiful book a happy ending it does not have.
Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien, directed by Peter Jackson. (1937-49 and 2001-2003) Points – 9. A solid 9 out of 10 for all three films, because they are a remarkable achievement, from someone who clearly loved and lived the books as a boy, in an age ready to fully exploit computer technology. 1 point is missing because they did not do the Ents very well, and Tolkien’s message is grounded in nature, and its regenerative force.
Slumdog Millionaire, by Vikas Swarup, directed by Danny Boyle. (2005 and 2008) Points – 8. Many patriotic Indians absurdly found the brutal truths in this TV Quiz show, and rags-to-riches love story, offensive. It is clever, brilliantly shot, and beyond its realism, in the remembered life facts, and from a book originally entitled QandA, it also uses the whole Bollywood genre to style a charming fairy tale, that is both passionate and life enhancing.
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, directed by Jean-Jaques Annaud. (1980 and 1986) Points – 7. Since it’s written by a professor of Semiotics, we could present a thesis on Eco’s brilliant Sherlock Holmesian take on truth and God in a medieval monastery, creating a fabulous plot, a changing library, and the deeply anachronistic yet signifying monk-detective, blood-hound of meaning, William of Baskerville. The film loses the emerging beauty and humanity of that most mysterious connection of all though, love, in the presence of the girl, and a rose-by-any-other-name smelling as sweet. But this medieval romp is also great fun, and the director protects himself intellectually by calling it a ‘palimsest’ of the book. Oooh-er.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pulman, directed by Chris Weitz. (1995 and 2007) Points – 6. Good effects, in a movie using the American title of Pulman’s Northern Lights, and creating a plucky and moving Lyra Silvertongue. Yet in bawdlerising the attack on God and The Imperium, for a US audience, they lost a lot of the point of the sparkling trilogy. Perhaps Pulman’s ideas are too varied and complex to go easily to film, but it was strangely ragged and unsatisfying.
The Kite Runner by Kaled Hosseini, directed by Marc Foster. (2003 and 2007) Points – 8. Some think the ‘device’ of the kites itself is a little strained, as a narrative frame in a serious novel, yet the film is dignified, well handled, powerfully acted, and succeeds in being both moving and inspiring. It teaches us much about real people in Afghanistan, and America, the horrors of the Taliban, after the Russian Invasion, and the nature of love, friendship and redemption.
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, directed by Ron Howard. (2003 and 2006) Points – 10. Purely tongue-in-cheek rating, because an achingly tedious film was actually duller than the book. To be fair, Dan Brown succeeds in the novel by the accumulation of page turning fact and speculation on Da Vinci. The film does not work because there is effectively so little characterisation, in a plot and melodrama driven book, so perhaps it’s not their fault, but the author’s. Real rating – 2.
Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian, directed by Peter Weir. (1969 and 2003) Points – 8. Perhaps it’s a good thing that those sequel-seeking Hollywood producers didn’t succeed in exploiting O’Brian’s extremely precise sequence of naval histories, with a follow up. Yet this was impressively realised, despite losing something of the intellectuality of O’Brians Darwinian naturalist and spy, Stephen Maturin, and his relationship with the bravura Captain Aubrey. We’d like to see more, but there you are.
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. (1894 and 1967) Points -10. Placed here to make the point that the rightly loved Disney musical classic has absolutely nothing to do with the texture of Kipling’s fiction, and collection of short stories. The serious, alienated human character of Mowgli, in the stories, suckled by wolves, and touching a dangerous wild-animal Kingdom, so exploring human nature too, is simply a distant inspiration for this all singing, all dancing cartoon, that is a classic for younger children. But Disney’s cartoon genius had its own bare necessities.
Zero rating for Fire Bringer, The Sight and Fell, because they have not been made into movies yet, and they should be! Tell a producer, quickly, or be one.