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From Page to Screen: The Many Book Adaptations of 2011

April 18, 2011

By John C.

Books that make the leap from page to screen have been the subject of debate for quite some time.  With numerous novels getting the big screen treatment in the coming months, it is surely one we will be hearing about over the rest of 2011.  It’s sometimes hard for a film adaptation to retain the same spark as the literary work, but Hollywood obviously hopes to score with these upcoming films.

With the outstanding Harry Potter franchise set to wind down this summer, it should prove to be a good year for books that make the leap from page to screen.  The blockbuster adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s tales of the boy wizard have enjoyed both critical and commercial success over the last ten years, and July 15th’s final installment should be one of the biggest hits of the summer.

But books that become movies don’t always work, as details can be lost in translation.  Classics have been butchered by unqualified directors or actors, as sometimes what works in writing does not when told visually.  The success of an adaptation usually falls solely into the hands of the cast and crew, and – if possible – the participation of the author.  A good recent example of a tricky adaptation done right is Mark Romaneck’s masterful take on Kazuo Ishaguro’s brilliant novel, Never Let Me Go.

I always try to read the book before the adaptation, and I recently finished Vancouver-born author Sara Gruen’s wonderful novel, Water for Elephants, in preparation for the movie opening this Friday.  The film stars Robert Pattinson in his first big role outside of the Twilight movies, as a university drop out who finds himself hired as a veterinarian for a sleazy circus run on dark secrets.  Although a few of Gruen’s metaphors are admittedly touched with cliché, this is ultimately an intimate and moving human tale set against the grand and gritty world of a 1930’s circus.

Books and movies are always made up of selected moments from our characters’ lives, but this is never more true than in David Nicholls’ novel, One Day.  For 22 years, we follow the relationship of a young couple, but only ever catch up with them on the 15th of July.  The movie opens this July 8th, a week before the titular date.  Directed by Lone Scherfig – her previous film was the wonderful An Education – and starring Anne Hathaway, it could easily end up a breakout critical and commercial success.

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help currently has a comfortable spot on the best seller list, and DreamWorks Pictures is clearly hoping to retain the same magic with the adaptation opening on August 12th.  A period piece set in 1962 Mississippi, the film has an all-star cast fronted by Emma Stone and Viola Davis, and could be the big studio picture that elevates this summer movie season to a more mature level.

Another excellent novel that is soon to get the big screen treatment is The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  The brutally honest and brilliantly observational story of Matt King, a land baron in Hawaii who must raise his daughters after his wife is put in a life-threatening coma, the movie is set to open in the heart of awards season this December.  It’s directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), and in a bit of pitch-perfect casting, is set to star George Clooney.

Author Jonathon Safran Foer’s brilliant Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a bold and brave story, as told through the eyes of a precocious 9-year-old in New York, who’s father was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  With its fractured narrative and large cast of memorable characters, the movie adaptation could easily end up a big Oscar contender if done right and released on time.  Director Stephen Daldry hopes to have it finished in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this September.

But no book adaptation coming out at the end of the year has me more excited than Martin Scorsese’s take on Brian Selznick’s brilliant novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Filled with beautiful black and white illustrations, the mammoth 544-page book reads quickly, recalling the silent films of the 1920’s that are payed homage to in the story.  Hugo Cabret will mark Scorsese’s first film aimed at families, and also his first in 3D.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather Von Zuben permalink
    April 18, 2011 11:55 pm

    I have my fingers crossed for this movie. Hoping to see it this Saturday morning.


    • April 19, 2011 12:07 am

      I agree – Water for Elephants is a wonderful novel and I also have high expectations for the movie. Hope you get the chance to see it over the weekend.

      The all-star cast is strong and the trailers certainly look promising, so hopefully it doesn’t disappoint. I’m also anxious to see how Robert Pattinson handles his first big role outside of the Twilight films…

      As always, thanks for commenting!

      -John C.


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