Books are being transformed into films all the time – whether they’re Hollywood blockbusters or humble B-movies. The first known book to film adaptation was a Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale, dating way back to 1899. But, are book to film adaptations really great? Or are they disappointments?
Most famous shot from A Trip To The Moon (1902)
The first known book to film adaptation was directed by prominent silent film director, the French Georges Méliès, who “pioneered many techniques”. He made two adaptations in 1899, Cinderella, based on the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale, and King John, the first known Shakespeare adaptation. Melies’ best known film is A Trip to the Moon (1902), one of the first sci-fi films. The only surviving footage of King John is housed in the Netherlands Film Museum, lasting under two minutes long. Melies’ sci-fi feature A Trip To The Moon was based on two popular novels of the time; one by H.G. Wells and another by Jules Verne. The 1902 film was prominent in the film movement back then, when films were silent. The film was viewed by many and they awaited another Melies picture.
Another one of the first adaptations was 1903’s Alice in Wonderland, directed by Cecil Hepworth. The surviving twelve minutes of the film is now in the BFI (British Film Institute) National Archive, along with a film promoting tea from the Second World War. This version of Carroll’s classic children’s tale is the first adaptation of this story…ever. The film is memorable for its use of special effects in times when such great effects were unheard of. Alice’s frequent shrinking is brilliantly portrayed for the time period. BFI restored its original colour tinting, and they hold the only known surviving copy.
Charlotte Bronte’s classic story Jane Eyre has been adapted into film many, many times over the years, but the first known adaptation was back in 1910, in silent film, starring Irma Taylor. More adaptations of the story in silent film occurred up until 1926. First, the one in 1910, then two in 1914. Two were made in 1915; Jane Eyre (starring Louise Vale) and The Castle of Thornfield, which was produced in Italy. In 1918, a Bronte adaptation of Jane Eyre was called Woman and Wife, starring Alice Brady. In 1921, Hugo Ballin made Jane Eyre, casting his wife Mabel in the title role. In 1926, Orphan of Lowood was made, filmed in Germany, directed by Curtis Bernhardt.
First edition cover for Kesey’s novel
Film poster for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
In 1975, Milos Forman directed the most famous film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s classic 1962 book One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It stars Jack Nicholson, who made a cameo in The Who’s rock opera Tommy that year, as the rebellious McMurphy. At the Academy Awards in 1976, the film went home with:
- Best Picture
- Best Actor In A Leading Role: Jack Nicholson
- Best Actress In A Leading Role: Louise Fletcher
- Best Director: Milos Forman
- Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material: Laurence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Cover for The Silence of The Lambs
The Silence of The Lambs 1991 film poster
In 1988, Thomas Harris released the sequel to his bestseller Red Dragon, The Silence of The Lambs. Of course, this was the book that centred around the cannibal Hannibal Lecter, Harris’ infamous character. Three years later, in 1991, the film version was released. TotalFilm, in their list of the fifty best adaptations of all time, has this at the top of their list. Jodie Foster, launched to fame by 1976’s Bugsy Malone when she was only fourteen, starred as Clarice Starling in the adaptation, starring alongside Anthony Hopkins, who plays Hannibal Lecter. In the Academy Awards, The Silence of The Lambs went home with:
- Best Picture
- Best Actor In A Leading Role: Anthony Hopkins
- Best Actress In A Leading Role: Jodie Foster
- Best Director: Jonathan Demme
- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced: Ted Tally
But, some book-to-film adaptations aren’t so greatly received. Flavorwire.com hated the version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, starring Demi Moore. This version was even slated in the film Easy A, which centred a lot on the topic Hawthorne’s book covers. Flavorwire called it the “gold standard of all bad adaptations – the reverse Godfather, if you will”. The same website slated the 2002 version of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Even though Tim Burton’s version of Alice In Wonderland, released some 97 years after the first ever adaptation, was well received by the public and box office, Flavorwire slated it too.
So, when push comes to shove, are adaptations good or bad? I asked some local people and they said:
Well, it really depends on who makes it. If it’s a great director, a good cast and crew, then it’s bound to be good. But, overall, I think no, because books are meant to be books. A lot of classics are made into good films, but some modern books aren’t. I’m not too sure really. I’m not against them, but, hey ho.
Despite what most think, I think book-to-film adaptations are quite good. As technology develops, we’re getting better at graphics and things, and actors nowadays are really good. With the right resources and good people, I think films can be just as good as the books.
I think directors Hollywood-ize books a lot. I hate it when they change the storyline, or get a character wrong, especially if I’ve read the book before. I recently re-watched the adaptation of my favourite books and saw countless faults. I don’t like adaptations. Literature should stay literature and films stay films. Both are all very well, but I don’t like adaptations. The page and the silver screen are two very different things.
So, there you go. Some mixed opinions. I agree most with the middle quote. I quite like adaptations, but some are very bad. Like the third person, I hate it when they change the storyline and get a character wrong. I agree with the first person when they say that a good cast and crew change the way a film is made, especially an adaptation. Please provide your opinion, but nothing nasty. Please comment below, or re-blog this post.
Thank you for taking time to read,