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Book-to-Screen Adaptations: Which Are Your Favorites?

The world’s gone wild for GONE GIRL. Chances are you’ve seen or heard something about the just-released film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s dark and twisted suspense novel, the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, the world’s most dysfunctional married couple. I’ll admit it, I was right there among the crowds last night on opening night…

UntitledDevotees of this story who first made it a mega-bestselling novel will be happy to see that the movie stays really close to the original plot. No surprise there, since Gillian Flynn wrote both the novel and the film’s screenplay.

But book-to-film adaptations can be tricky. It’s not fun to walk into a movie theater all excited to see a novel you loved being turned into film, and walk out feeling like you don’t quite understand what you just saw. Wondering where in what you just watched was the beloved story that first captured your imagination as the reader.

That’s why, when a movie does live up to its namesake book, it often comes as a wonderful surprise and an uncommon delight. Sometimes, the movie even expands on the book and, in some ways, makes it better. Here are some of my favorite book-to-film experiences. Which are yours?

 Atonement:  Director Joe Wright seemed to perfectly capture the anxiety and suspense of the original Ian McEwan novel. So too do we feel that same powerful yearning for Cecilia and Robbie–why can’t those two just be together?

To Kill A Mockingbird:Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch? Yes please. It was like Harper Lee had him in mind when she wrote her 1960 classic.

The Lord of the Rings. Only a JRR Tolkien junkie such as Peter Jackson could have done that epic trilogy justice. And he did. All the more impressive is the fact that he managed to find a place as beautiful as Middle Earth (in the film it was New Zealand) in which to shoot. Not to mention the fact that he found someone who can wield the wizard’s staff and white beard and make it look as cool as Gandalf did in our imaginations.

Little Women: Susan Sarandon as Marmee. Winona Ryder as Jo March. Christian Bale as Laurie. Ah, and that musical score makes me want to cry.

Pride & Prejudice: How good was the 1995 BBC version? The chemistry between Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy was spot on. I believe Jane Austen herself would have been pleased.

The Last of the Mohicans. Three words for you on this one: Daniel. Day. Lewis. But if you need more than three words, there are plenty of other reasons why this film did justice to the James Fenimore Cooper classic. The scenery and the soundtrack and the rest of the supporting cast of characters (how scary was Magua?!) should do it.

Memoirs of a Geisha Robin Swicord’s screenplay did a beautiful job of translating this Arthur Golden memoir, set in World War II Japan, to the big screen. Director Rob Marshall brought the beauty of that language to life.

Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows It’s no small task to take on the final film installment of what is perhaps the world’s most beloved children’s literary series of all time. But, with amazing acting, beautiful sets, respect for J.K. Rowling’s beloved books and, perhaps a touch of magic, they pulled it off.

Gone with the Wind. Considered by many to be the “king of the movie world,” this Margaret Mitchell classic was turned into a film 75 years ago this year. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable… wherever they are, I hope they are together.

The Wizard of Oz  This might even be an instance where the film improved upon on the book. Judy Garland makes a pretty darn perfect Dorothy Gale. And what an inspired idea to turn L. Frank Baum’s “Silver Shoes” into the film’s iconic “Ruby Slippers.”

What are your favorites?


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Allison Pataki
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