When movie adaptations of novels are done well you can see that the filmmakers – and particularly screenwriters – really understand the task at hand. They make changes, they tweak here and there, but the fundamentals remain the same, the feel of the story is still there.
Certain moments just don’t convert well on to the big screen and there are filmmakers out there who are brave enough to explore a new avenue which can occasionally enhance the story, rather than have fans of the novels up in arms.
There are many examples where the changes have been done well: The Hunger Games films have proven to be fantastic examples, as has The Shawshank Redemption, The Motorcycle Diaries, The Fault In Our Stars and many more besides. The very best adaptations somehow manage to remain faithful to the source text but still work as a film within its own right.
Here are some of our favourite amendments in adaptations. Changes which show that, occasionally, adapting really can be key.
SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT FORWARD
Stephen King’s Carrie has one of the most haunting deaths committed to page in a horror novel, as Carrie finally takes her revenge on her controlling, religion-obsessed mother. In the book, Carrie slows the blood down in her mother’s body until her heart stops. It’s gripping and the kind of personal, intimate murder that stays with you long after reading the book.
King’s description of that event even now gives people the chills, and for good reason.
Yet for the film, it was hard to imagine what could have been done to match that effect. So they didn’t. Rather brilliantly, somebody decided that they had to use the medium they had and just go for an all-out visual shocker. So in Brian De Palma’s film, Carrie used her telekinesis to lift every sharp object she could and send them all flying at her mother’s body, stabbing her over and over again.
It was not as quietly haunting as the novel but it made for some pretty impressive cinema. Notably, the recent ‘remake’, which promised to go back to the source novel and be more faithful, also took a similar approach (albeit less successfully).
Similarly to Carrie, one death in David Fincher’s film of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is an incident that’s not actually ‘seen’ in the book yet becomes one of the most shocking scenes from the entire movie. Consequently, it was a significant reason why the movie earned an 18 certificate, thanks to a bloodbath that’s utterly disturbing and one scene from which it is difficult to look away.
In the novel, we know this particular death takes place, but it’s more of an afterthought, only revealed as it’s mentioned that the police have found a body. This particular death is so important to the story and to what comes next that it really was a stroke of genius to make it so visceral for the adaptation.
Author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn shows an impressive understanding of storytelling across two very different mediums (it’s hugely beneficial that Flynn was able and allowed to adapt her own work), and paired with Fincher’s dark direction, the film is comfortably the equal of the book itself.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games films, based on the Suzanne Collins novels, have proven to be a masterclass in the very best way to adapt a novel. Particularly with the first two movies, they kept the feel of the book, creating the world of Panem, and in Jennifer Lawrence, give us a central character we can utterly root for.
Some things have of course been altered or left out for the films but they don’t seem to have suffered for it. If anything, some of these changes have even enhanced the already stellar stories.
One particular change is the extent Peeta was basically useless. In the novels, Peeta often needs rescuing. You saw the emotional support he gave Katniss so it was never really a problem exactly, yet in the second film he developed a skill he hadn’t had in the original – he learned how to swim!
This very simple but effective change made Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta more of an equal to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss and suddenly they were even more of a team than they had been in the books. A simple change, but an important one.
Silver Linings Playbook
It wasn’t until watching the film that it became apparent just how much sport is referenced in the Matthew Quick novel.
For those who – like me – really don’t understand American sports, the emphasis placed on the game did, at times, feel a little superfluous. It just went into so much detail that I often found myself glossing over those parts. There is, of course, a reason for its inclusion. It goes a long way to explaining Pat’s relationship with both his brother and psychiatrist. It also explains a lot more about Pat Snr. and his previous violent outbursts.
However, for the film, David O Russell wisely decided to trim this element dramatically. He spends more time looking at the family watching sport or attending a game than actually going into all the intricacies of the game itself – something many film-fans will no doubt appreciate.
If something needed to be trimmed in the story, I’m glad that’s where he decided to cut away.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Paul Torday’s novel had an interesting concept thanks to the writing: a combination of letters, emails, memos, transcripts and such like. The adaptation made a fair few amendments, some rather notable at the ending, but one particular change worked beautifully.
The Prime Minister’s fictitious right-hand man Peter Maxwell became Patricia Maxwell for the film – an inspired choice and one made very effective with a simple gender swap. While Peter was tiresome and dull, Kristin Scott Thomas breathed life into the female equivalent, thanks to her witty and humorous performance. She stole the screen every time she appeared and had many viewers grinning from ear to ear.
Patricia Maxwell managed to lift Salmon Fishing In The Yemen out of mediocrity, transforming a character that struggled to garner much interest on the printed page. Again, a simple change, but such an effective one.
Leave your further suggestions in the comments below. Find more by Amanda Keats at Film Vs Book, here.