The big hit at the cinema this year has been The Fault in Our Stars. Directed by young newcomer, Josh Boone, this tragic romance has had teenage girls weeping in the aisles all over the world. Its success was due to the huge popularity of the book, by John Green, the film was adapted from. Published in 2012, this book had sold 10.7 million copies by the time the film came out. Previous book to film adaptations have met with a mixed reception.
The Golden Compass, which came out in 2007, was adapted from Philip Pullman’s book Northern Lights. Despite the popularity of the book, part of a trilogy, and an impressive star studded cast, the film received some scathing reviews. Empire Magazine’s review even had the tagline, “This year’s Christmas family disappointment” and rated it ‘poor’. Philip Pullman himself was lukewarm in his response to the movie, pointing out the mistakes in the design of the bear’s armour but saying little else. Despite the reviews, it was reasonably successful in cinemas with younger audiences.
Suffering from the completely opposite problem, the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas received rave reviews but had a relatively poor showing in the box office, particularly in the US. Directed by the Wachowski siblings, who directed The Matrix, this film was visually stunning and well acted but considered too complicated by some viewers. Even the positive reviewers had to admit that they had simply tried to fit too much plot into one film.
The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1980, came under fire from another more unexpected source. Acclaimed by critics and the cinema-going public alike, this film was heavily criticised by Stephen King, the author who wrote the novel it was based on. In one interview, he famously proclaimed, “Oh my God, they’ve butchered my book.” Although he was not explicitly talking about The Shining, it was clear from previous comments that he felt this way about this adaptation. Despite King’s dislike for the film, it is considered a horror classic and one of Jack Nicholson’s most memorable performances.
Fortunately, in 1994, Stephen King’s novella ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ was made into a film and this seemed to please him a great deal more. Oddly enough, even though it went on to be nominated for seven Oscars and is often voted as the best film of all time, it was something of a box office flop at the time it was released. The film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, set in a prison in Maine in the 1940s, held very closely to the source material except for one detail. In the novella, the character of Red is given that nickname because he is Irish and has red hair. In the film, he is played by Morgan Freeman and called Red as a shortening of his surname, Redding. This change did not seem to worry Stephen King as, not only did the director Frank Darabont go on to adapt another of King’s novels, The Green Mile, King did not even cash the cheque given to him for the film rights. Instead, he had it framed and eventually sent it back to Darabont with a note saying, “In case you ever need bail money.”
Book-to-film adaptations have been around for as long as films have been made. They have varied in scope from massive smash hits like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films to artfully rendered indie films, like this year’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Some books also seem to have a new film made out of them every few years, like the Bronte sisters’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Whether big or small, classic or modern, book adaptations are here to stay. Let’s hope, in the future, we have more Shawshank Redemptions and fewer Golden Compasses.