From Page to Screen – Unique Adaptations We Love and Some We Would Like to See

Andrew Buckle,

To celebrate the release of Dune, adapted from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic and directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049), we have compiled a list of some unique but effective adaptations as well as a few that we’re eagerly awaiting for in the future.

Dune has long been considered an unfilmable novel. Avant garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky had an ambitious vision for a film that was never realised – check out the entertaining documentary about that project, Jodorowsky’s Dune – and David Lynch had *ahem* a go with his 1984 version but this goliath of the fantasy genre has been a battle to bring to the screen.

Sadly, at the time of writing this, we have not yet seen Dune, adapted by Villeneuve, John Spaihts and Eric Roth, so we can’t say just how successful it is. At the very least we know it will be a grand spectacle well worth considering a return to the cinema for.

But, the release got us thinking about some journeys from page to screen that have impressed us in the past. If you’re searching the Fetch Movie Store or your favourite streaming service for a sure-bet adaptation here are some you can’t go wrong with.

No Country for Old Men – The Coen Brothers’ Academy Award-winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s rugged American west crime thriller, including the coveted Best Picture Oscar, may be a perfect film. As a symphony of Western classicism but very much a portrait of a post-Vietnam 80’s West Texas, it is extremely faithful to McCarthy’s novel, one of his most cinematic and widely accessible. Javier Bardem delivers an iconic performance as Anton Chigurh, a ruthless hitman who hunts Josh Brolin’s Llewellyn Moss after a twist of misfortune brings him into the possession of a large sum of dirty money.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

Adaptation – At the heart of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation is journalist Susan Orlean’s The Orchard Thief, which is a document of her profile on eccentric horticulturalist John Laroche. In the film an alter-ego of the film’s screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (he also wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), portrayed by Nicolas Cage, decides to adapt Orlean’s novel for his next project. Adaptation is the story of Kaufman’s struggle to adapt a novel that is narratively limited, dramatically crossing paths with Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) and Laroche (played by Chris Cooper) in his desperate attempts to understand the text. This weird and wonderful film features perhaps the greatest performance(s) of Cage’s career.

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Inherent Vice – Thomas Pynchon is renowned for his dense and complex novels and his 2009 psychedelic Los Angeles-set gumshoe noir is no exception. Paul Thomas Anderson, who has attempted ambitious adaptations in the past (notably adapting Upton Sinclair’s ‘Oil’ into There Will be Blood), has created a film that almost dares you to luxuriate in it’s pot-haze of oddities and get lost in it’s twisting mysteries. Joaquin Phoenix hilariously stars as raggedy hippie P.I Doc Sportello who gets embroiled in the town’s criminal underworld as he investigates multiple cases potentially linked to the disappearance of his girlfriend. It’s not Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film, but we pick up something new every time we watch it.

Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.

Cloud Atlas – Author David Mitchell’s sprawling century-spanning adventure is the ultimate fusion of genres. Across six stories, ranging from a voyage on the Chatham Isles in 1850, to a tale of corporate greed and murder in 1970s California, to a future Korean superstate, Mitchell has not left any inspiration off the page. His characters find their fates entwined and their jeopardy affected in profound and unexpected ways. This is a divisive film, but the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix, and the similarly-structured Sense8), anchored by a game cast (including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry) and some dizzying editing wizardry have made an awe-inspiring experience that never feels unwieldly despite the immense weight of it’s scope and layers of narrative.

Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – This is an absolutely incredible film, based on the classic John Le Carre espionage thriller courtesy of an Academy Award-nominated screenplay from Bridget O’Connor and Peter Staughan and attentive direction from Tomas Alfredson. Across the board this is simply a stunning achievement, but it is a feat of storytelling efficiency first and foremost. Le Carre’s novel had already been adapted into a mini-series back in 1979, but was a feature film even remotely possible? Not a second of the taut shade over 2-hour runtime is wasted here as Gary Oldman’s aging spymaster George Smiley investigates the top of the British Secret Intelligence Agency for a Russian mole. Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong are in career-best form too, and it is frequently visually breathtaking.

Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower – Not only did Steven Chbosky self-adapt his own epistolary novel for this rousing coming-of-age movie – which stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and a scene-stealing Ezra Miller – but he served as the film’s director also. Structured in episodes, the pacing and Charlie’s (Lerman) narration feels true to the letters to the unknown “dear friend” that comprise the novel. It is a funny, emotionally-hefty study of high-school life and the challenges we all have to navigate as we broach the cusp of adulthood. It is one of the most cinematic examples in the genre too, with an awesome soundtrack and some energetic party sequences.

Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.

Of course many adaptations, as well-intentioned as they may be, fail to impress fans of the book. Or simply satisfy as screen translations. The Goldfinch, an inert adaptation of Donna Tartt’s epic coming-of-age odyssey, is a notable recent example. Also, you had best not miss if you’re going to come at something as incredible as Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. We’re hesitant to check out the mini-series starring Eva Green and Himesh Patel that has recently been added to Paramount+ just in case we’re disappointed.

Here are some novels and series we feel are overdue some fresh treatment for the big screen.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie

Kenneth Branagh has had his fun bringing Agatha Christie’s iconic detective Hercule Poirot to life in two of her most famous mysteries – Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and the currently-unreleased and now fraught-with-controversy, Death on the Nile. But in aggressively showboating the Belgian super sleuth’s elaborate moustache and rather unfortunately favouring an A-list cast and visual spectacle over an attention to the intricate plot details and web of intrigue that define Christie’s finest mysteries, Orient Express simply didn’t deliver for this Christie fan.

David Suchet starred in a version of The Mysterious Affair at Styles in the third season of his Poirot series back in 1990 and while it is very faithful to Christie’s extraordinary debut novel – it is the blueprint for the multi-suspect whodunit mystery, and you’ll never guess the culprit in this one – we’re due a fresh interpretation. As long as they don’t change a thing, of course.

Goosebumps series – R.L. Stine

Following the success of the very fun 2015 Goosebumps film, starring Jack Black as series author R.L. Stine, and it’s perfectly satisfactory and largely-ignored sequel Haunted Halloween (2018) longtime fans had scratched an itch but were eager for more. Re-watching episodes from that ’90s series is a bit of a slog these days.

Our proposal is this: contemporary updates to a diverse group of Stine’s most chilling original series tales including classics such as The Haunted Mask, The Ghost Next Door and Say Cheese & Die in hour-long episodes to allow more time to dig into some of the series’ deeper and still-relevant themes. While most of the stories addressed the often-terrifying repercussions of bullying, and the power of the childhood imagination to help elude peril, the monsters could really start to look a little different approaching 30 years on. It seems the clever folks at Sony Pictures Television and Original Film have a reboot series in the works so we’ll be eagerly tracking their development.

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

So, we’ve had an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pullitzer-winner but where is The Secret History? Tartt’s first novel was a phenomenon, and there have been several failed attempts to bring the story to the screen, including through Gwyneth and Jake Paltrow via Miramax in 2002. But following the commercial failure of The Goldfinch the future of any more adaptations of Tartt’s novels appears to be unlikely, due to her understandable displeasure with the treatment.

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