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The best and worst of book-to-film adaptations

Last week, Water for Elephants, based on Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel, hit theatres in all its 1930s-era circus/forbidden-love spectacle, to mixed reviews. Did Robert Pattinson escape the Twilight zone and prove himself a respectable leading man as runaway veterinary student Jacob Jankowski? How was the chemistry between him and on-screen love interest Reese Witherspoon (despite the fact that he played her son in an ultimately deleted scene in 2004’s Vanity Fair)? We’ll discuss all that — plus how we feel when movies depart from the novel’s source material — in our online chat today at 2 p.m. EDT, where we’ll answer your questions about Water for Elephants. Register with the widget on the left side of our homepage (<— just over there!), or visit this page at 2 p.m.

But this got us thinking about some of the great and not-so-great adaptations we’ve seen in the past. Tim Burton’s made some interesting choices with beloved children’s classics, right? Well, to each his own. In this video posted by Knopf Doubleday, Ian McEwan (Solar, Atonement) shares his pick for best adaptation: Director John Huston’s 1987 take on The Dead, a short story by James Joyce. “Deep, deep, deeply moving; a work of genius,” McEwan says. “And I think there’s been no translation of a literary text into a movie that comes anywhere near The Dead.”


Film review: The Coen brothers take on True Grit

Seen any good novel-based movies lately? Bookclub-in-a-Box’s Marilyn Herbert has, and as promised, here are her thoughts on the latest Coen brothers release, True Grit.

In the 2010 adaptation of True Grit, the Coen brothers return to the original story by Charles Portis, using his plot, character structure, and much of the original dialogue. They pass over the John Wayne remakes of the book and come at it with fresh eyes.

True Grit is a fabulous film to be enjoyed on a number of levels: characterization, depiction of social and moral values, raw physical action, humour, cinematography, and music. The Coen brothers make use of the genre’s mythology, that the Wild West will be tamed by the brave men and women who venture westward across the vast landscape in search of honesty, morality, and justice.


The latest in literary remakes: The Coen brothers' True Grit

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld star in the 2010 version of True Grit.

An original screenplay is so rare these days. From the latest Harry Potter film (which we loyally attended at midnight wearing a Gryffindor sweater) to the critically acclaimed The Social Network (which had us rethinking our definition of “friend”), some of the most-hyped movies of 2010 have been based on books. And we’re certainly not complaining about all the adaptations – bring them on, as far as we’re concerned, and let the comparisons be made.

One of the latest adaptations comes to us from the Coen brothers (Fargo, No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man). Last week they released their remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie True Grit, which was itself an adaptation of the 1968 Western novel by Charles Portis. The story is simple: 14-year-old Mattie Ross enlists the help of Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, an aging, one-eyed, trigger-happy lawman, to help avenge her father’s untimely death at the hands of a man named Tom Chaney. “They tell me you’re a man with true grit,” Ross tells Cogburn upon meeting him.

Although Portis’s novel has already been adapted once ­— a role for which John Wayne won his only Oscar for Best Actor — Joel and Ethan Coen told the New York Times that this film is very much still a tribute to the spirit and language of the book itself, rather than just a remake of the first movie. (more…)