Whenever I find out one of my favorite books might get a movie or TV adaption, I’m filled with a mix of elation and fear. I’m told this isn’t unusual; most people have mixed feelings about adaptions. Maybe it’s because there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. We might get to see our beloved books come to life in new and exciting ways…but we might just as easily see the source material butchered beyond recognition.
Whenever news of the latest adaption comes along, my greatest comfort is the long list of truly wonderful adaptions that have been made in the past. Here’s a list of my top ten favorites!
Ten Faithful Book to Movie/TV Adaptions
When it comes to awesome TV adaptions, ITV’s Hercule Poirot series is a clear front-runner to me. David Suchet IS Poirot—so completely in fact, that his face is always the one I picture when I read the books. I SO wish Agatha Christie could see him playing her character. His mincing walk, precise speech, and perfect accent truly bring the character to life. And the show as a whole does a great job of believably immersing the viewer in the time period. My only complaint is that they make some plot changes in later seasons. As a Christie purist, this will forever vex me.
In the movie as in the book, Mary Lennox is a perfectly unlikable character at first. She’s grouchy and aloof, desperately in need of something to nurture her soul. I love how the filmmakers made Misselthwaite Manor mirror Mary’s inner desolation. And they make the outer world spring to life with her over the course of the movie—just like in the book!
The first two Hunger Games movies do a great job capturing the events of the books, and I believe Mockingjay I & II would have done the same if they’d been left as one movie instead of needlessly stretched into two. The actors truly become their characters, and the filmmakers don’t water down the story by cutting out violence or death. Yet at the same time, you don’t feel like they’re adding extra gore to get more viewers either. Just like in the books, the horrific events serve a purpose.
In the book Little Women, I love the distinct personalities of the main characters and the hint of realism in how their lives unfold. The 1994 movie starring Winona Ryder preserves these story elements perfectly. It makes the world of Civil War Massachusetts feel so real. My only criticism is that the friendship between Laurie and Jo doesn’t play out quite as well on the screen as it does on the page. Winona Ryder and Christian Bale give the characters the right chemistry, but a lot of their witty repartee and pranks are written out of the movie. Without it, we as viewers can’t appreciate the change as much when the characters age out of that behavior and develop a grownup friendship.
Since James and the Giant Peach is such a short book, it’s easy for the movie to stick to almost the exact same timeline. The only distinct change that I remember is that the cloud men were removed entirely. As much as I enjoyed their appearance in the book, I understand why they weren’t included in the movie. Introducing a whole new set of characters in the middle of the story—when they don’t influence the greater plot in any significant way—just wouldn’t work out on screen. Apart from that, the movie is almost an exact replica of the events from the book. Much of the original writing is also used in the narration.
Megan Follows does such a terrific job portraying Anne. She gives the character her iconic starry-eyed, melodramatic quality without coming across as insincere. The movie is careful to include Anne’s most important life events in such a way that her growth and change are an organic part of the story. But I think one of my favorite aspects of the movie was the portrayal of Gilbert Blythe (played by Jonathan Crombie). Gilbert is one of my favorite men in literature, not least of all because he’s not simply there to love the heroine. He’s a complete person with goals and dreams, and I was happy to see that he was written that way in the movie too.
I simply couldn’t have a list like this without including The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s adaption is still one of my all-time favorite film trilogies. It has such clear reverence for the source material, and Jackson’s team took so much care in making Middle Earth as real as possible. Everything I’ve read about Tolkien tells me he was a hard man to please when it came to his work, but I think he would love these movies too. 🙂
I was pleasantly surprised by this movie when I saw it back in 2007. I loved the book as a kid, even the sad parts. I didn’t trust that a movie would do the book justice, but this one really did. The friendship between Jess and Leslie is so real, and the way the filmmakers visually interpret the interplay between imagination and reality is truly inspired. It gave me a lot of the same feelings I had the first time I read the book, which is the mark of a great adaption.
What I love best about the 2005 movie version of Hitchhiker’s Guide is how much of the original narration was kept in the film. Douglas Adam’s genius truly shines in those little “tangential” paragraphs tucked in the middle of his stories, and you can almost hear the screenwriters saying, “This stuff is gold. There’s NO WAY we can leave it out!”
And Marvin—wonderful, annoying, depressing, glorious Marvin—was exactly how I imagined him. ^.^
Sherlock Holmes has the unusual blessing of having MANY wonderful adaptions. Of course BBC’s Sherlock comes to mind, and I do think it’s the best example of how the character would manifest in a modern setting. Still, many people maintain that Basil Rathbone continues to be the only true Sherlock Holmes. I personally always liked the 1954 black and white version with Ronald Howard as Holmes, but this may be because it was the first I ever saw.
What are your favorite book to movie/TV adaptions?