January 31, 2012

The Oscars’ love affair with adaptations

As with the recent Golden Globes and National Board of Review awards, a casual perusal of the nominees of the 84th Academy Awards will reveal that the a majority of the year’s most highly regarded films were based on novels.

For the purposes of this blog, the Oscar that I am most interested in is the Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – which is awarded each year to the writer of a screenplay that has been adapted from another source.

And the nominees are: The Descendents, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Hollywood's biggest night is scheduled for February 26. What film are you backing for the win?

January 29, 2012

How ‘Mary Poppins’ was Disneyfied

The Mary Poppins series, written by P.L Travers, was the perfect source material for Disney. The stories were designed to appeal to the childhood imagination – with each chapter a new adventure, brimming with colour, magic and splendor.

The very premise of Mary Poppins was faultlessly appealing to the mind of a child: Four young, rambunctious siblings, desperate for fun and vying for attention, are gifted with a Nanny who on a daily basis takes them away from the hum-drum of home and exposes them to the mysteries and magic of the world.

In reading Mary Poppins, I admit that I was surprised at how true the Disney film was to the original texts. The books provided such a rich array of stories and characters – the adapters seemed to just select their favourites and string them all together.

Of course, there were some key differences… I’m sure fans of the film have already raised an eyebrow at the mention of four children. Yes, indeed. In adapting Mary Poppins to the big screen, Disney omitted two of its central characters: the gurgling baby twins John and Barbara Banks.

If you read the books, your other eyebrow will also surely rise at the original pavement picture scene. Rather than as a day trip for the Banks children, P.L Travers intended it only as a date for two.

In the books, Mary Poppins goes off to visit Bert “the Match Man” on her half-day off, “every third Tuesday from two till five.” The two would spend the time exchanging furtive glances, giving proud compliments, sharing tea and raspberry-jam cakes, and joyously roaming the countryside together, hand-in-hand.

In creating a film version of Mary Poppins that was more suited for Disney audiences, the biggest changes were perhaps to Mary herself. In the film, Jane and Michael sing their desire for a Nanny with rosy cheeks and a cheery disposition, who will never be cross or cruel. What they get is the beauty of Julie Andrews who, as she states herself, is “practically perfect in every way”.

The Banks children of the books were a little more down-to-earth. For one, they didn’t sing, and two, they were accepting of a Nanny with some faults. Their Mary Poppins is much less likeable – she is strict, stern, abrupt, unyielding, and at times plain rude.

Of course the children are fond of Mary Poppins – mostly, they are enamored with her magical talents and knack for making the ordinary extraordinary – although they are also frightened of her “terrible glances” and “threatening speeches”.

Mary Poppins is overly concerned with what is proper and fashionable and is prone to “superior sniffs” whenever the smallest thing offends her. In her eyes, she alone is the perfect specimen of a human being. In fact, her favourite past time is looking in shop windows “because she saw herself reflected there.” You only see a glimmer of this Mary Poppins in the film, when looks at herself approvingly in the nursery mirror and ever-so-sweetly insists that the children wear their hats and gloves at all times when out of doors.

Despite the character flaws, for fans of Mary Poppins the original books are a must-read. Unlike the film, they delve into and explain why Mary is the way she is, and how she can do the things that she does.

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'Disneyfied': The Disney adaptation process

January 27, 2012

‘Disneyfied’: The Disney adaptation process

Since the Walt Disney film company was founded in 1923, it has made a spectacular business out of turning fairy tales and novels into lucrative and beloved children’s films.

It might not surprise you, but a significant number of Disney’s best-known, classic films, were derived from literary sources. The Little Mermaid was based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson, Peter Pan was originally written by James Barry, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, and Pinocchio by Carlo Colloloi – just to name a few.

But Disney does have a unique way of making the original its own. In order for the story to be suitable for younger audiences, great liberties are often taken with the source material.

When Disney adapts a novel, its on-screen equivalent is sure to have been “Disneyfied". Urban Dictionary describes this process as giving something with a questionable moral value a veneer of acceptability, so that it no longer offends at any level and begins to reflect family values.

Sinister story lines are glossed over; questionable characters ridiculed or omitted entirely; and deviant acts demolished – all with the purpose of allowing a new romance to blossom, and a moral message to be communicated by the end.

Keep a lookout for my reviews of popular Disney films, where I will deconstruct the ‘disneyfication’ process and find out exactly which facets of the original Walt Disney deemed inappropriate for innocent eyes…

Should be fun!

January 25, 2012

What is your Hobbit name?

You can count on it that, come December 2012, the most talked-about tale will be that of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur, as they journey to the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain on a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.

Wow, what a mouthful.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – particularly the books, there are way to many lengthy descriptions of the lineage of swords for my liking – but The Hobbit truly is a gripping story.

I guarantee that Peter Jackson’s films will bring a whole new legion of fans back to J.R.R Tolkien’s 1937 novel, and they will not be disappointed.

You may as well get in early and read the book now. Beat the rush; be ahead of the trend. At least that way you can familiarize yourself with the whole cast of characters before they grace the big screen.

And in the mean time, just for a bit of fun, stop by The Hobbit Movie website and get your own Hobbit name. Mine is Hilda Boffin, what's yours?

Here's a taste of what's to come:

January 22, 2012

So much to read, so little time

With so many film adaptations constantly being made, running this blog requires a lot of reading.

Here is a look at my current to-read list. Expect to see some reviews of these in the not too distant future.

January 19, 2012

Mixed Reviews: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I’ve heard a lot of talk about this film, and none of it has been good.

Talk like: “there’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back” and “take someone really, really smart, or you just won’t get it” (I heard that one on a TV review, so it wasn’t as insulting as it sounds.)

The reviews can’t all be negative, can they?

Not according to Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, 84% of the reviews on the site have been positive and 64% of the audience liked it as well.

Ann Hornaday from the Washington Post said:

“It's a 1970s story told in 1970s style, an unrepentant un-reboot so old school that it feels subversively new.”

Thomas Caldwell from Cinema Autopsy said:

“Swedish director Tomas Alfredson delivers the same diffused visual style and melancholic atmosphere in this new adaptation of John le CarrĂ©'s 1974 novel that he so successfully employed on Let the Right One In.”

Manohla Dargis from the New York Times said:

“The story, skillfully mined from Mr. le CarrĂ©'s labyrinthine book and set in 1973, is a pleasurably sly and involving puzzler - a mystery about mysteries within mysteries.”

Richard Knight from Knight at the Movies said:

“Densely plotted and edited with the assumption that fickle, easily distracted audiences will keep up and not lag behind. And woe be to the moviegoer who answers the call of nature.”

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January 16, 2012

Mighty Morphing Mystique

Jennifer Lawrence is a real character actor in the making. At only 22 years of age, Lawrence has appeared in a spate of feature films, including the critically acclaimed Winter’s Bone (based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell), the popular X-Men: First Class (prequel of the Marvel comic-inspired series), and the highly anticipated Hunger Games (based on the young adult phenomenon by Suzanne Collins.)

What these three films have in common – despite all being adaptations – is that Lawrence’s roles required her to undergo a significant physical change.

When the actress struts the red carpet, she is the embodiment of a Hollywood bombshell. When she steps into the shoes of her on-screen characters, she is almost unrecognizable.

January 14, 2012

Never Let Me Go: A film that will never let you go

I was not prepared for this film.

Unusually for me, I sat down to write this review without having already read the novel. This time, I wanted to try something different – to see the film first, and approach it with fresh eyes and no expectations. Would I be inspired to seek out the book, or would the adaptation be enough to satisfy?

Never Let Me Go (2010), based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, was ideal material on which to conduct this test. I pressed play without any idea what the story was about, and had heard very little about the film except that it reunited two of the Bennet sisters from Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice: Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.

What a miraculous way to watch this story unfold.

The child actors are cast perfectly as the younger versions of Knightley and Mulligan’s characters, and as I see their sheltered lives unfold at Hailsham House – a strict yet pleasant orphanage, that values creativity as well as precision, and is dressed with innumerable shades of grey – I am intrigued… What are the mysteries about this school, and what is the truth behind the strange lives of these young people?

There is very little that I am willing to say, for fear of giving the game away. I think everyone should approach this film in the same way that I did: completely unaware. Seriously, don’t even read the back cover of the DVD.

Never let Me Go has more feeling than any other movie that I can think of… at least at this moment of writing when it is still so fresh in my mind. It has real heart and emotion, and will lead you to reconsider everything that it means to be a human being.

And the outcome of my little test? I think a trip to the bookstore is in order.

The verdict: 

Book or Big Screen? Big Screen

The film is:  5. An exceptional improvement on the original

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

Tell us what you really think: Cary Fukunaga

"Are you making this movie for people who know the story, or are you making it because it’s a great story you are going to take liberties with how you interpret it? I think you have to balance both worlds, in a way – because the harshest critics will be the ones who know the novel and it’s dear to tens of thousands of readers – but in two hours you are given a certain amount of restriction to tell a story and therefore picking and choosing what parts of a narrative you are going to tell to allow for the emotional impact of the story to be the strongest. And I think that’s the most important in the end, the emotionality.”

Cary Fukunaga on Jane Eyre

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Tell us what you really think: Anne Rice
Tell us what you really think: Audrey Niffenegger
Tell us what you really think: Michael Lewis

January 12, 2012

The battle between Tintin and War Horse

There are two Spielberg adaptations competing in the cinemas at the moment – The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. Let’s see how they are faring…

War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, has a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 78% positive, from a total of 170 reviews. In comparison, 75% of the 182 reviews for The Adventures of Tintin are positive.

Also from Rotten Tomatoes, 76% of the audience are said to have “liked” War Horse while 80% liked Tintin.

So things are fairly even so far… but what are the critics saying?

Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal very cryptically stated that War Horse “may stay in the mind's eye longer than it lingers in the heart”, while Tintin “becomes a succession of dazzling set pieces devoid of simple feelings.”

Peter Travers from Rolling Stone said Tintin “hits home for the kid in all of us who wants to bust out and run free”, while Claudia Puig from USA Today predicted that War Horse “will likely take its place alongside beloved family films.”

Critical of the central premise of War Horse is David Denby from the New Yorker, with a big, green, rotten tomato splat:

“We never ask why the production is devoted to an animal while ten million men are dying, but when Spielberg does the story realistically, it seems trivial, even a little daft.”

The equivalent is Diva Velez from thedivareview.com, who criticizes what is arguably the central premise of Tintin: its animated action:

“Noisy, repetitive and obnoxious, The Adventures of Tintin's sensory overload is somehow blindingly dull. The barrage of onscreen overstimulation will keep kids glued to their seats, but won't make them care about or cherish the characters.”

Despite what the critics say, the big test is of course the Box Office.

Since its release on December 26, Tintin has raked in $62 million in the US. War Horse – which was released on the same day – is trailing very close behind, with $56.9 million.

Have you seen the movies? Which did you prefer?

The many faces of: Leonardo DiCaprio

Look out for any trends here. I’ll give you a hint – Leo seems to favour the title role in autobiographically based films, and Martin Scorsese.

As Tobias (Toby) Wolff in This Boy’s Life (1993), an adaptation of the memoir of the same name by Tobias Wolff (1989):

As Arnie Grape in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). The screenplay by Peter Hedges was adapted from his 1991 novel of the same name:

As Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries (1995). Based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Jim Carroll:

As Romeo Montague in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet:

As Richard in The Beach (2000), directed by Danny Boyle. Adapted from the 1996 novel of the same name by Alex Garland:


As Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can (2002), directed by Steven Spielberg. Based on the autobiography written with the help of Stan Redding:


As Amsterdam Vallon in Gangs of New York (2002), directed by Martin Scorsese. The film is inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1928 nonfiction book:

As Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004), directed by Martin Scorese. The film was largely inspired by a biography, Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (1993), by Charles Higham:

As Roger Ferris in Body of Lies (2008), directed by Ridley Scott. Based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius (2007):

As Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road (2008), directed by Sam Mendes. Based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates:

As Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010), directed by Martin Scorsese. Based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name:

And, of course, we can’t forget his upcoming role as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby (2012), based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). Can't wait!

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January 9, 2012

At the Golden Globes, the best films are adaptations

It is something I have long supposed, and since starting this blog have become convinced of: The very best source material for a film, is a novel.

When the story is first dreamed up by an author, and diligently transcribed to their page, the filmmakers are left with a special gift of plots and characters that are so defined, so certain, that the audiences are able to become completely immersed within them.

And it’s not just me that thinks so… The highly competitive ‘Drama’ categories of the 2012 Golden Globe Awards are dominated by adaptations of literary sources.

Best Motion Picture – Drama (5/6 nominated films are literary adaptations)

The Descendants
The Help
War Horse

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (4/5 nominees recognised for their performances in film adaptations)

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis – The Help
Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama (2/5 nominees recognised for their performances in film adaptations)

George Clooney – The Descendants
Brad Pitt – Moneyball

The presentation of the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards will take place on Sunday 15th January 2012.

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Adapted films dominate awards

January 6, 2012

Mixed Reviews: Sherlock Holmes 2

I have to say, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows impressed me. The mystery was a little hard to follow, and the resurfacing of Rachel McAdams’ character was too brief – but in all, it was a very enjoyable film. It was fast-paced; there were loads of laughs; and Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law had a dynamic chemistry. In particular, I found the suspended motion sequences to be an extremely clever (and visually interesting) way of progressing the story whilst at the same time demonstrating the pace of Sherlock’s mind.

But what do I know? Let’s see what the reviewers had to say.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, 59% of reviewers have so far given the film a positive rating. Of the audience share, 80% have liked it.

Louise Keller from Urban Cinefile said:

“Eating hedgehog goulash, a bride thrown off a train, Sherlock Holmes disguised as a chair and a naked Stephen Fry are some of the incongruous moments of Guy Ritchie's sequel which again has little to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters.”

Matt Neal of The Standard said:

“Source fidelity aside, the thing that really matters is that Ritchie's re-interpretation is exciting, witty and great fun.”

Mark Jenkins from the Washington Post said:

“It's a modest improvement on bad-boy director Guy Ritchie's first tweaking of Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective.”

Peter Travers from Rolling Stone said:

“In an act of criminal negligence, Ritchie has wasted Robert Downey Jr. in a sequel that eliminates smarts in favor of relentless headbanging.”

My previous posts on this movie:

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Mixed Reviews: Breaking Dawn Part 1

January 5, 2012

The casting quandary #2

One of the biggest sources of contention for fans, when their favourite books are adapted to film, is whether the cast lives up to their expectations.

Does the main character suit the author’s description? Is the lead man everything that you imagined him to be?

For female characters, the hair colour of the actress can be a very specific choice – either to keep in line with the book, or to deliberately stray from it.

Meggie Cleary, the heroine of Colleen McCullough’s epic tale The Thorn Birds (1977) is described in the novel as having hair that is “not red and not gold, but somewhere in between.” In the iconic scene where Meggie enters the ballroom and enchants Ralph with her ashes-of-roses gown embroidered with tiny pink rosebuds, her hair had recently been cut short which caused it to “curl far too much for fashion.”

Sydney Penny as a young Meggie Cleary (1983)

Rachel Ward as Meggie Cleary (1983)

The hair colour of Daisy Buchanan, the one true love of The Great Gatsby, is much disputed. In the book, F Scott Fitzgerald describes her tresses in contradictory ways – either as dark as a "dash of blue paint," or light like her daughter’s “yellowy” hair.

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan (2012)

Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan (1974)

The character of Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice (1813), is another source of contention in the hair department – because Jane Austen never actually describes its colour. However the common belief is that Elizabeth has dark hair, which would suit her fine dark eyes and tanned skin.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet (1995)

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet (2005)

January 1, 2012

Stephen Chbosky brings his own book to the big screen

Stephen Chbosky on the set with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman

When a novel is adapted to film, it is usually a mixed blessing for the author – they can reap the benefits of their work being exposed to new audiences, but in doing so they must give up any control over the new form that their art will take.

This is not is the case for Stephen Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The novel is being adapted to the big screen, but Chbosky is the man at the helm – as both screenwriter and director.

Stephen Chbosky is one of the rare few authors who have sufficient skills to straddle between the worlds of bestselling literature and commercial feature films.

In 1992 he graduated from the University of Southern California's screenwriting program and throughout his career has written and directed a number of screenplays, including the 1995 independent film The Four Corners of Nowhere and the 2005 film adaptation of the Broadway rock musical Rent. He was also behind the film adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and served as co-creator, executive producer, and writer of the CBS serial television drama Jericho.

In 1994 Chbosky began writing The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The film, starring Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman, will be released in 2012.