Julie Daunt takes a look at the books behind the new film releases of 2013.
Every year there are more than two dozen films that have been adapted from books. However, it is often that the film versions of published stories are different to the original novel. Films often leave out chunks of books that you as a reader might consider pivotal and important. Directors, screenplay writers, actors and producers can also completely change the narration of a book when converting it into a big screen production. One example is Miloš Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest film starring Jack Nicholson. In the original novel, written by Ken Kesey, the story is told through the eyes of “Chief” Bromden, and not Randle Patrick McMurphy as in the film adaptation of the iconic tale. Below are a few of the original books behind this year’s big releases. Only time will tell if the films will live up to their published predecessors.
The Host: While the film version of this extra-terrestrial tale stars our very own Saoirse Ronan, the film is adapted from writer Stephanie Meyer’s novel Twilight. The book returns to the age old story line of body snatching alien parasites. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only this time the alien and the hosting body become allies. Melanie, the main character of the story, is on the run from the invading “Souls” who take over your mind. She is implanted with Wanderer, but instead of letting herself be taken over, Melanie bombards Wanderer with her memories and emotions. The main complaint of the story was that nothing really happens, and not even in a good way. Writing within the genre of science-fiction, and using a classic narrative of parasitic aliens, Meyer had plenty of scope for a gripping story.
However, I cannot see how this story would appeal to a more mature mind. If anything, the conflicts between her sparkly vampires and topless wolf men seem a lot more interesting. The protagonist Melanie is also as two dimensional as Bella/Kristen Stewart. Let’s hope the film version is somewhat more digestible. From the look of the trailers, at least Saoirse has more than one facial expression, and her love interest Jared has been able to keep his t-shirt on.
The Great Gatsby: Ah yes! This film adaptation has been highly anticipated (for starters, Leonardo di Caprio is playing Jay Gatsby, swoon!). Although this version is directed by Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame), the Gatsby story has already made it to the big screen, with Robert Redford assuming the famous role in 1974. In fact, there have been six film versions of the tale, including this year’s big release. The story was the brainchild of the iconic American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Written in 1924-5, the story takes place during the roaring twenties and is narrated through the eyes of Nick Carraway, who lives next door to the extravagant and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby. Nick soon gets to know the illusive Gatsby and learns of his past and his desire for lost love Daisy. The story is one of love, loss, lies and lechery. Rich extravagance and decadence is met with debauchery and sinful behaviour. It is ultimately a tragic tale, one that shows the emptiness and shallowness of high living. It is known as Fitzgerald’s magnum opus. Not only is the story line engrossing, but it is brilliantly crafted and written. I personally cannot wait for Luhrmann’s take on the timeless tale as I believe it will capture the atmosphere and essence of Fitzgerald’s famous work.
World War Z: 2013 seems to be the year of the zombie flicks with Warm Bodies starting off the trend (also based on a novel). However, Max Brooks’ book has been praised for reviving the interest in the zombie genre. The film rights to the novel resulted in a bidding war between Leonardo di Caprio’s production company, and that of Brad Pitt, with Pitt ultimately becoming the winner. The screen adaptation will see Brad Pitt taking on the lead role of UN employee Gerry Lane. However, in the original novel, World War Z is a collection of individual accounts from the ten year zombie war, rather than a focus on just one main character.
Brooks assumes the position of a UN agent who publishes the stories of individuals that were left out of the original official report. The stories provide multiple points of view of the zombie outbreak. The book was spawned from his 2003 book The Zombie Survival Guide. World War Z draws on numerous points of references from technology to politics to economics. The world’s geographical and sociological landscape is completely changed after the zombie pandemic. However, many are fearful of the film adaptation, as much of the premise of the book is said to be dismissed in favour of zombie killing action. Some critics also believe the film to be on the style of Children of Men. I’m also sceptical about the screen version, but we will have to wait and see for the final verdict.
Cloud Atlas (See Cathal Dennehy’s review in Film & TV): Cloud Atlas was a 2004 prize winning novel by British author David Mitchell. While the film version features big names such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry and progresses from the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future, the original novel was cyclic in its style, with the plot returning the reader to the beginning to the character Adam Ewing. The plot takes place in six different eras, with the plot of each era revealed to be observed or read by a character in the following era. Each era’s plot is interrupted at a pivotal moment and moves onto the next era, creating a chain like link of events. The book is a complex work of science fiction, fantasy and drama. The sixth story takes a central position in the course of the book, and is the only one not to be interrupted. It then sends us back in the reverse order of the previous eras back to the beginning. Think along the line of Inception or Sliding Doors; different scenarios and times that are all connected due to small actions and reactions.
However, much of the complexity of the book is also thought to be lost by the film version. But creating a film with so many characters and storylines would have been a challenging feat, and by the looks of the trailer, the screenwriters have managed to somewhat create the atmosphere of the different worlds and eras envisaged in Mitchell’s ground-breaking work.
Epic: Books have also been adapted into animations. This is the case for William Joyce’s children’s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs. The adapted work is directed by Chris Wedge of Ice Age and Robots and features an all-star voice cast from the likes of Amanda Seyfried to Colin Farrell to Beyoncé. This isn’t the first time one of Joyce’s works has made it to the big screen as his novel was also the basis behind Robots. However, the plot of the book and the film differ significantly. Again action and special effects took precedence over the quaintness and morals of the original children’s tale. Even the name change signals this transition from a humble and charming story to a big block buster production. Joyce’s original story does not feature a professor or a female protagonist and the film version relies on the “Alice in Wonderland” cliché of magically shrinking people. Again, I don’t have much hope for this film as it is too far removed from the original work and is only loosely based on printed version.