Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations.
I wasn’t too particular about coming up with ten choices, because my first two choices add up to eleven movies all by themselves. I did limit my choices to theatrical films, which eliminated tons of terrific BBC mysteries and period dramas: David Suchet’s Poirot, Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple, both the Lord Peter Wimsey series, Pride and Prejudice, the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and a whole lot more. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten some very good (and very bad) movies. But these are the ones that stand out in my mind right now:
Best Movie Adaptations:
The Harry Potter series. I’m including all of them; even the weakest of the bunch was pretty good. I’ve seen all eight movies at least four times each, and I still think they’re terrific. True, the films had to leave out some of the subplots and some great scenes or moments (like Dudley telling Harry he’s not a waste of space, or the whole “Weasley is our King” song.) But the screenwriters and filmmakers stayed extraordinarily true to the books for the most part — far more than many film adaptations do. And the casting and the actors’ performances are amazing all the way around; they’re so good that now I often see their faces and hear their voices when I read the books. (This is particularly true of Snape, McGonagall, and Luna as well as the three main characters.)
The Lord of the Rings. Another superb adaptation, despite one or two radical and several minor departures from the books. Peter Jackson is brilliant, and he brought in brilliant people to work on the films. Filming in New Zealand was a stroke of genius; the variety of landscapes creates the illusion of a much larger continent, and is an almost perfect match for my imagined Middle Earth. The team made every effort to recreate the richness and depth of Tolkien’s world, creating a distinct look for each of the cultures. They were also faithful in making use of Tolkien’s invented languages, particularly Elvish and the tongue of Rohan. And the parts are well-cast, although Frodo is much too young (he’s supposed to be about 50 in the books.) I absolutely love these films.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Okay, I have to admit that I haven’t actually read the books. And I know that the film includes material taken from several books, not just one. But it holds together splendidly as a film, and the realism and attention to historical detail were amazing (as far as I could tell, and I’m a bit of a history buff.) Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany even learned to play the pieces they play on violin and cello, so their fingering and bowing would be accurate. (They didn’t include the vibrato, which you can clearly hear in the recorded score, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless.) I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and think it belongs among the better movie adaptations despite the liberties it took with the text.
The Princess Bride. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but it’s close — and it’s very nearly a perfect movie. It captures the spirit of the book beautifully, as well as many of the best scenes. It doesn’t hurt that the screenplay was written by the author.
The Secret Garden. There have been a lot of adaptations of this book, some of them quite dreadful. The version starring Kate Mabberly and the redoubtable Maggie Smith remains my favorite. It doesn’t follow the book perfectly — for example, Mary’s parents die in an earthquake rather than a cholera epidemic, and the Christian overtones are left out — but it feels right. Except for the scene where she finds the key, which always annoys me. But Maggie Smith as the housekeeper and Andrew Knott as Dickon more than make up for that.
Worst Movie Adapations:
The Secret of Moonacre is an adaptation of one of my favorite children’s books, The Little White Horse, and the filmmakers butchered the story. They turned a sympathetic character, Maria’s childhood friend Robin, into a bad-boy bandit with kohl around his eyes and a threatening attitude; they even changed his parentage, making him the son of the leading villain instead of a distant cousin of Maria. They took out all the Christian references and added in a doomsday prophecy involving the moon (which gets so gigantic during the climax, I’m amazed it doesn’t just collide with the earth.) While bits of the charming story I love were recognizable here and there, the movie as a whole left me spitting mad.
The Black Cauldron. Um. Sort of. It’s a long time since I saw this animated film ostensibly based on Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, but as I recall, they took a lot of liberties, and not for the better. I was singularly unimpressed. I love the books, and I’d give a lot to see someone redo this series, but treat it as respectfully as Peter Jackson did LOTR.
There were a few other movies I considered putting in the “Worst” category, except that their fault is more in how much they diverged from the book than in the quality of the film as a film. Ella Enchanted is a delightful movie, as long as I remember that the film and the book are essentially two different animals with only a superficial resemblance to each other. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was a lot of fun, but its departures from the plot, particularly regarding both Luke and the prophecy, will mess things up for the sequels. And the actor playing Percy is way too old. He should have been twelve, not older than Percy is supposed to be in the fifth book. (That also ruins the whole prophecy story arc.)