Big, brash and bombastic, director Baz Luhrmann’s fantastic version of The Great Gatsby is nothing like anything the author could ever have imagined. In honour of his thrilling new take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel (now available at blinkbox), we’re taking a look at some of our favourite literary adaptations… along with a few that really missed the mark!
The Talented Mr Ripley
Hired by an American industrialist to retrieve his wastrel son from a life of decadence in Europe, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) finds himself seduced by the easy, glamorous life the playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Initially inseparable, Dickie quickly tires of Tom in the way that rich people grow weary of their sports cars. Tom, it will turn out, is not the kind of man you can easily rid yourself of.
Previously filmed in the 60s as Plein Soleil starring Alain Delon, this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is much more faithful to the source material, presenting the character of Tom Ripley as a lonely and conflicted psychopath.
Cancel your flight to Italy and watch The Talented Mr Ripley here
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
A reclusive chocolatier holds a promotion granting 5 lucky children a life-time supply of chocolate as well as a tour of his top-secret confection creation facility. Amongst the spoiled brats and rich kids who find a golden ticket inside one of Wonka’s chocolate bars is Charlie Bucket, a poor boy with a heart of gold.
There’s no-one under 40 in the English speaking world who didn’t grow up with the books of Roald Dahl, and while this movie is far from the most faithful adaptation of his work, it’s hands-down the best film based on his books.
Ignoring the psychedelic visuals, catchy songs and memorable lines (“Augustus, my child! That is not a good thing you do!”), it’s Gene Wilder’s lead performance that really elevates the affair. Unless you’ve seen this film recently, you probably won’t remember how dark Willy Wonka is: behind his lilting singing voice and cheery façade is the cold, dead stare of a monster:
For your golden ticket to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, click here
Life of Pi
Previously thought to be un-filmable, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi triumphs by turning a book about verbal storytelling into a visual spectacular. When young Pi Patel survives a cargo ship wreck, he ends up trapped on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal Tiger who could kill him at any moment. Largely a tale of survival, the book also plays with the meaning of faith in the most desperate of situations.
The biggest challenge of the film was always going to be bringing the tiger to life. With the help of dozens of visual effects artists, Richard Parker (as the creature is called) is as fully-realised a character as you could hope for in a film.
Sure, there are a few changed from the novel but by-and-large the story’s plot and greater meaning remains intact. Author Yann Martel’s entire third section is compressed to fit within a screenplay structure and the book’s spiritual message comes across a little trite. But considering how everyone thought it couldn’t be adapted, Life of Pi we saw at the cinema is a genuine feat of wonder.
Take the plunge and savour Life of Pi here
Silence of the Lambs
Director Howard Hawkes used to define a great film as one with three great scenes and no bad ones. By that standard alone, the 1991 film of Thomas Harris’ most famous thriller is a tremendous movie.
With the help of prodigious psychiatrist (and noted serial killer) Hannibal Lecter, FBI agent Clarice Starling must fights against the clock in her hunt for a psychotic murderer who skins his victims. And while Anthony Hopkins’ startling performance earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, he’s actually only on screen for a bit over 16 minutes!
Now if we’re talking about great scenes, this film is packed full of them: from Lecter’s introduction to his daring escape (wearing a guard’s severed face), there haven’t been this many classic moment in a single film since Hollywood’s golden age.
Also, what man has not at least once uttered ‘it rubs the lotion on its skin’ before dancing in front of the mirror?
Cook some fava beans and crack open a nice Chianti here
This may rub some of you the wrong way but the film arguably better than the book. There: we said it.
Sure, Puzo’s novel goes into more detail with minor characters and there are entire sections of the book that don’t appear anywhere in the film. He gives his reader a well-researched, pseudo-fictionalised history of organised crime in America but when it comes down to it, he’s not a particularly subtle writer and there’s a thick vein of macho BS that runs through his writing. Case-and-point: the chapters told from the point of view of Sonny Corleone’s former mistress Lucy Mancini add very little to the story and are a little sleazy (just Google it).
As director and screenwriter, Francis Ford Coppola brings the book to life with a greater deal of craft, lending many of his characters a lighter touch.
For an offer you can’t refuse, click here
It’s impossible to list films without thinking of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. It’s told from the perspective of Rob, a record shop-owner on London’s Holloway Road from a time when record shops were still a thing. Having been dumped by his long-time girlfriend, he descends into self-pity, processing his grief in the only way he knows how: by making lists.
In fact, he’s constantly constructing lists of everything from Top Five Smiths B-Sides to his Top Five Devastating Break-ups: his need to organise the data of his life is something that struck a chord with male readers in the same way that a lot of women related Bridget Jones.
When John Cusack announced that the film of High Fidelity was going to take place in Chicago with him in the lead role, fans were understandably concerned. Some of them have even refused to watch it to this day, calling it an abomination, sight unseen.
What those folks don’t know is how wrong they were: High Fidelity is solid film. It takes what’s great about Hornby’s novel and discovers that it isn’t unique to depressed Londoners in their 30s.
Much like Nirvana’s The Man Who Sold the World, this is a cover track that belongs on anyone’s Top Five List.
Put away your vinyl collection and watch High Fidelity now
1996 to 1999 marked Robin Williams’ Blue Period: in that span of time, he appeared in a number of films that tested his audience’s tolerance for sugary sentimentality. Coming straight off the back of Jack (where he played a 10 year-old boy with a condition that made him look like Robin Williams) and What Dreams May Come, he starred in this adaptation of a 1976 Isaac Asimov novella, The Bicentennial Man.
The film’s intentions are nothing short of noble, as it attempts to tackle themes of slavery, liberty, humanity and love — all through the eyes of ‘Andrew’ a domestic servant robot who yearns to become more human. Over the period of his 200 year life we watch him become romantic, lose his love ones, and thanks to biotechnology, become mortal.
This all sounds great… but in reality, the film is unbearably mawkish in its attempts to be a tearjerker, deploying sentimental scenes back-to-back for over two hours.
(Don’t) watch Bicentennial Man here
The Time Machine
Directed by the actual great grand-son of HG Welles, this most recent Hollywood version of The Time Machine tries its best to be a Spielbergian action-drama but it just ends up being a goofy mess.
After his wife is killed by a mugger, 19th century scientist Guy Pearce resolves to make a time machine (presumably out of curtain rods and leather) so he can go back in time and save her. Instead, he zaps himself into the distant future where he inadvertently lands himself in a conflict between two species who have since evolved from humans.
In the book, the Morlocks are a brutish race of ape-like creatures but in the film, they’re led by the hyper intelligent Jeremy Irons, who sports some Halloween-grade prosthetic make-up.
On the other side of the war are the Eloi, whom Welles described as a species of innocent, child-like beings. In the film, Pearce totally gets it on with one of them.
Avoid watching The Time Machine by not clicking here.
There’s so much to unpack with this bizarre adaptation of Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller, we couldn’t fit everything in to this article but click here to read all about it. Trust us: this movie is bonkers.
If you’re looking to watch a great movie this weekend, there’s no better place to start than with our Great Adaptations Collection.