Looking for some cinematic inspiration? This month the Hex team were asked to talk about their favourite film adaptations of novels or comic books. What follows are some surprising and not so surprising picks. And of course this selection has the added benefit of being a recommended reading list as well!
I must have read Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man when I was about six or seven and, even then, I remember thinking it was a bit naff. There was cool stuff in there, definitely, but it never came together in a way that made sense. Then a giant space-dragon turned up and it just got silly. Clearly I was a snob at six.
Brad Bird’s 1999 animated version, The Iron Giant, takes the things I always loved about this story – the part where he’s in pieces and puts himself back together again; his relationship with human boy Hogarth; the fact we never learn his origin – and basically writes an entirely new story around them.
The real masterstroke was to set the film in 1950s America, instead of a vague, timeless England. In the book, people fear and attack the Giant because he’s eating their stuff; in the film people fear and attack him because it’s the middle of the Cold War! It brings forward and strengthens an anti-war sentiment that the book only hinted at, and it leads to some incredible, heartbreaking stuff.
It’s the best kind of adaptation – one that understands the message and tone of the original, but isn’t afraid to change things that wouldn’t work on screen (or that didn’t really work in the book). The result is a powerful, beautiful film that never fails to make me cry like a six-year-old.
My favourite films of all time are The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series directed by Peter Jackson. So it was obvious I was going to recommend it, though I realise at this point that you’ve probably seen it and will now read me rant about it for 200 words.
The film is stunning with wonderful characters portrayed superbly by a stellar cast. I fell in love with it on my first viewing. The films are exciting, enchanting and epic. Howard Shore did a fantastic job on composing stirring music that matches the stunning landscapes – both real in New Zealand and created in a studio. Once you’ve seen all three films I urge you to watch every second of the extra features that make the process of the production of the films an enchanting world in themselves.
Many people believe Tolkien would have hated the films but I think that Peter Jackson’s portrayal of the stories is magnificent. Maybe Tolkien would have hated it because Jackson’s portrayal is a lot more accessible than the dirge and dryness of the original text – without the films, I doubt I would have ever connected with the world that perhaps sparked off my love for fantasy.
While I’ve never actually read the comics its based upon, I absolutely adore the film of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I think there’s a reason for that – which is that it’s got a lot of references and visual styling geared towards a demographic I am part of – named 8-bit mainstream gaming.
After first watching the film, I because enamoured with everything about it. Mary-Elizabeth Winstead was incredibly eye-catching and her performance allowed for the scope of the characters depth. The evil exes, especially the fight sequences are superbly done and actually convincing – especially considering Michael Cera’s stature – all the bosses you wouldn’t think he’d be able to take on alone, he has to trick them to defeat them, or partner up with Chow to defeat Gideon.
This just had a feel of a comic book done right – with direct influences introduced (such as the Zelda lullaby theme – as well as many sound effects from the games too), coupled with references to scores when beating people in fights, health bars, even getting an extra life – and in typical Edgar Wright style, the feel so seemless there. Just like in anything he works on, you don’t feel penalized for not knowing the references – maybe because they’re not hyper-geeky, possibly because they’re so quick and don’t linger for longer than they have to.
If anything, I would say that the film is a pinnacle of videogame logic in films – something that I would love to see more of. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s basically having certain aspects of game design in a film – fighting through minions and bosses of slowly increasing difficulty, it’s despite having an end goal in sight, still having to go through waves of enemies and problems in order to do achieve their goal, acquiring objects in order to unlock things – or bonuses. It’s about possibly even having to go back and redo a “level”.
The 2013 Baz Luhrmann interpretation of Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby is a glittering, writhing extravaganza of a film. There are a fair few changes that weren’t in the novel. So why would I recommend seeing this adaptation if you haven’t already?
One of the, for me, key markers of a superb adaptation of a novel or a comic is when a screenwriter and a director make the story their own. They don’t go word-for-word with dialogue, scene-for-scene, instead they appear to interpret in their own grand vision while adding a bit of themselves to it. With Luhrmann this means heightening everything a 1000 times more than in the original text, we’ve seen this kind of spectacle before in Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Of course there wasn’t rap and R’n’B in the 1920s, but bringing modern sounds together with jazz helps to make what would otherwise be a very alien film more familiar to cinema goers. And despite taking everything to its extremes, this isn’t a film where you switch your brain off. Eveything may sparkle, but Luhrmann and co keep enough subtleties going and dashes of exposition that you need to pay attention in order to get the most out of it.
Among all of this is Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. He might not be the title character, but I found Maguire’s portrayal of Carraway more human than the man Fitzgerald presents in the novel and makes the character more likeable. This humanising gives the story some much needed grounding and certainly so in all the pizazz that this film has had added to it.
It’s gorgeous, but it still has brains underneath.
One of the greatest film adaptations I have ever seen is without a doubt Curtis Hanson’s version of James Ellroy’s sprawling crime epic, L.A. Confidential. What makes this film so impressive is just how difficult it should have been to adapt a book like L.A. Confidential, which is just so dark and dense and tightly plotted. In order to squeeze the novel down to the size of a screenplay, Hanson and Brian Helgeland had to cut about five years off the book’s timeline and loose roughly seven of the book’s plotlines. But they kept what was utterly essential to the Ellroy’s story. They kept the rot at the heart of the Los Angeles and they kept the personalities and the arcs of the three main character.
With those four utterly compelling main characters – Ed Exley, Bud White, Jack Vincennes, and Los Angeles herself – the film, even with its pared-down plot, is an excellent and faithful adaptation of Ellroy’s novel. It also helps that the movie is so perfectly cast, with Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey all putting in some of the best performances of their respective careers (and that’s saying something). The film is dark, violent and shocking, but it is also exhilarating, uplifting and even morbidly funny, just like the novel it is based on.