Editor's note: Every week we ask folks around the office questions about pop culture. This week we wanted to find out which movies adapted from books were their favorites.
Martin Scorsese directed the adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel, "The Age of Innocence" (Columbia Pictures) about the aristocratic society of New York in the late 19th century. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer: a man trapped between his sense of obligation -- marrying his perfect fiancée (Wynona Ryder) and honoring tradition -- and his love for Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). She is a separated countess who has left her estranged husband in France to go back home to a bunch of often judgmental New Yorkers. She is basically as rebellious as it was possible then. Also very much bohemian.
I loved the book so much, last time I was in Paris I tried in vain to find the little square with chestnut trees where Countess Olenska is supposed to live at the end. And the movie does the novel justice in a way that doesn't normally happen with adaptations.
It's inconceivable for anyone to pick something else!
"The Princess Bride" (20th Century Fox) simply nails it.
This classic movie is so faithful to the book that dodging dangerous ROUSes and dueling six-fingered men onscreen is almost word for word and scene by scene the same as the book. The movie actually improves the original. The book's author, William Goldman, spends much too long setting up Wesley's quest to win back Princess Buttercup. That's something the movie neatly covers in about two seconds, while preserving all the wild antics and quotable lines.
It's so good, I bet you want to watch it again right now, in fact. As you wish.
With its meticulous stop-motion animation, you might think "Coraline" (Focus Features, Laika, Pandemonium) is a movie for kids. You'd be wrong. The eerie cautionary tale from master storyteller Neil Gaiman cuts to the quick of fantasy horror as a young girl escapes the secure banality of her everyday life, only to wind up somewhere far, far worse. The pitch-perfect voice casting brings an edgy reality to young Coraline's bizarro world. You will never see buttons the same way again.
"Lord of the Flies" (Columbia Pictures) is one of the all-time great commentaries on the fragile nature of civilized societies and the desire for power. The story takes place during a fictional nuclear war. It picks up with a group of young British school boys who find themselves marooned on a deserted island after their plane crashed. They think they'll be able to build a Utopian society, but it doesn't take long for the group to split in to warring factions. The novel has been adapted to film twice, first in 1963 and again in 1990.
Andy Altman, associate editor
"Jumanji" (TriStar Pictures) is not an artistic classic by any means, but this Robin Williams-led adaptation of my favorite children's picture book has it all: tragedy, comedy, even a little tasteful romance in this kid-friendly adventure. Like the book, it's all centered around a mysterious, magical board game that sucks kids into an alternate universe, one which makes the real world into a deadly jungle. Unlike the book, a few adult characters -- exploring their loss of innocence, and confronting their lack of courage -- help move the plot along.
Philip Kaufman's adaptation of the 1979 Tom Wolfe book "The Right Stuff" (Warner Bros.) beautifully captures the epic early days of America's space program. There's no lack of macho bravado -- nicely embodied by stars including Sam Shepard, Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid -- but all that's balanced by deft touches of humor (especially in NASA's tests of the men's physical capabilities) and the undercurrent of isolation and anxiety that the astronaut's wives endured. The flight scenes are terrific, and the desert locales stunning. It's spacious where Wolfe's book is dense with information, but both have a voice (and in the movie's case, a look) that make me want to watch and read over and over again.
The movie version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" (Universal Pictures) streamlined the book by quite a lot, obviously. But everything that made the book a stark reflection of how we as a society view race, the "other," the helpless and those different from us, is all still there. You also get the same sense for how adults are not perfect even if kids think so and the moral dilemmas we all face in life.
From the meaning of the title referring to the destruction of innocence at the hand of evil, to Scout's closing voice over --"Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough." -- the film is a triumph. It's also an affirmation of and realization that darkness and the unknown can be overcome and illuminated by the light of knowing, understanding, compassion and caring.
Even though author Stephen King hated the film adaptation of his best-selling horror novel "The Shining" (Warner Bros.), I believe filmmaker Stanley Kubrick transformed the story into a piece of celluloid art. While the film does stray from the book quite a bit, Kubrick's unique choices make the story of a writer who goes crazy in a haunted hotel with his high-strung wife and psychic child even more chilling.
Simple things changed, like Kubrick casting the talented but not-traditionally-stunning actress Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance, even though the book described her as a beautiful blonde. The dates of when the family is at the hotel changed. Danny's imaginary friend Tony -- who is prominent in the book -- is reduced down to Danny's finger.
Kubrick's genius made visual scenes in "The Shining" movie hit a nerve with audiences, so that we never forgot the flood of blood spilling out of the hotel elevator, or the Grady twins holding hands and asking Danny to play while he's riding around the hotel hallways on his Big Wheel. That eerie hedge maze wasn't in the book, but in the movie it made the perfect spot for a horrifying chase scene. Even the famous "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" line that Jack types over and over again in the film, never happened in the book.
And while I respect King for being one hell of a storyteller, it's Kubrick's version of "The Shining" that still haunts me to this day.
Based on Elmore Leonard's book by the same name, "Out of Sight" (Universal Pictures) follows bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) who escapes from a Florida prison for one last score, only to end up in the trunk of a car with Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), the federal marshal who's been trying to track him down. The film shifts the character focus some from the book, concentrating more on Foley than Sisco, but otherwise screenwriter Scott Frank manages to capture the amazing characters Leonard creates in his book. Director Steven Soderbergh's use of color perfectly expresses the mood and location in every scene -- from the heat of Miami to the bitter cold of Detroit -- aided by a fantastic score by David Holmes, who, like Clooney, would go on to work with Soderbergh on all the Ocean's movies.
"Clueless" (Paramount Pictures) is a total "Betty" of a film.
Based on "Emma" by Jane Austen, Clueless marries the witty, strong-willed characters that Austen is known for with the classic catchphrases of an American teen film in the 90s. I'm sure Amazon will soon make Cher's mix-and-match wardrobe a reality and prove that Amy Heckerling (the writer and director) was way ahead of her time.
"LA Confidential" (Warner Bros.) is the best movie adaptation of all time because it completely changes the plot. Bear with me: Everything else about James Ellroy's noir thriller, set in a lushly imagined 1940s Los Angeles, stays the same. The themes of corruption and racism and misogyny. The extraordinary characters, from the too-keen cop who wants to make detective quicker than his father did, to the hooker who looks like a movie star but just wants to go home to Arizona, to the sleazy journalist who pays cops to tip him off when celebs get busted.
Somehow screenwriter Brian Helgeland took all this, and some key beats of the story, and gutted hundreds of pages right down to its bare bones. It's a masterpiece.
I also have to go with "LA Confidential" (Warner Bros.). James Ellroy's pulp fiction crime book is probably better and obviously more in-depth even if it can be a bit excessive. But the 1998 crime film by the late Curtis Hanson is probably one of my favorite films that was based on a book. The casting of then newcomers Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, coupled with Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Kim Bassinger (who won an Oscar for her role in the film), and James Cromwell really helped transition the book to the film because those actors fit the characters so well.