By Brent Glass
The film industry would be dead without books. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has become natural for viewers to anticipate a sentence before or after the film that reads “Based on the novel by [insert author’s name here]…” Two of the three favorites for Best Picture this year were based on books (12 Years a Slave and American Hustle). Furthermore, many of cinema’s greatest films originated from the more tangible medium: The Shawshank Redemption, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Godfather, Fight Club, and Jurassic Park – to name a few. But just how many movies are based upon novels? Well, I haphazardly attempted to find the truth – to no avail. Turns out, as one might expect, it is nearly impossible to answer that question. If you have watched Scorsese’s brilliant Hugo (also based on a novel), you would know that most of the earliest films were permanently lost. How can one report on the question if some films in question are unknown? Even if one decided to exclude those lost films, who would want to complete the arduous task of determining the origin of every single movie? No idea, but I wish someone had reached a conclusive number, if for no other reason than for me to have a percentile to present in this article. However, this has not prevented the great geniuses of the internet from speculating.
My insufficient Googling found that up to 85% of all movies are based on books. Thanks, “Tonia D!” I don’t think it’s that high, but it could be and you get the point by now: there are a lot of freaking book adaptations. Generally, fans of the books are extremely skeptical of adaptations. Ironically, authors tend to be less offended if the film does not stay completely within the confines of the predetermined plot. Why is that so?
I imagine authors able to see their words hit the silver screen must feel pretty good about themselves. A producer had to take the time to read the book, decide they could make a motion picture of it, and then pay them for the rights. Cha-ching. For many individuals moola is enough to make you ditch your previously held convictions. However, I like to believe that authors are nobler than that. Maybe they have discerned a different perspective on the adaptation of literature to film.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, many fans of books become irreverent about the corresponding movies. I must admit, at an earlier age, this would have been me (for the longest time I was upset that Tom Bombadil did not appear in The Lord of the Rings). However, I have come to think that those “super fans” are “super douches.” I understand that everyone is searching for validation, but should one look for it in their devotion to the purity of a storyline? I’d argue not. I think that movies adapted from books and the books themselves should be graded completely independent of one another.
Admittedly, this opinion did not formulate overnight. It required some intentional convincing, but eventually the logical Brent overcame the emotional Brent. For that’s what makes people upset, you see. Reading a book demands more time and, consequently, more emotion. It boroughs into a person’s soul, and when reality differs from expectations, they get hurt. People don’t like to be hurt; it bothers them for some reason. But I digress.
A reasoning person should realize that filmmakers are not required to create a scene-by-scene recreation of the book. Some adaptations end up being quite close. Two that come to mind are Fight Club and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (the similarity in Perks makes perfect sense, considering the author of the book also directed the movie). However, there is no social contract that requires adaptations to be that way. Books are inspiring. However, where’s the inspiration if a film simply mirrors the images conjured in your mind while reading the novel? That almost seems lazy. Let’s examine Silver Linings Playbook.
A favorite of 2012, Silver Linings Playbook was based upon the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick. The premise of the characters and plot were very similar but many key points of the film differed from the book. SINNER! As a result, many fans of the book were upset. Why? It didn’t make the film less impressive. The movie was nominated for Best Picture along with a slew of other Academy Awards. It stands alone as a great work of art. It was inspired by the novel by Matthew Quick but had the panache of the director, David O. Russell, who had personal experience with chemically imbalanced family members (his son). Again, I say, adaptations deserve to be independently judged. All of this was a primer for the next part of the article: the two Gillian Flynn novels hitting the silver screen this year.
Gillian Flynn is an American writer and former television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and as a result two of her three novels are set in her home state. Her novels consistently feature strong female characters who often shatter stereotypes held by misogynists and feminists alike. Her books are mystery thrillers with a dark edge and are listed as follows: Sharp Objects (2006), Dark Places (2009), and Gone Girl (2012). While Flynn had experienced praise from literary luminaries such as Stephen King following her freshman release, she did not receive national attention until her junior-novel, Gone Girl, became The New York Times #1 Bestseller. Because of the hype surrounding Gone Girl, it was quickly noticed by Hollywood as a potential moneymaker. Consequently, the David Fincher film-adaptation will hit theaters in October, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. The lesser known Flynn adaptation will be of Dark Places, set to release in September starring Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Nicholas Hoult.
I have read all three of Flynn’s novels. I recently finished Dark Places and have been anticipating the film’s release. Set in rural Kansas, Libby Day is a pathetic thirty-something-year-old. Sure, her mother and two sisters were murdered and her brother was convicted of the crime, but that was twenty-four years ago. You’d think she would have a job or something by now. Nope. For the past twenty-four years, Libby Day has been deeply depressed. A troubled child, she bounced from family member to family member until she turned eighteen and received the money from her mom’s life insurance. The money that is just about depleted. Needing a way to make cash without really working, Libby stumbles across a fanatical mystery-obsessed group tastelessly called the Kill Club – KC for short. She begins to sell family heirlooms related to the murders until the mystery of her haunted past revisits her. Sounds awesome, right? It was.
Gone Girl was similarly dark, but the mystery was utterly different. Amy and Nick Dunne met in New York. Nick, a transplant from Missouri, and Amy, a native New Yorker, were an odd match; but it worked. Nick was a pop culture writer for a magazine and Amy wrote quizzes for women’s magazines. Upon the deteriorating health of Nick’s mother – and the laying off from his job – the couple moved to Missouri. Amy never felt comfortable in her new environment but coped in order to please her husband. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy went missing. At first, Nick was so completely emotionless that he earned himself the position as the police’s number one suspect. Because of the narration of the story (half by present-day Nick and other half dictated through Amy’s journal entries), the reader is left clueless to the truth. Gone Girl was the apogee of mystery thrillers.
Both films offer promise because the books were just so darn good. If you haven’t read them, make it a priority. Then go see the movies. Dark Places doesn’t have a well-known director at the helm, but the novel and the more-than-capable acting talent should provide a strong foundation. The success of the Gone Girl adaptation almost seems a certainty. With David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, The Social Network) directing, it is hard to imagine a flop. Whether the films stick close to the original storyline or create a unique nuanced creation, I plan to judge them as their own work of art; because that’s what they will be.
Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is working as a freelance writer for Sagamore Institute, creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in public policy.