The coming months promise a long list of films based on books. Some, such as “Life of Pi,” have never graced the big screen; others, including “Anna Karenina,” have enjoyed multiple incarnations. Today, the book-to-movie season opens with “Wuthering Heights” and part two of “Atlas Shrugged” hitting area theaters.
So what makes a good adaptation?
“The greatest quote about adaptations, and I didn’t come up with it: It’s like turning soup back into bouillon,” said Steven Chbosky in a recent interview with The Post. The author of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” pulverized his coming-of-age novel to turn it into a movie, which opened to positive reviews last month. “It’s finding that central story,” he said.
According to Georgetown University scriptwriting professor John Glavin, there are two approaches to reimagining a book. One is straight imitation. Think of it as “The Hunger Games” method. “That may mean success in the judgment of readers, but it generally produces a pretty poor movie,” Glavin said.
Better adaptations arise from a less conventional technique, according to Glavin, one in which screenwriters reinvent the book to suit the movie medium.
“That’s why there are very few great movies made from great books, but any number of great movies made from deeply forgettable books,” he said. “We can’t forget ‘Vertigo,’ and we can’t recall ‘D’Entre Les Morts,’ the book it adapted.”
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to please superfans of well-known works. Peter Blau, the head of the Red Circle, the Washington headquarters for fans of Sherlock Holmes, has seen countless adaptations involving Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous protagonist. But he prizes entertainment value over scrupulous replication.
“Some Sherlockians are purists. They really are not happy with things that are not faithful to the canons,” he said. “If somebody goes too far afield, some people get grumpy. I don’t. I think it depends on how well whatever it is is done.”
Read on to see what books are coming to the movie theater and when (opening dates are subject to change), and get an early feel for each film’s likelihood of success.
(Opens Oct. 26)
The book: David Mitchell exploded the notion of the straight narrative without appearing gimmicky, which may explain why his inventive 2004 novel was a Booker Prize finalist and won the British Book Award for literary fiction. The novel follows six wildly different tales that span centuries, including a 1970s suspense following a whistleblower journalist, a post-apocalyptic tribesman in a nearly technology-free world and a shipwrecked notary in the 1850s. Each tale lives inside another, so that the first half of the book tells the first half of each of the six stories and ends where it began.