12 July 2012

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Great Books Adapted Into Great Films

This year sees the long-awaited screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic 1950’s Beat Generation novel, On the Road.

Aired in Cannes in May, the film has received mixed reviews and anyone who held a copy of Kerouac’s cult classic close to their chest while undertaking their own adventures will no doubt be in two minds whether to see their beloved characters brought to the big screen.

That’s the thing about adapting a moving picture from the written word: you’re going to have to fill in the pictures yourself and they won’t always be how they were first envisaged within a reader’s imagination.

I personally loved On the Road and was incredibly jealous of the bravery and conversational intelligence of the likes of Sal Paradise and his friend Dean Moriarty. In some ways I tried to emulate the pair by going off on my own travels through Europe however, what I encountered was never quite as exciting and yet with my well-thumbed copy of Kerouac’s classic by my side I still felt that I was embarking on a beatific
adventure holiday trip of my very own.

Now, with the film being shown to a wider audience and possibly the book being confined to the shelves of the past, I got to wondering what previous adaptations have done a good job of presenting prose on the silver screen.

Below, in my opinion, are three of the best books to grace the big screen and do the written version justice.

Just the front cover of this 1974 book by Peter Benchley was enough to strike fear into the hearts of lone swimmers and with plenty of minor sub-plots and back story to the residents of Amity, this novel provided a wonderful portrayal of what can happen at any seaside resort if you have enough imagination.

Straight from the start, the 1975 movie of Jaws was all about the animal and from the posters depicting an open shark’s mouth to the killer E and F theme tune, Spielberg’s film version provided some spine-chilling moments that thrust audiences deep into their cinema seats behind shaking bags of popcorn.

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The 1962 novel by Ken Kesey takes place in an Oregon psychiatric hospital and is narrated by a half-Native American patient who is commonly known as ‘Chief’. Chief tells the story of a conman, Randle McMurphy, who fakes insanity to get out of a jail sentence. McMurphy does his best to enrage the head nurse, Mildred Ratched, with humorous, followed by heart-wrenching, results.

Where the book allows us to follow the antics of McMurphy from the Chief’s perspective the film is all about the Oscar-winning performance of Jack Nicholson and from the moment he appears on the screen audiences are advised to hold on to their emotions for they’re in for a roller-coaster ride.

I first read the 1993 version of Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh when I was undertaking volunteer work abroad in China. Although I was obviously thousands of miles away from the tenements of Leith in Edinburgh I was immediately transported into the lives of Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie and spat out the other side quicker than a suppository in the worst toilets in the world.

When I returned from China, three years later, I was treated to a dose of Trainspotting on the big screen and where Welsh’s novel was a series of short stories, the film version was one long electrifying and fast-paced romp featuring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and the best soundtrack that anyone had heard for years.

 So, there you go, you can have your cake and eat it. A film adaptation of a book doesn’t have to lose any of the credibility or the sensibilities of its literary counterpart and further novels such as: Watership Down, The Road and Steven King’s The Shining only reiterate this. Will Kerouac’s On the Road the movie be just as good as the book? Personally, I doubt it but there’s only one way to find out!

About Today's Contributor:
Chris probably won’t be going to the cinema to watch the film of On the Road however, he will be downloading it just in time to watch it on his next adventure holiday to Asia.

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