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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The List: Unfaithful Adaptations That Worked

Sometimes we fans foam at the mouth when a film adaptation of our favorite book strays from the source and produces a new interpretation. Some books, however, have spawned films that go in a new direction and succeed because of it. Here's Celluloitering's list of adaptations that achieved greatness by straying from the source material.

1) The Shining
Stephen King notoriously loathed Stanley Kubrick's rendition of the The Shining. Although the film is very different and Nicholson's performance veers away from King's literary depiction of Jack Torrance, the resulting film is so visually arresting that it takes on a life of its own that is completely separate from the novel. Sure, a miniseries came out later that was completely faithful, just as King wanted, but it fell flat precisely because it was too painstakingly true to the book (well, that and it stars Steven Webber of the sitcom Wings).

2) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I love Roald Dahl and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite books growing up. The 1971 film adaptation by Mel Stuart borrows more of its aesthetic and quirks from the psychedelic film era than from Dahl's book. It's kaleidescopic weirdness is perfect for its time, and the unexpected casting of Gene Wilder is oddly fitting.

3) Carrie
The literary character of Carrie is hardly as beautiful or ethereal as Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma's film. Still, De Palma's changes to Stephen King's original novel all served to make Carrie more of a sympathetic monster.

Robert Altman took the bare bones of Edmund Naughton's novel and created one of the greatest alternative "modern" westerns in film history. The unexpected soundtrack by Leonard Cohen makes it that much more awesome.

Howard Hawks' 1940 adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's play The Front Page brilliantly plays with gender, making Hildy's character a woman (played by Rosalind Russell) in this romantic comedy about the newspaper business.

7) The Wizard of Oz
VIctor Fleming tweaked L. Frank Baum's novel to maximize the visual impact of The Wizard of Oz. The silver slippers of the book became ruby slippers. The often friendly flying monkeys of the book become terrifying spectres (or at least I thought so as a child) and the hammerheads and deadly desert are, due to the technological limitations of the time, edited out completely. The result may have received mixed critical reviews but today it stands as one of the most beloved early color films.


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