From the page to the screen: great books made into great films

Ben Raymond

By Ben Raymond

Staff Reporter

As long as there has been film, there have been film adaptations of famous literature.

From the 1931 monster-movie renditions of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Brad Stoker’s “Dracula,” to the modern-day frenzy for the likes of “Harry Potter” and “The Da Vinci Code,” the demand for book-to-movie adaptation is fierce.

The harbingers of Oscar season are afoot, and a theme is beginning to emerge. Some of the most promising, Oscar-worthy films have their roots on the written page.

“The Kite Runner”

By Khaled Hosseini

Villanova’s “One Book Villanova” selection in 2005 is now a feature film and, in all likelihood, an early favorite for a best picture nod at the Oscar nominations ceremony this coming January.

“The Kite Runner” tells the dramatic story of two young Afghani boys made to deal with feelings of guilt and despair following a series of tragedies during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Hosseini’s work, as well as being a national bestseller, was the first book ever to be translated into English by an author from Afghanistan.

High praise from literary critics and readers the country over means only one thing: movie deal.

The first trailer for the film was released a few weeks back, and early buzz is positive.

“The Kite Runner” goes into limited release on Nov. 2, prime positioning for a run for an Oscar.

Lofty morals, been-there-cried-for-that social commentary, childhood trauma and raging Islamic sympathy, you can’t fit the best-pic prototype any better.

“The Golden Compass”

By Philip Pullman

The first book in Pullman’s highly acclaimed “His Dark Materials” fantasy trilogy, “The Golden Compass” comes to the big screen this December.

Starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Nicole Kidman and “James Bond” cohorts Daniel Craig and Eva Green, the film is produced (the budget is rumored to be upward of $200 million) by New Line Cinema, the production company behind another fantasy trilogy you might have heard of, “The Lord of the Rings.”

Although no one expects “The Golden Compass” to be nearly as successful or of equal quality to its predecessor, it appears safe to assume it will provide Christmastime moviegoers of all ages reason to flock to theaters.

Star-power, millions upon millions worth of visual effects and a massive advertising blitz (soon to begin) will make the film one of the most anticipated films at the year’s end.

“The Golden Compass” will surely be followed by movie adaptations of the next two books in the trilogy.

Caught somewhere between the buoyancy of C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” and the gloom of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” the film will have broad appeal. Those who love a hearty, Christian-themed bludgeoning, as well as the geekiest of fantasy junkies, will be at the box office in full force.

“No Country for Old Men”

By Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy, recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his masterpiece “The Road”, is, in my humble opinion, the best author working today. McCarthy’s penchant for the most visceral storytelling in contemporary lit has made him a living legend among the literary elite.

He writes with such emotional intensity and with imagery so vivid that his books possess a unique and inescapable hypnotic power.

But the reader’s entrancement is frequently broken when McCarthy’s trademark streak of violence rears its ugly head. McCarthy is a veritable composer of carnage. His books are rousing, manic concertos of bloodlust, entrails and bodily horridness.

He conducts these symphonies with such rampant sadism that it’s impossible not to question the man’s sanity.

As nauseating as they are, and as unsettling a quality as they possess, they are, unarguably, a testament to McCarthy’s matchless power as a writer.

I’ll give you a taste of the violence I speak of. In McCarthy’s most famous work, “Blood Meridian” (one of the best books written since Hemingway’s passing), a band of deserted soldiers ravage a Native American village, slaughtering men, women and children alike.

At the end of the chapter, a dead tree stands tall in the warm morning sunlight, covered in the mangled corpses of a dozen infants massacred by the men the night before.

This, my friends, is great writing-as difficult as it is to swallow.

This November, one of McCarthy’s lesser-known works, “No Country for Old Men,” comes to the silver screen as the latest film by visionary filmmaking team Joel and Ethan Coen (“Blood Simple,” “Fargo”).

The film is a cat-and-mouse tale about a Western sheriff (Josh Brolin) who, upon stumbling across a gruesome crime scene and a satchel full of cash, is pursued by the money’s owner, psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).

Chigurh is an awkward, yet exacting, assassin who quite literally butchers his victims using an air-pressurized rifle typically used in slaughtering cattle.

One can easily see the symbolism here that compensates for the sick imagination it takes to think of such dreadfulness.

Also starring the incomparable Tommy Lee Jones, “No Country for Old Men” is another early Oscar favorite and the most anticipated film of the remainder of the year for yours truly.


By Ian McEwan

Mark my words, readers; the name in the best picture envelope at the Oscars next February will read “Atonement.” I’m saying it now so you might look back and know just how fantastic I really am.

All joking aside, the critical reception for “Atonement” has included some of the mightiest praise in years.

Superlatives like “instant classic” and “one of the greatest films in half a century” have been thrown the film’s way.

It might seem a little early to be wielding such grand commendations, but the universality of the film’s positive response has many cinephiles giddy with anticipation.

Adapted from the novel by Ian McEwan, “Atonement” is a sprawling romance about a young girl whose jealousy of her older sister compels her to slander her lover, accusing him of a crime he did not commit.

After he is sent off to war, the two sisters battle their past and attempt to reclaim the lives they left behind.

Starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy (“The Last King of Scotland”) and directed by Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice”), “Atonement” looks to be one of the best films of this decade and beyond.

“The Lovely Bones”

By Alice Sebold

Although the film is not set for release until the fall of 2008, I feel compelled to call attention to the upcoming film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” One of the finest, most jarring tragedies in contemporary literature, “The Lovely Bones” is possibly the best work of fiction written this decade.

“The Lovely Bones” is the posthumous memoir of a 13-year-old girl who, after being savagely raped and murdered, helplessly watches her family, friends and killer from heaven as their lives, happiness and faith are slowly torn apart by her death. Steeped in sickening violence and grief, yet written in a whimsical, potently adolescent voice, the book is a work of almost unbearable emotional brutality. It is an audacious, exultant story whose playfulness and pathos make for a powerful, tenacious modern tragedy.

I fear the movie adaptation has an impossible task at hand. Trying to match Sebold’s cathartic emotion will be an exercise in futility.

However, with “The Lord of the Rings” writer and director Peter Jackson at the helm, there is reason for excitement.

With Stanley Tucci and Ryan Gosling, “The Lovely Bones” has a massive potential for greatness in its own right.

It will be interesting to see not only the translation from page to screen, but also how Jackson handles a small film that demands less in the way of scope and more in the way of intimacy.

Filming begins this October not on a lonely set in the bowels of Hollywood, but on-location not a half hour away in the streets of neighboring Norristown.

That’s right. Norristown. Can you say “extra”?