Tag Archives: book to film

Better Than the Book: How ‘Drive’ Breaks the Rules

Gabe Habash -- September 19th, 2011

This article contains spoilers.

According to statistics, “The book was better than the movie” is the #2 most-said quote from people leaving theaters–behind “How does Kevin James keep finding work?”–and it’s been that way for decades. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule (exhibit A; exhibit B), but if there’s a story that’s been told both on a screen and on a page, you can safely assume the latter is the superior version.

But why? Why do books so often trump their screen adaptations? And what’s the key to the inverse: how can a movie be the pretty sibling for once? Luckily, this past weekend’s release of Drive starring Ryan Gosling, based on the spare novel Drive by James Sallis from 2005, is just such a rare case: it’s a story that works far better as a movie than as a book.

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Is the Screen Always Worse Than the Page?

Rachel Deahl -- August 26th, 2011

The critics have been rather unkind towards One Day (unfairly so, if you ask me), but all the hullabaloo about the tepidly-received adaptation of David Nicholls’s novel has made a favorite parlor game bubble to the surface: can movie versions of books ever compare to the original? (At NyMag.com many fans are talking about books that Hollywood shouldn’t touch;  The Atlantic took One Day as an opportunity to discuss some of the eternal problems with romance on screen.)

As Slate critic Dana Stevens noted in her (mostly positive reviews) of the current Graham Greene adaptation, Brighton Rock, there is “some pretty robust evidence” proving great literature does not usually become great films. Of course, as Stevens then goes onto explain, Graham Greene, and this thriller in particular, has proven unusually fertile ground for many filmmakers.

For awhile I had a theory that literary novels were the toughest to translate to film. Genre works—a dicey and tricky description in and of itself—were the way to go. This, I assumed, accounted for the fact that so many of my favorite science fiction films are based on Phillip K. Dick novels (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall); that a few of my favorite Hitchcock novels are based on Daphne Du Maurier works (Rebecca and The Birds); and that Anthony Minghella, a director who is no stranger to turning popular, bestselling literary works into films, was at his best working off of a Patricia Highsmith novel, with The Talented Mr. Ripley. (I should note, though, that anyone who watches Hollywood science fiction films has probably enjoyed something from Phillip K. Dick, given his all-over-the-map-ness in this area—the dude has well over 100 film credits to his name!)
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PW at the Movies: A Review of ‘One Day’

Rachel Deahl -- August 17th, 2011

I know what you’re thinking: PW stopped going to the movies! It’s a fair assumption-the last time we got all critical on a cinematic literary adaptation was, cough, 2010. But we have been going to the movies…and we’re still as critical as ever. We’ve kept you waiting too long so, without further ado, your favorite book-review-editing-and-news-covering-and-sometime-movie-reviewing duo, Rachel Deahl and Mike Harvkey, give you the skinny on One Day:

Rachel says: I have a love-hate relationship with romantic comedies. Love-hate might not even be the right term—it’s more Jekyll and Hyde. I love a cloying love story as much as the next gal, and I’ll watch drivel in the name of a decent meet-cute, but the bar with romantic comedies has been set so low that most genre offerings these days feel like an affront to female actresses and female viewers. Romantic comedies entered a dark age somewhere in between the time John Cusack ruined teenage girls for all other men in the 1980s as Lloyd Dobbler and Julia Roberts convinced us that hookers really could be carefree and downright buoyant, in the early ‘90s. That Hollywood has issues with women being funny—see the myriad stories about all the producers in Tinseltown who said Bridesmaids would never make a dime because it was headlined by an all-female cast and, gasp, features chicks doing such dude-like things as being sexually aggressive and flat-out gross—is one problem. The other problem seems to be laziness: if audiences already know what’s going to happen (boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy regains girl) what’s the point of filling the gaps along the way with multi-dimensional characters or, you know, humor?

By the aforementioned standards, One Day, which some people might classify as a romance more than romantic comedy—I say it’s the latter—is a joy. It’s not terribly inventive, the plot device of following a friends-to-lovers couple over the same day for 20 years is particularly forced, but it works. The second feature from Random House Films (after the disappointing 2007 film Reservation Road), One Day, based on David Nicholls’s novel of the same name, shows a surprising amount of humor and depth.

British university classmates Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) have a brush with a potential one-night stand on a boozy night after graduation but, instead, start a decades-long friendship that is always skirting the line between friendship and something more. As their lives diverge but continue to cross—the bookish and self-deprecating Emma blossoms while the womanizing Dexter slips into an indulgent life of drugs and B-list celebrity-dom—the snapshots provide a glimpse into the evolving relationship as well as the changing characters.

Although the structure is contrived, it sets a welcome pace. The jumping-around also offers a bit of relief for some unexpectedly dark, though also pat, episodes involving Dexter’s downward spiral.

Nicholls wrote the screenplay and one of the strongest elements of One Day is that, even at its most expected turns (and there are a few), it maintains an air of legitimacy through above-average dialogue and nuanced characters. One Day also does a fine job of subtly capturing the ‘80s and ‘90s, through a British prism. Director Lone Sherfig, who skillfully evoked the London of the ‘60s in An Education, ably brings us through the years of mix tapes, combat boots and coke without losing sight of her focus: Dexter and Emma.

Mike Says: Being a guy, though not necessarily a dude (or, yet, a man, sadly), I don’t really have a love-hate bond with the rom-com. Basically I ignore the genre entirely until the wheat separates naturally from the chaff and one movie more than all others simply must be seen this fall, spring, etc.—or I go all selfless and suggest to my wife that we see that nice fluffy flick playing around the corner, a flick she may have mentioned in passing, a flick that she will not exit crying at the horrors of humanity, as typically happens when I make selfish cinematic choices, as films like Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, or The Killers are more my speed.

Thus, my take on One Day differs a bit from Rachel’s, though ultimately I agree: it works. Boy, does it work. It’s the Million Dollar Baby of Romantic Comedies; its efficacy simply won’t be denied. Resistance is futile. George Lucas once said, “Drama is easy. Grab a kitten, hold its head in a puddle,” or words to that effect. Love him, hate him, or both, he’s right, and it is this level of drama—and nuance—that One Day achieves. Which is fine. Not everything has to be subtle, deep, profound. The book wasn’t, and Lone Scherfig has captured its spirit in her medium. One Day is a Tragic Romance. A film told in a year at a time can’t capture subtlety; it’s simply not in its DNA. It exists to capture the big events, the major successes, the crushing defeats. Life! Catharsis means “to purge” and One Day is like an emotional Heimlich maneuver.

For me, it’s the details that make One Day break down (though it hardly matters). Why does Lone Scherfig continue to cast Americans to play Brits? In An Education, Peter Sarsgaard could actually speak the Queen’s English without looking like he’d just come from the dentist. He actually did a great job. The same can’t be said for Anne Hathaway, whose accent veers wildly and never seems to settle. And look, there’s Patricia Clarkson, doing it too, and achieving the same level of unease. Scherfig is Danish, not British, and like many outsiders, seems to lack the ear for the subtleties of the English accent. Finally, I simply don’t get Jim Sturgess. Why is he having such a great career? I’ve never seen him in anything where he didn’t appear to be acting. In The Way Back, Ed Harris swept the forest floor with him. He and Hathaway don’t really have much chemistry in One Day, which in any other film would be deadly; in One Day, which is more machine than film, we accept that the chemistry they obviously have is a foregone conclusion. Because it is.

Vintage has 265,000 copies the movie tie-in edition in print, and 400,000 copies of the non-tie-in edition.

Rachel Deahl is senior news editor at PW; Mike Harvkey is deputy reviews editor.

PW at the Movies: A Review of ‘127 Hours’

Rachel Deahl -- November 1st, 2010

Brought to you, commercial free, by PW news editor Rachel Deahl and online reviews editor Mike Harvkey.

Spoiler alert: the review below may, depending on your opinion, contain spoilers

Rachel: 127 Hours is, ostensibly, about Aron Ralston, the outdoorsman who earned his 15 minutes after, in 2003, he hacked off nearly half of his arm because he got it caught behind a rock in Canyonlands National Park. But director Danny Boyle’s film isn’t really about Ralston, it’s about that arm.

Based on Ralston’s 2004 memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Atria), 127 Hours—the title refers to the amount of time Ralston was trapped with limited water (and even less food)—initially seems like something of a cinematic experiment. How do you create an arc, and dramatic tension, in a story about one character, stuck in one place, where viewers, by and large, know the outcome? To his credit Boyle, and his charismatic star, James Franco, do a more than serviceable job on this front. 127 Hours moves at a steady click and never feels boring or claustrophobic.

Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), who’s known for frenetic camera work and bright pops of color, brings that trademark style to bear here. And, surprisingly, shots that might have come off as canned vistas of the American West—there are more than a few swooping takes of a blue sky against the dramatic browns and reds of the breathtaking Utah desert—work to good effect, reinforcing the bleakness of Ralston’s ‘in the middle of nowhere’ situation. (His hand got caught, on a lark, when a rock fell and trapped him as he was descending into a cave-like area.)

And Franco is excellent as Ralston. Talking at turns to himself and into the video camera he’d brought with him—it’s perched on the rock that looks likely to cause his death—Franco brings a sense of playfulness and levity to the film. He also gives the seemingly flat Ralston—an engineer who works in a camping store and moonlights as a search-and-rescue volunteer—some depth, focusing on the 26-year-old’s painful realization that his selfishness put him in this fatal situation. (It was the fact that Ralston told no one where he was going that ensured no rescue team would be sent to find him.)

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