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"What books have been done well as movies (or TV series)?" Topic

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joedog11 Jul 2019 9:47 p.m. PST

Inspired by the recent "What books should be made into movies?" thread, I was wondering how many of you have a favorite book that has been made into a movie (or TV series) and done in a way that was not a disappointment.

When you post, please explain why the adaptation worked, or why it almost worked. Also, it might be relevant to mention which you encountered first.

joedog11 Jul 2019 10:00 p.m. PST

I'll start off with "The Tripods", a late '80s, low budget BBC series that covered the first two books in the trilogy by John Christopher "The White Mountains" and "The City of Gold and Lead".

I had read the books (several times) before seeing the TV series.

It did a pretty good job, in that late '80s BBC style, of capturing the characters and sticking to the storylines – without leaving out huge chunks of what made the books work.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2019 11:26 p.m. PST

I think Peter Jackson did an excellent job bringing The Lord of the Rings to film.

Like most Tolkein fans I have plenty of nits to pick, but rather than writing a 1.37 million word essay about that, suffice it to say the film trilogy was a smashing success and a job well done.

I read the series in the early eighties and again just before the movies came out, and will probably read it at least once more before I shuffle off this mortal coil. (But next time I will deliberately avoid the epilogue – it's incredibly depressing.)

- Ix

Personal logo Narratio Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2019 11:56 p.m. PST

Sorry to say, I've yet to find one that matches your criteria.

If I've read the book first then there are very specific ideas of what the scenes and characters look like. I remember conversations and if they're not translated to the big/small screen as written I get the old 'nails on a chalkboard' feeling. The reverse however is not true. If I see the movie and then read the book I can accept both.

I suppose the closest was the 70's B&W series of War & Peace with Anthony Hopkins and Alan Dobie

Norrins12 Jul 2019 1:00 a.m. PST

I think Watchmen had a pretty decent film adaptation. Also, I would suggest V for Vendetta.

langobard12 Jul 2019 1:08 a.m. PST

The Longest Day (granted pretty old) or Band of Brothers?

14Bore12 Jul 2019 2:09 a.m. PST

I wish I could say Master and Commander, though in my top 10 movies and read most oif the books isn't from 1 book but a mash-up of a lot of them. It does hold up to historical accuracy very well.

warwell12 Jul 2019 2:14 a.m. PST

Hunt for Red October.
Prior to the final season I would have said Game of Thrones.
I too enjoyed Jackson'said LOTR, but NOT the Hobbit.

Darrell B D Day12 Jul 2019 3:12 a.m. PST

Master and Commander was an enjoyable film in its own right but for me came nowhere near replicating the marvellous books.

I think this is true of many films-of-the-book – treat them as entertainments in their own right and forget about them bringing your favourite books to the screen. The two mediums are so different, it just doesn't work.

I'm currently watching the recent tv version of Catch-22. Reasonably entertaining but it ain't the book.


Lucius12 Jul 2019 3:22 a.m. PST

"Bosch", on Amazon, has been great at blending and updating the 20-odd Harry Bosch detective books. Great books, great TV, lots of differences in the story lines and characters. But it works.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 3:42 a.m. PST

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, obviously and Game of Thrones. Epic fantasy, written long and done long.

Battle books with a human focus--The Longest Day, a Bridge too Far and The Killer Angels/Gettysburg.

Regular TV series--the A&E Nero Wolfe and the Grenada Sherlock Holmes, both of which were straight adaptations of material of suitable length.

And "straight adaptations of material of suitable length" covers a lot of one-off movies too:
Gone with the Wind
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Howard/Oberon/Massey, please)
Captain Blood
The Hound of the Baskervilles (multiple times)
Pride & Prejudice
Sense & Sensibility
And--high on my personal list--Poyntz Tyler's A Garden of Cucumbers, adapted to film as Fitzwilly with Dick van Dyke and Barbara Feldon with a great supporting cast.

Find a good straightforward story. For a TV series, you want short stories of novellas. For a one-off movie, be VERY careful as the page count approaches 300. For a mini-series, there is no limit.

And who says The Longest Day is "pretty old?"

Dynaman878912 Jul 2019 4:05 a.m. PST

The Sharpe TV series. It was kinda cheesy but fun, just like the books.

irishserb12 Jul 2019 4:18 a.m. PST

Blade Runner was far more entertainingly presented than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Personal logo Stosstruppen Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 4:58 a.m. PST

I think The Last Kingdom does a good job.

Dynaman878912 Jul 2019 5:36 a.m. PST

The Expanse – excellent TV series from the books.

Major Mike12 Jul 2019 5:46 a.m. PST

The Shootist, some variations from the book, but both enjoyable.

OneHuaiTicket12 Jul 2019 6:03 a.m. PST

Seconded for The Expanse, great show and excellent books

Irish Marine Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 6:48 a.m. PST

Expanse and Last Kingdom great job on both.

Martian Root Canal12 Jul 2019 6:51 a.m. PST

Third on The Expanse. Best sci-fi series in many years.

joedog12 Jul 2019 8:29 a.m. PST

A few classics that I will throw in here – not all are in the genres represented by the boards (Sci Fi, Fantasy, Pulp).

Captain Blood – to be honest, I probably saw this movie on TV as a child, but read the book as an adult, and then sought out the film – and love both.

An interesting note – I sometimes do a "Great Films Club" at school, and "Captian Blood" is the last black and white film that I show. At the end of the year, when we are discussing the different films we have watched, most fo the students will "remember" Captain Blood as being in color.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and To Kill a Mockingbird

Both of these films get the feel and the most important parts of the novels, and are classics in their own right.
To Kill a Mockingbird has to leave out several subplots from the novel, but gets as much as possible into the time and format, and makes solid choices about what is retained.

joedog12 Jul 2019 8:35 a.m. PST

A recent "near miss" in Science Fiction is "The Martian".

It irks me – the fingernails on chalkboard" thing mentioned earlier by another poster – that they run with the "space pirate" thing when, in the film, they leave out the loss of communications that makes that work. It really seems like they skipped a small scene that would bring it into line – and that causes a major part of the film to be off-kilter.
In fact, I watched the film a second time, thinking that that scene must have been there, but that I must have missed it.

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 9:31 a.m. PST

Dune, loved the movie, loved the book. To be fair I saw the movie first.

LOTR is my favorite book. Peter Jackson doesn't know how to make a good movie. He took the world's greatest fantasy epic and turned it into an action flick with overwrought emotion. Yes the visuals were outstanding, but his pacing was way off. He made watching it very boring. To date, the best adaptation of LOTR was the BBC's radio version in twelve one-hour parts.

batesmotel3412 Jul 2019 9:51 a.m. PST

All Quiet on the Western Front seems to do a good job of capturing the essence of Eric Remarque's novel.


Mollinary12 Jul 2019 10:55 a.m. PST

Don't Look Now, an amazing and much more complex adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier short story. The only example I can think of where the film was incomparably better and more layered than the book.

William Warner12 Jul 2019 11:17 a.m. PST

Hard to beat Lonesome Dove for a TV movie adaptation of a novel.

Personal logo PaulCollins Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 11:28 a.m. PST

I thought both versions of True Grit were good adaptations of the book. My favorite book-to-movie adaptation is Of Mice and Men with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. Not really wargaming related though.

Choctaw12 Jul 2019 11:31 a.m. PST

Lonesome Dove.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 11:49 a.m. PST

Dune, loved the movie, loved the book. To be fair I saw the movie first.
Dune is one of my all-time favorite books.

I thought the 1984 film was bitterly disappointing when it came out. I have since re-evaluated it as "garbage". The characters were all cardboard, the story lacked depth, there were too many liberties taken with the story, and the style of the film was gratingly garish and melodramatic. As you can tell, I'm not a fan. grin

The 3 part Frank Herbert's Dune miniseries was much better. I still found it disappointing, but it's been so long since I watched it, I can't remember my specific complaints anymore.

Honestly, I think there is probably no way to translate such a subtle and complex (and LONG) story onto film.

- Ix

SpuriousMilius12 Jul 2019 11:57 a.m. PST

IMO, The movie trilogy of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is very good & for a TV series adaptation "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" with Jeremy Brett is brilliant.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 12:00 p.m. PST

I just thought of another: Jurassic Park

I read the book shortly after it was published, and after I finished I commented out loud that the pace and (lack of) depth made it just like a movie. A year later they announced it was being made into a movie. LOL!

I actually consider the movie better than the book, because DINOSAURS!!!! I know it's hard to remember that time so long ago when CGI wasn't commonplace and things like alien beasts only looked good when shrouded in obscuring set characteristics (fog, flame, smoke, darkness, blurring, too fast to see, etc.). Jurassic Park launched the CGI revolution in earnest, and I was absolutely over the moon about getting to see walking, breathing, roaring dinosaurs alive on the big screen. I felt just like the paleologists when they encounter the brachiosaurs.

Jeff Goldblum was a great Ian Malcolm, but I admit I liked his character a bit better in the book. He had a lot to say, and there isn't time enough for properly intellectual exposition on film. Especially not in a galloping action adventure.

- Ix

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 12:17 p.m. PST

The 13th Warrior, based on Michael Crichton's Easters of the Dead. Best depiction of Vikings in a movie.

Did I mention how much I loathe Peter Jackson as a film director?

ZULUPAUL Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 12:49 p.m. PST

Outlaw Josie Wales based on a book called "Gone to Texas" read the book & the movie follows it very well.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 1:06 p.m. PST

I should have mentioned 13th Warrior/Eaters of the Dead.

And I see I've also failed to mention Rebecca. And Hell House/Legend of Hell House.

I think in every case on the list except Legend of Hell House, I read the book first--well and Game of Thrones, where Martin still hasn't finished writing the book, and I'm going by common report on the TV series. (I'm not sure how one "encounters" a book, though. Do I sneak up on it while it isn't looking?)

Guiding principles seem to be that it has to be a book or series I enjoy, and while they can drop a sub-plot or so, they really can't change the tone too much. Which is why Eagle of the Ninth/The Eagle, The Puppet Masters and Starship Trooper didn't make the list. And a faithful adaptation of Dune still wouldn't make it because I was deeply unimpressed by the book.

Contrary examples: Omega Man (the Heston version) and I, Robot both rate higher as movies than as books with me, because I thought I am Legend was an off day for Matheson, and as far as I'm concerned, Asimov never had a good day as a writer of fiction. And--though I love them both--Fitzwilly and A Garden of Cucumbers are substantially different. They're just both very good.

Joedog, I have long taken it as a principle that all Errol Flynn movies should be in color, and these days, we have the technology. Black and white piracy and cavalry charges lack something.

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 1:14 p.m. PST

+1 USAFPilot's comments on Dune and LOTR.

I'll say "The Godfather" film is better than the book. Good book. One of the greatest motion pictures of all time.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 2:17 p.m. PST

I guess USAFPilot and I have opposite tastes in movies. grin

LOTR is my favorite book.
He took the world's greatest fantasy epic and turned it into an action flick with overwrought emotion. Yes the visuals were outstanding, but his pacing was way off. He made watching it very boring.
What's funny about this is that I agree about the specific criticisms here: the pacing was WAY off, the film story was basically boiled down to action flick level, the films lacked the depth and complexity of the books, much of the acting seemed a bit too melodramatic. I also agree about Jackson – in general, I dislike his movies. The best thing about them is usually Andy Serkis.

Thing is, I admit there is absolutely no way to bring the LOTR series to life on film and be utterly faithful to the books. Just zero. So I didn't go in expecting a detailed rendition of Tolkein's writing, I went expecting an interpretation that works as a standalone art project in a different medium. I think Jackson got that right.

I really missed Tom Bombadil, and I wish the first movie had the languid background-building pace of the first book, but I understand why I didn't get either. Filmmaking is in many ways an engineering exercise with tough decisions about what to keep and what to throw out. Film time budgets are a tyranny, and production costs and profit motive corrupt all art at least a little bit.

I have lots of other nits to pick too (I hated the stone giants), but overall I think the films rendered Middle Earth into a living, breathing environment quite well, and gave the sense of a larger world with a full past and a long future outside the framework of the story that was a big part of the atmosphere of the story. Faithful? No. Evocative? Yes. Epic? You betcha. A good experience? I thought so.

- Ix

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 2:23 p.m. PST

I still really like the 1992 Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis. I have yet to make it past the first chapter of the book.

I suppose that means I'm not actually qualified to judge how well the film interprets the book, but I can say the film is a way more pleasant experience than the book.

- Ix

Zephyr112 Jul 2019 2:52 p.m. PST

Except for the kid not being fat, "Holes" followed the book almost exactly…

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 3:01 p.m. PST

I thought the BBC's radio adaptation of LOTR was excellent, and it left out Tom Bombadil also. I also think Last of the Mohicans is a great movie. Jackson and his screen writer friends took great source material and made a crappy movie.

FearAndLoathing12 Jul 2019 5:56 p.m. PST

Das Boot (movie followed book very well, at least the cutdown US version I've watched)

Cross of Iron (movie is a lot more accessible than the book, which was a bit over the top about class distinctions in Germany, plus it had a better ending)

Blade Runner (screenplay was better than original book it was derived from)

LOTR while not absolutely faithful managed to hit the high points and I thought followed Tolkien's pacing pretty well as it skipped from one part of the Fellowship to another. Too bad they couldn't add Bombadil in the director's cut. A lot of the imagery was breathtaking. Initially I was a little set back by having a battle clad Arwen save Frodo but I got over it. Liked that they had the elves come to the aid of Theoden in Helm's Deep (I don't think that was in the original. Bernard Hill's Theoden speech "How did it come to this" was wonderful, charge of Rohirrim absolutely breathtaking.

Hobbit films were an abomination, fan fiction at its worst. You couldn't even edit one good movie out of those 3 abortions. Was kind of interested to see what they would do with the Necromancer, but it was terrible. Radagast was an embarrassment. Like later Star Wars series, it seem like they were really hyping the story for kids and merchandising

joedog12 Jul 2019 5:58 p.m. PST

Robert – I don't want to see Captain Bloood colorized – the point of my comment was that the story and the cast are so good that the kids "saw" it in color (or at least remembered it that way). THat is movie-making magic!

This is significant because many young people today find B&W movies "boring" and "hard to follow" (not enough sensory stimulation) – but Captain Blood was an exception.

joedog12 Jul 2019 6:02 p.m. PST

I saw Gettysburg before reading The Killer ANgels – and really like both – despite the terrible portrayal of R.E. Lee as a dithering and senile fool int he film.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 6:30 p.m. PST

The first two Harry Potter movies followed the books closely and were quite good. I saw the first movie before reading the books. Chris Columbus did such a good job that I was totally immersed in the film. It reminded me of when I was a child and would get completely lost in a book, hiding with a flashlight under the covers and reading until three or four in the morning without realizing how late it was. I read the rest of the books and enjoyed them immensely because of the first movie.

I thought the Fellowship of the Ring did a good job of following the book with variations that were necessary. The other two movies left the books too much for my taste. However, the depiction of Gollum/Sméagol was so well done it was actually the first time I felt sorry for him, and I'd been reading the books since the late 70s.

We Were Soldiers is also quite well done.

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 6:37 p.m. PST

I read Killer Angels before seeing the movie. I liked both. Though chances are that if the read a book first then saw the movie, you will be somewhat disappointed in the movie.

FearAndLoathong, I agree with your comments. I think LOTR had some really great scenes and was very visually appealing. I think the screen writing and editing should have been better. As it is, it is kind of a mess.

DnJ, I agree that Fellowship was the best of the three. They did the Balrog right.

Personal logo Gungnir Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 9:45 p.m. PST

Centennial, by James Mitchener.

Shardik12 Jul 2019 9:49 p.m. PST

Last Kingdom, although I'm not a fan of the casting for Uthred.

Also, are the 3-level testudo-like depictions of shield walls accurate or fantasy?

Martin Rapier12 Jul 2019 11:36 p.m. PST

Loads of war books, obvious ones being A Bridge Too Far, A Walk in the Sun, Band of Brothers and The Cruel Sea (one of the finest War films ever made).

I'm a big fan of The Last Kingdom series, and I think the casting of Uthred is spot on for an arrogant warrior.

I am also one of the lonely fans of Lynchs interpretation of Dune. And I got as far as Chapter House Dune….

Gone Girl was a great adaptation, and there have been so many good versions of classics. I am torn between the 1970s TV version of War and Peace and the Russian film of it.

A big shout out for I, Claudius, although not strictly a film.

Korvessa13 Jul 2019 1:15 a.m. PST

I like The Three Musketeers (Salkind version) – some of the more recent ones are abominations.

I loved LotR and don't mind the Hobbit. It doesn't bother me that the Hobbit movie was geared for a younger audience – as you could say the same about the books.

The Sharpe series were good – when you consider the budget (except Sharpe's Gold).

Pictors Studio13 Jul 2019 4:23 a.m. PST

Fight Club. Even the author says that the film is better than the book.

The Shadow13 Jul 2019 7:41 a.m. PST

The Maltese Falcon
The Treasure of Sierra Madre
Treasure Island (Beery)
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Caine Mutiny
The Incredible Shrinking Man (The book was titled "The Shrinking Man")
Lonesome Dove
Fail Safe
The Manchurian Candidate (Sinatra/Leigh)

goragrad13 Jul 2019 11:02 a.m. PST

Hunger Games movies were done well and faithful to the books which I had read previously.

Not a favorite (it was a class reading assignment) I found the movie Naked and the Dead much better than the book – got rid of a lot of Mailer's verbose internals.

The Polish Trilogy was done well. Would have liked to see the postscript battles in the movies, but one can't have everything.

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