A Tribute to Oscar: How Good & Bad Film Adaptations Occur?

27 Feb

As Hollywood prepare for the 2014 Academy Awards we thought we pay tribute to film adaptations. Why? Because each month we review upcoming film adaptation’s with our sister site Page to Silver Screen to try and understand how good and bad film adaptations occur. Yes! The biggest fear for a fan is their favorite book will turn into shallow pulp once in film. However, it can be said not all of film adaptations are all bad.  To prove this theory our LIH Staff has selected their favorite film adaptations to see what made them so good. We hope you enjoy!

Comic Relief- To Kill a Mocking Bird (Screenwriter Horton Foot: Won the Oscar for best screenplay and writing in 1962).

One on my favorite film adaptations ever was 1962’s, To Kill A Mocking Bird.  Incidentally this classic will probably always be on a few personal favorite lists.

·         Best American Trial Films

·         Best performance by a leading man

·         Greatest Civil Rights films

Robert Mulligan’s film version differs from the book version by eliminating all the character subplots that we’re dumped from Harper lee’s book version.  It’s fairly easy to overlook that the character “Dill” may have been the novelist Truman Capote because the character had so little screen time. Also who would have guessed the two novelists knew each other.

LittleBells- Driving Miss Daisy (Screenwriter Alfred Uhry: Won the Oscar for Best writing and screenplay based on material from another medium in 1990).

Driving Miss Daisy is a beautiful film about an old Jewish woman, living in the South, who develops a friendship that grows and develops over many years with her African American chauffeur.  Based on Alfred Uhry’s screenplay of the same name, it won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Writing/Screenplay based on source from another medium, and Best Make up.  I have not had a chance to read the play, so I cannot make any comparisons.  However, as a Pulitzer Prize winner, I can only assume it is as wonderful as the film.  The writing and acting of Morgan Freeman and the late Jessica Tandy make this film a classic.

Open Book-Ordinary People (Screenwriter Alvin Sargent: Won the Oscar for Best writing and screenplay in 1980).

Ordinary People was Judith Guest first novel and it was published in 1976. Ordinary People became one of the great bestsellers of the late 20th century.  What I like about this story is that it deals with healing and rebuilding a ruined world, rather than about how that world got ruined in the first place.  For all its depressing moments and disturbing psychological implications, Ordinary People is an optimistic novel: it shows that a meaningful father-son relationship can emerge despite a terrible past and problems with communication.  Alvin Sargent meticulously adapted Guest’s novel for the screen so that the Jarretts become important people without losing their ordinariness or without being patronized or satirized.

Ozzie- The Wolf of Wall Street (Screenwriter Terence Winter is a 2014 Oscar nominee for best writing and adapted screenplay).

I chose to read The Wolf of Wall Street. There are quite a lot of differences between the book and the film, however I believe these changes enhanced the film. The film it’s self is 3 hours long, had they included everything that happens in the book the film would of gone on for a few more hours! The adaption pared the story back to focus just on Stratton Oakmont, the antics of the money laundering in Switzerland, then jumps to the point where everything spirals out of control. Anything more would have become too confusing. The film also borrows details from his second book, Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, which recounts a more in depth look into his past and his co-operation with the police.

The book jumps about through time more whereas the film has a more linear way of telling the story. It can get a bit confusing at times but I feel it actually adds to the tone of the story. Jordan is high a lot during the period of the book so the jumping gives a feel as to how his mind was like at that time. It’s told in exactly the same way as the film is, through eyes and his narration. The pace of the story is fast and it sucks you into it quite quickly. I didn’t want to put it down! There are more important events and characters in the book. The events that don’t feature in the film are still funny and interesting too. He had fingers in many pies, not just Stratton Oakmount! At times the extra characters can be confusing though. The only thing I found really annoying was how he kept referring to the “loamy loins” of whatever woman he was sleeping with. I lost count of the number of times he used it! Overall it’s an interesting look into the mind of Jordan, the world of stock markets, greed and just how far a person will go to make money.

ParisienneSchindler’s List (Screenwriter Steven Zaillian: Won the Oscar for Best writing and screenplay in 1994).

I have not read the book but I have seen a documentary on Oskar Schindler a few years ago made by Thomas Keneally.  Keneally wrote Schindler’s Ark from information given to him by Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor and one of the many people whose life was spared due to the efforts of Mr. Schindler.

The book is the basis for the film Schindler’s List directed by Stephen Spielberg.  Mr. Spielberg was awarded the Oscar for Best Director in 1994.

Here are the 2014 Oscar nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay. Who do you vote for?

1. “Before Midnight” Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
2. “Captain Phillips” Screenplay by Billy Ray
3. “Philomena” Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
4. “12 Years a Slave” Screenplay by John Ridley
5. “The Wolf of Wall Street” Screenplay by Terence Winter

7 Responses to “A Tribute to Oscar: How Good & Bad Film Adaptations Occur?”

  1. littlebells February 27, 2014 at 4:47 PM #

    Great list!!! TKAM was the first film I saw that had been adapted by the book. I remember reading the book and falling deeply in love with it. Gregory Peck and the rest of the cast took that love and expanded it. First time I saw Robert Duvall as well and wow! His Boo Radley was so tender. Excellent adaptation in my opinion. I have a fondness for both mediums.

  2. littlebells February 27, 2014 at 4:55 PM #

    For everyone:

    What is it about the adaptation process that made these films as successful as their books?

    • Open Book February 28, 2014 at 4:24 PM #

      Good question. I know it’s impossible to have the film be exactly like the book. However, what made all these film adaptations good they did not make too many changes and stayed true to the source material. Plus they had a good cast and dialogue to connect with the heart and mind. Also, I think it’s important to set up the climatic moment really well in a way that does not overwhelm or underwhelm the audience. It’s a tricky balancing act that is hard to master. I hope that made sense?

  3. littlebells February 27, 2014 at 4:59 PM #

    I’m embarrassed to say I have not seen any of this year’s nominations. Too little time or money. 😦

    • Open Book February 28, 2014 at 4:28 PM #

      I’ve seen only 1 of the 5 nominated for best film adaptation. That film was 12 years a slave. I now want to read The Wolf of Wall Street given Ozzie’s great review but I will more than likely see the film beforehand.

  4. Open Book February 28, 2014 at 4:43 PM #

    LB- I have to admit I hate “Driving Miss Daisy” simply because it won Best Picture instead of “Do The Right Thing.” But I will give u a chance to defend yourself because I typically love all the books and films u suggest. 🙂

    Why do u love this film?

  5. Open Book February 28, 2014 at 4:53 PM #


    I’ve often debated on this topic of non-fiction and fictional film adaptations. Do u think non-fictional film adaptations resonate more with audiences as oppose to those based on fiction? If so can u explain the reason for it?

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