Thursday, 2 June 2011

List #3 Top Five... books that should NEVER be made into films

Friday is list day, but, inspired by this post at Wide Screen World on books-of-the-movie, I was immediately given to think about which books I really don't want to be turned into films. Because you just know that one day, they will be...

5. Marvel 1602
Even in light of the recent success of X-Men: First Class, I would still hate to see this fabulous re-imagining by Neil Gaiman of the Marvel universe in the Tudor Age of Discovery. The setting & story just fit perfectly with the comic-book medium; a film adap would greatly diminish the concept, particularly given the episodic nature of the plot.

4. Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell
Susanna Clarke's literary wizarding classic was optioned by New Line in a post-Potter/LOTR myths 'n' magic frenzy, though production has never really got going. I suppose this could work, in the most basic terms of the plot, but it would lose all of the beauty of this unusual book - for a start, it's massive, and for a second thing, much of the exposition and in-universe detail is explained through footnotes and other literary devices that can't work on screen.

3. The Master & Margarita*
In 2004 I saw a pretty dreadful theatrical version of Bulgakov's classic Satanic satire - not the fault of the company, I should add: I just believe this book to be unadaptable. That said, I was twenty pages into writing an adaptation myself a few years back before my old PC crashed and I lost everything, which is probably for the best. Terrifyingly, Andrew Lloyd Webber was planning a stage musical version; thankfully this has now been kiboshed.

2. The Corrections
Notorious Oprah-dodger Jonathan Franzen's meisterwerk was optioned ten years ago, with a screenplay in production ever since. It doesn't surprise me that it hasn't reached fruition, given that the (brilliant) novel surely just contains too much to be viable on-screen. Even a 10 or 15 hour mini-series wouldn't really do justice to the multifarious and deep strands of social commentary involved.

1. The Secret History
This one's been looming on the horizon for some time, though I do wonder if it'll ever be made. A heady mix of sex, murder and Dionysius at an exclusive Vermont liberal arts college, Donna Tartt's book sold millions worldwide, making it pure catnip to studio execs (horny teens + proven source material = $$$). Word is that the property has been passed from pillar to post and remains in limbo for the foreseeable future.

I can think of a fair few others, but the above are books I feel particularly passionate about. What it really comes down to is the fact that, while the book and the film are both great media for storytelling, they have completely different strengths. Films are more immediate and have a visual, kinetic and sonic palette that books obviously lack. Novels are harder work, but correspondingly much more immersive and detailed, allowing for far greater character development, an almost unlimited attention span on the part of the reader (if the book's good enough) and much more freedom to bend or break the basic rules of storytelling.

As ever, comments and opinions are welcome...

*I'm cheating slightly here, as M&M was actually made into a film a few years back. However, given that it was a Russian production that never actually saw release, I think it still counts. It's a really brilliant novel BTW.


  1. Only read number 4 and number 1 and completely agree with you on both of them - far as I can remember, The Secret History is creepily bizarre and that would be completely destroyed if it were made into some blockbuster movie, unless it were done in a very art-house style.