What Makes a Great Adaptation?

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a film adaptation of a novel that really engaged me. Usually, I’m bored out of my mind, no matter how technically “well made” the movie actually is. I know what’s going to happen, and I know how the characters are going to react, so why can’t we just get on with it already? (This is the same reason that I don’t generally re-watch movies or TV shows…I always need new experiences.) “House of Sand and Fog,” despite great performances and tight writing and faithful adaptation, bored me to tears. Same with “Wonder Boys.”

The only exception, I suppose, are those adaptations that truly do something new with the material, that offer some striking new vision. Obviously, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy falls into this category. And “The Mist,” which–despite its horrendous ending–gave us such a great visual depiction of the original story that I was actually frightened in a new and different way. And “There Will Be Blood,” which was such a completely different version of Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!” that it felt like a different chapter in these characters’ lives altogether.

“The Road” is one of these exceptions, as well, a faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel that is worth seeing even if you’ve read the book. The visuals are just terrifying enough that we keep forgetting what we know will happen, that we think–perhaps–this world has assumed a life of its own and that it will break free and behave in a way entirely different than what we read in McCarthy’s version. That’s what I want in a film adaptation: to be continually surprised. I don’t want the remake of “Psycho,” which was a psychotic love letter to Hitchcock, a shot by shot refilming. No, sir. I want the director to have a vision all his own, one inspired by the writer, but one that feels free enough to allow our imagination to wander, so that the world feels fresh and the plot feels undecided.

The movie isn’t perfect, of course. I thought it became a tad melodramatic in the closing moments. But its portrait of post-apocalypse feels stark, haunting, and Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the father brings something to the story that I had not envisioned while reading McCarthy’s novel. And that’s what makes a great adaptation.

One response to “What Makes a Great Adaptation?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: