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A good movie or TV adaptation of a book can enhance its source material and introduce the books they’re based on to a wider audience. From “Catching Fire” to “Gone Girl,” here are some of The Crimson Arts’ favorite (and one not-so favorite) book-to-screen adaptations!
The screen adaptation of “The Godfather” is a rare instance where an adaptation eclipses the original piece of art. Widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, “The Godfather,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1972, follows a powerful Italian crime family through their saga of triumphs and defeats. However, the iconic film was based on a lesser-known book by Mario Puzo, published three years prior. Puzo’s novel is an exemplary work of gangster fiction and a great piece of art in its own right, delving into complex and memorable characters, tangled familial relationships, and the subtle hierarchies of the mafia. And yet how is it that Puzo’s book is viewed merely as an excellent crime thriller, while the film is considered a masterpiece of cinema?
For art to be a masterpiece, it must be so creative and original that it overwhelms us with its storytelling power. The book is nothing quite so spectacular, but it does provide a riveting story that the movie uses as the canvas for its art. Everything about “The Godfather” film is utterly superb, from its Oscar-winning acting, rich and impeccably-paced plot, andbeautifully gut-wrenching score; to the way its setting and story are brought to life through a clear directorial vision. The film deserves its hype — it elevates Puzo’s book in every regard, transcending the original novel and cementing it as one of the best adaptations ever made.
—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at email@example.com.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy is perhaps the most iconic literary series of the 21st century — its publication and ensuing popularity immediately led to the development of an incredibly successful film franchise. While all four adaptations are exceptional, it is the second book’s adaptation, “Catching Fire” (directed by Francis Lawrence), that steals the show. No other adaptation has ever been able to so flawlessly translate emotions from a book onto the big screen. Readers of the book will never feel closer to their beloved characters than when watching Katniss and Peeta share photos of their loved ones on the beach, or Katniss’s scream as Cinna is brought to his dismal end. Every detail is lovingly looked after and portrayed in the most engaging manner.
As Katniss herself says, “I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now and live in it forever.” “Catching Fire,” while horrifying, is so faithful to its source material that you never want to look away.
—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events”
Netflix’s TV series “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which aired from 2017-2019, is everything your ten-year-old self wanted, a phrase which here means “a faithfully wretched adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s children’s series about three orphans.” But this Netflix adaptation is not only wretched — the show gives voice and vision to Snicket’s distinct melange of dark humor, bibliophilia, ethical dilemmas, and warnings against watching the unfolding tragedy. 13 mini-storylines translate colorfully into eccentric sets, fun guest stars (such as Joan Cusack and Catherine O’Hara), and absurd costumes, like the knife-heeled stilettos donned by Esmé Squalor (Lucy Punch). Standout Neil Patrick Harris disgusts as Count Olaf, perfectly visualizing the actor-villain. The mystery of the secret society V.F.D., which wasn’t originally included in the first four books, is retroactively included from the beginning of the show, which also strengthens the story’s sense of intrigue. Through the screen, Snicket afflicts a new generation with disturbing questions: Why is the world unfair? Are your parents good people? And what’s in the sugar bowl?
—Isabelle A. Lu
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn is a book that readers will find exceptionally hard to put down. The story — one of family, dreams, nightmares, and revenge — will linger in readers’ minds long after finishing the book. The adaptation of the novel, directed by David Fincher and featuring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunn, captures the essence of that story almost perfectly. Despite slow, widescreen camera movements and fatigued, desaturated colors, the film mockingly manages to stay one step ahead of its viewers. Infused with darkness and torment, laughter and beauty, the film incorporates exactly enough detail from the novel and turns it into an experience the viewer can truly be a part of.
—Staff writer Najya S. Gause can be reached at email@example.com.
The 2020 Netflix documentary “Becoming” complements Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir of the same name gracefully. Rather than being a direct adaptation of the book’s plot, the film revolves around the former First Lady’s book tour, showcasing her visits to schools and communities across the country. The film is beautiful in the way that it highlights young women at different points in their lives. From young girls to college students, the arc of Obama’s own life is reflected in the stories of those she meets. The film also includes interviews and clips of Obama’s family and friends, thus putting faces to the names of her memoir’s characters in a seamless and inspiring way.
—Lola J. DeAscentiis
“The Color Purple”
It’s easy for readers to be intimidated by any version of “The Color Purple,” be it Alice Walker’s novel, the film, or the musical. But while narratives of Black pain are often overrepresented in the media compared to narratives about excellence and justice, Walker grants full personhood to Black women and girls in her work — and for that, the world should be grateful. Her storytelling forges intergenerational connections between characters and shows the unfathomable struggles of Black Americans that are often forgotten. The 1985 film and its 2023 reboot bring together all-star casts of Black actors who channel the spirit of Walker’s words into an equally moving picture. For those who don’t love to read, the two adaptations of “The Color Purple” might make audiences reconsider. As books about Black people are being banned across the country, the impact of “The Color Purple” on culture and representation emphasizes the need to protect these stories.
—Staff writer Marley E. Dias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Shadow and Bone” (Season 1)
It is almost unheard of for an adaptation to be considered better than the original, yet the first season of “Shadow and Bone” did just that. The Netflix series, based primarily on Leigh Bardugo’s debut YA novels, tells the story of orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) with the legendary power to summon sunlight. In the show’s first season, Alina must navigate the numerous nefarious plots targeting her, all the while dealing with her own complicated relationship with her identity as a member of the persecuted Grisha minority. While the show does deviate from the books, changes made to the adaptation — such as Alina’s biracial identity, the incorporation of characters from the spinoff duology “Six of Crows,” and the threats of a civil war between East and West Ravka — enrich the storyline and flesh out the worldbuilding. Coupled with amazing performances from the entire main cast and a killer soundtrack, Season 1 of “Shadow and Bone” proves itself to be the perfect book adaptation for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s amazing Grishaverse.
—Alexandria T.Q. Ho
Bonus WORST Adaptation: “Shadow and Bone” (Season 2)
There is no greater disappointment than seeing your favorite characters and storylines be completely butchered by writers after waiting two years. Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone” attempts to cover three books, juggle a 15-member cast, and set up the showrunner’s yet-to-be-greenlit spinoff project, resulting in a messy, underdeveloped, and unsatisfying conclusion to Alina Starkov’s (Jessie Mei Li) journey. The only bright spot of the season comes from the once-again stellar performances from the cast, especially Li, Barnes, Freddy Carter, and Daisy Head. However, even with their best efforts, the damage done is too great. Whether you’re a fan of the Grisha Trilogy, “Six of Crows,” or Season 1, it’s hard to feel anything but anger and disappointment at the direction of Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone.”
—Alexandria T.Q. Ho
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