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After overhearing a couple colleagues discussing the 2004 animated film adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel, “Howl’s Moving Castle,” I began thinking about movie adaptations in general. In a previous column, I talked about how writers often reference classic literature to add resonance to their own work, but to adapt someone else’s writing to a new format has its own set of pitfalls and rewards.
“The book was better.” You’ve probably heard someone give that review of a movie based on his or her favorite book, and you might have said it once or twice yourself.
Because books have no visual or audio components, readers create that in their own mind — the look and the sound of the movie will almost always be different. Moreover, even the longest movie can’t contain all the detail that a book can. After all, when you’re reading a book, you can stop, go to the bathroom, have dinner, go to bed, etc. This is why several recent adaptations — “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” and “The Hobbit” — have been broken into multiple movies.
Sometimes, however, the screenwriter, director, actors and many other people involved in turning a book into a movie succeed, resulting in some great movies.
In 1998, the American Film Institute released its “100 Years ... 100 Movies” list of the best American movies. Of their top ten movies, five —”The Godfather,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Graduate” and “Schindler’s List” — were based on books. Even out of the other five, only one — “Singin’ in the Rain” — had an original plot.
The AFI’s No. 1 choice, “Citizen Kane,” was loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and the No. 2 pick, “Casablanca,” was based on an unperformed stage play.
“Lawrence of Arabia,” at No. 5, was based on the life of war hero T. E. Lawrence, while the No. 8 pick, “On the Waterfront,” was inspired by a series of 1948 newspaper articles by Malcolm Johnson.
You can find all these movies in the library’s DVD section.
The library also has most of the books upon which these movies are based.
We have “The Godfather,” along with lots of other novels about organized crime by Mario Puzo, in the fiction section, along with “Schindler’s List,” by Thomas Keneally — which, itself, was based on the real life of Oskar Schindler — in Fiction, under the authors’ last names.
There’s a copy of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in Children’s Fiction, as well as three comic book adaptations in Children’s Graphics. Also in Children’s Fiction, you can find “Howl’s Moving Castle,” a book I loved as a boy, along with a picture book based on the movie.
In the biography section, you can find two books on William Randolph Hearst, along with three on T. E. Lawrence. Lawrence’s war memoir, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” which provided much of the source material for “Lawrence of Arabia,” is at 940.4 LAW.
Malcolm Johnson’s newspaper articles, originally published as “Crime on the Waterfront,” have been collected as “On the Waterfront: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Articles That Inspired the Classic Movie and Changed the New York Harbor” (call number 364.106 Joh), with an introduction by the movie’s writer, Budd Schulberg.
Robert Mixner is a Reference Librarian at Bartholomew County Public Library.
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