Film adaptations can make or break a book’s reputation. As in the case of timeless classic Gone With the Wind, a cinematic masterpiece can eclipse the book that inspired it. Of course, there are also less fortunate books that we wish had stayed on the shelf and away from the cutting-room floor. To honor (or tear apart) a few of these films, the Montage crew has selected its best and worst book-to-film adaptations of all time.
Best: The Lord of the Rings Series
Lord of the Rings is a piece of undeniable movie magic. Though the rolling hills of the shire may have been too nerdy for some viewers to handle, this film series kept true to the novels. Hardcore fans of the book series could argue that too many scenes were cut from the original, but — and I never thought I would be saying this — it was a great directorial choice by Peter Jackson. I’ve read the books and seen the extended editions of all three films, and the editing was well done.
Tolkien’s sometimes-whimsical writing makes for an enjoyable read, but a good chunk of it didn’t translate well to film, like a 10-minute-long extended version of the “second breakfast” scene. The acting isn’t the best in the world and the story may not be one that everyone can enjoy, but fans couldn’t have asked for a better-crafted adaptation. — Matt Ferrara
Best: The Devil Wears Prada
Filmmakers took this mediocre book by Lauren Weisberger and turned it into a fabulous movie. From Weisberger’s awkward and ungrammatical writing to her overly predictable plot and bland main character, the book just doesn’t compare to the film, which fixed a lackluster story with a great script and a phenomenal cast.
In the book, there are designer names and descriptions, but in the film the fashion of New York and Runway magazine are brought to life. It’s one thing to read about an Oscar de la Renta gown — it’s another to see it on Anne Hathaway as she ascends the stairs at an A-list fashion event. — Robin Roup
Best: The Princess Bride
The main reason this fairytale makes such a great transition from book to film is that William Goldman, the book’s author, wrote the screenplay. This rare comedic gem is both a classic love story and a classic parody of love stories.
Though its lead performances are nothing to complain about, the true genius of the film lies in the talent of its amazing supporting cast, which includes Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and a young Fred Savage. It is a timeless tale filled with action, adventure, love and of course, good humor.
Fans of Goldman’s classic will not be disappointed, and those who have never read the book are sure to love every quotable line. — Joe Polito
Best: Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now
Joseph Conrad’s literary masterpiece Heart of Darkness became Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic epic Apocalypse Now. Coppola updated the story by translating it from imperialism and ivory trade in the Congo to the Vietnam War.
The real theme of both stories is that madness is the darkest element of one’s personality. Many in 1979 saw America’s “heart of darkness” in the recent Vietnam War, and Coppola leaves viewers wondering if he intended to depict America as an imperialistic power.
Despite running longer than two hours, Apocalypse Now is powerful and engaging throughout. It is a monument of American filmmaking. — Christine Labit
Worst: The Cat in the Hat
In November 2003, I can officially say that my childhood died. The cause: Bo Welch’s The Cat in the Hat. It managed to turn Dr. Seuss’ beloved children’s book into a raunchy disaster, lacking any humor and, more importantly, taste.
The film already took a risk by casting Mike Myers as the title cat — the final installment of his innuendo-infested Austin Powers series was released just a year earlier, leaving a bad taste in viewers’ mouths. It turns out that audiences’ fears were not unfounded — everything from violent outbursts to erectile humor disgraced the screen, horrifying children and parents everywhere.
— Brittanie Drinosky
Worst: The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne would turn just as scarlet as the A’s in his classic novel if he saw the 1995 film version. In this adaptation, the famed story of guilt, betrayal and sin in colonial Massachusetts is turned into an ill-conceived softcore pairing of Demi Moore as Hester Prynne and Gary Oldman as the Reverend Dimmesdale.
I’m sure Hawthorne would be appalled by all the blatant sex in his puritan tale, but you have to sell Moore somehow and acting isn’t exactly her forte.
One of the worst betrayals of the original book is the film’s happy ending, which Hawthorne’s tale purposefully lacked. This is barely the Scarlet Letter I read in high school. — RR
Worst: Along Came a Spider
This movie turns a New York Times best-seller into just another half-baked Hollywood thriller. The only things this movie has in common with James Patterson’s page-turner are the main characters and a few plot twists.
Sadly, these twists — which seem lifted rather than adapted from the book — are the only things that make the movie remotely watchable.
Having an Academy Award winner as your lead shouldn’t hurt, yet the role of Alex Cross — a brilliant D.C. detective from Patterson’s bestselling series — calls for more for Denzel Washington than Morgan Freeman. — JP
Worst: Valley of the Dolls
Bad acting and over-the-top style turned Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls from best-selling novel into campy comedy.
Susann’s novel revealed the dark side of glamorous Hollywood. Movie stars’ lives were actually full of sex, lies, scandal and “dolls,” or sleeping pills — but after watching the film, it is impossible to take the story seriously.
Susann was so upset with the film adaptation that she stormed out of the premiere.
Maybe the irony of a serious story about actors and singers performed by those who could barely do either was too much for the Pucci-clad celebrity to handle. – CL