I have to admit, I probably discovered books before I discovered film. But some of my most vivid child and teen memories arise from not only the musky damp comfort of books, but also the thrill of seeing them come to life on screen – through film adaptations.
Theatre works, comic books, games, pop-fiction novels, classical adaptations – I’m there. I might love it, I might hate it , but I appreciate the efforts involved in every little detail, to bring much loved, pop-culture adventures, or undiscovered tales to big or small screens.
Through written stories, we discover (quite often in GREAT detail), heart rending family sagas (Cloudstreet; The Slap, Our Father Who Art in the Tree), quirky coming of age kerfuffles, seedy criminal underworlds (Truth), and even classic poems (The Man from Snowy River).
Great stories are already awash with all the colours and sounds of ‘the big screen’. So what happens when novels are translated onto big or small screens? There is a moment where you’re about to take a gamble – into the cinema, or say, reserving a quiet weekend to open the first page of a novel just watched on the big screen… when some of us take a big pensive breath and say… “um, should I really be doing this?”
Will we love the film version just as much if characters are removed; plots changed and (gasp!) endings completely re-written? In speaking with friends, family, filmmakers, and some cranky librarians, I have found that not everyone immediately jumps for joy at the mention of an adaptation. No – quite the opposite.
There are literary purists who immediately promise to stay ‘true’ to the author’, to never forsake the written word for the big screen version. Not even choc-tops can lure them away from their musty pages. There are others who are bitterly disappointed in ‘crude adaptations’, and the impact the screen sometimes takes on a good story. And then there are those (just like me) who love the opportunity to see a story brought to the big screen. To revel in the backdrops, the little details, and even the changes that are evident in adaptations.
It’s kind of ridiculous I guess, but sometimes I also wonder about the correct order – whether I should be seeing a film before I read it the book it’s based on, or afterwards! Many a book has no doubt been improved by its film adaptation, not to mention the sudden increase in book sales. Film adaptations can quite often bring hidden novel gems to mainstream masses – something that has been hiding on dusty shelves just waiting for the chance to come to life.
And, yes, some books have been ruined by screen adaptation. Whether it’s overzealous screenwriters, directors, bossy-pants authors or badly cast actors – who knows who is to blame? Converting a book into film is a tricky business. Firstly – you have to secure the rights to the novel – and the cost ranges for script and development can be much higher than those associated with filming an original screenplay.
However, it must be said that adaptations can also raise books, games and comics to new heights – creating brand new interpretations (and new BRAND interpretations), even adding further value to a story… or film.
There’s also the question of what happens to the screenwriter after all the writing is completed. Have they written themselves off the page and out of the film? (An interesting interview with screenwriter John Collee (Happy Feet, Master and Commander) sheds some light on Collee’s screenwriting experiences in the biz.)
In honor of writers, screenwriters, and filmmakers everywhere, and to illustrate how wonderful they can be – here are (in no particular order) my ‘adored’ Australian film adaptations:
“You wanna go down the dunnies for a smoke?”
I love the teen awkwardness that is captured in this film, and the snapshot of 80s Cronulla. Based on the book by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette – not all of the book made it to the screen, but it is an absolute screen gem. And who could forget the theme song?
Picnic At Hanging Rock
It’s spooky, it’s kooky –just like the book, if not better! The BAFTA award-winning Peter Weir adaptation of the book by Joan Lindsay is still loved today. Just go to Hanging Rock to hear Swedish backpackers yell ‘Miranda!!’ from the haunted peaks…
Oscar and Lucinda
A glass church. A GLASS CHURCH! I still can’t believe Gillian Armstrong mastered this complex and imaginary tale whilst auditioning Cate Blanchett for the world screen. And the chemistry between Ralph Finnes and Blanchett set the pages of this Peter Carey novel on FIRE!
Romulus, My Father
Everyone is heartbreakingly beautiful in this AFI Award winning film adaptation of the book by Raimond Gaita. With the screen adaptation written by British poet Nick Drake, stunningly filmed by Shine cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, and an impressive directorial debut by Richard Roxburgh, even the author himself saw the film more than 20 times…
Playing Beatie Bow
I just love it. The performances, mood and feel of John Curran’s 1999 movie completely match that of the book by Andrew McGahan.
He Died With A Falafel In His Hand
I know a lot of people who have yet to warm to this early 2000 flick. But for me, it captures so many true-to-life tales of share-house living, and has one hell of a kick-ass soundtrack. Noah Taylor is the bees-knees as a depressed and down and out writer living on the dole.
My Brother Jack
Some heartbreaking moments in this AFI Award Winning production starring Matt Day, Claudia Karvan, William McInnes and Jack Thompson. A 2001 made-for-television adaptation of George Johnson’s classic novel.
Here are some upcoming adaptations to watch out for:
I’m already taken in by the trailer! Written for the small screen by the author himself, alongside co-screenwriter Ellen Fontana.
Cloudstreet premieres on the Foxtel channel Showcase on Sunday, May 22 2011, 8.30pm.
An eight part ABC television series adaptation of the bestseller by Christos Tsiolkas is to star a stellar lineup including Brendan Cowell, , Melissa George, Alex Dimitriades, Sophie Lowe, Jonathan LaPaglia and more.
The story of Red Dog is a well-known WA legend but it was popularised by English author Louis de Bernieres in his book of the same name.
The film adaptation directed by Kriv Stenders is based on the legendary true story of the Red Dog who united a disparate local mining community while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long-lost master
Oranges and Sunshine
Based on the true story by UK social worker Margaret Humphreys about her expose of the scandal of Britain’s forgotten and abused child migrants (previously published as Empty Cradles), Oranges and Sunshine stars Hugo Weaving, David Wenham and Emily Watson. Set for release in Australia in June 2011.
LBF is a ‘pop art film’ based on the novel Living Between F***ks by Cry Bloxsome from which it draws much of its wry narration. Paris-based writer Goodchild (Toby Schmitz) returns to Sydney for the funeral of his ex-girlfriend l and steadily veers off the rails. Starring Gracie Otto, Septimus Caton and Australian model April Rose Pengilly, the film also has a very cool little soundtrack featuring aussie bands Boy & Bear and Operator Please. Premiering at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival.
The Telegram Man
Based on a short story by John Boyne, the award-winning author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Set in Australia, The Telegram Man is short film with a mega cast including Gary Sweet and Sigrid Thornton,and will be actor Jack Thompson’s first short film acting debut. Currently in post production and coming soon to a Film Festival near you in 2011.
More? The story doesn’t end here folks…
50 Upcoming Book-to-Movie Adaptations
Film of the Book: Top 50 Adaptations
UK paper The Guardian provides a list of Top 50 usual suspects.
Top Grossing Film Adaptations
As declared by Forbes – there’s billions in the books!
From Page to Screen
Four part article written on worldwide adaptations – successful, unsuccessful and upcoming.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Do you know of any upcoming adaptations with Aussies in them?
Be sure to post below!
Also keen to know your own top 5 Australian adaptations…