‘Great Gatsby’, ‘On the Road’ Resurrect Old Debate: Do Good Books Make Bad Movies?
Abdul Qowi Bastian
The first official trailer for the movie adaptation of classic F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” hit the Internet last week. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Tobey Maguire as naive narrator Nick Carraway, the trailer created an online buzz. But it looked… well, um, overproduced.
It’s as if “Moulin Rouge” and chick flick “Step Up” have a three-way with hip-hop induced “Stomp the Yard” and “Gatsby” is the baby. A Wall Street Journal’s blog described the music in the Baz Luhrmann’s (“Moulin Rouge”, “Australia” director) version as “awfully contemporary.”
“The Great Gatsby” has been filmed numerous times — the 1974 movie adaptation being the most famous big screen version and getting generally negative reviews by critics and audiences alike.
Another great American novels of the 20th century that will hit the silver screen this year is Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”. Literary purists are a bit more hopeful when it comes to “Road.” In a New York Times article, Brazilian director Walter Salles, best known for his 2004 film about Argentine’s freedom fighter Che Guevara, “The Motorcycle Diaries”, said, “I was well aware that my passion for the book was not sufficient to justify launching into an adaptation straight away.”
I have been anticipating for “On The Road” since a year ago — the studio kept pushing back the release date until mid this year. In a blog post published in August last year, “Post-Summer Blockbusters: Five Movies to Look Out For,” I wrote: “It’s always difficult for a book so well known to be translated onto the big screen. It usually angers me when my favorite books are adapted by Hollywood, but Kerouac is possibly one of my favorite writers ever, thus no matter how the film adaptation shapes up, I’ll be indifferent. “On the Road” has the potential to be perilous and is apt to irk die-hard fans of the book.”
There’s an old adage: Good books make bad movies. Is it true, though? There are few good books that have been made into memorable movies: Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” turned into Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, “The Godfather” trilogy, among others.
[Read more: Book-to-Film Adaptations That Get It Right]
Speaking of great films made from a literary masterpiece. eccentric director Stanley Kubrick comes to mind. Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Stephen King’s “The Shining” are among his greatest filmmaking works. In his 1960-1961 essay, “Words and Movies,” Kubrick expressed his thoughts on translating book into films:
“It’s sometimes said that a great novel makes a less promising basis for a film than a novel which is merely good. I don’t think that adapting great novels presents any special problems which are not involved in adapting good novels or mediocre novels; except that you will be more heavily criticized if the film is bad, and you may be even if it’s good. I think almost any novel can be successfully adapted, provided it is not one whose aesthetic integrity is lost along with its length. For example, the kind of novel in which a great deal and variety of action is absolutely essential to the story, so that it loses much of its point when you subtract heavily from the number of events or their development. People have asked me how it is possible to make a film out of Lolita when so much of the quality of the book depends on Nabokov’s prose style. But to take the prose style as any more than just a part of a great book is simply misunderstanding just what a great book is. Of course, the quality of the writing is one of the elements that make a novel great. But this quality is a result of the quality of the writer’s obsession with his subject, with a theme and a concept and a view of life and an understanding of character. Style is what an artist uses to fascinate the beholder in order to convey to him his feelings and emotions and thoughts. These are what have to be dramatized, not the style. The dramatizing has to find a style of its own, as it will do if it really grasps the content. And in doing this it will bring out another side of the structure which has gone into the novel. It may or may not be as good as the novel; sometimes it may in certain ways be even better.”
With “On The Road” premiering this month at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, are you looking forward to seeing it when it shows in local cinemas? Do you think the new “Gatsby” will trump the 1974 version? Can you think of a great book that has been made into an equally great — or even greater — film adaptation?
(Via Open Culture)