Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald has high hopes for these upcoming movie adaptations of books, including the film version of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and “The Girl on the Train.”
As I ponder the upcoming slate of books-turned films this fall, I’m remembering what the novelist/screenwriter Nick Hornby told me in an interview years ago. “I think even the language is wrong,” he said, of the phrase “turning books into films.” “Books are still books. Someone else has made the film. There is no transformation.”
It’s worth remembering, I think, that a movie adaptation doesn’t change a book — it’s something else; a different language, using different senses, telling a story in an alternate way. And that particular something can, sometimes, be glorious. Consider some of last year’s beautiful film adaptations of novels: Emma Donoghue’s “Room” (adapted by the author), Patricia Highsmith’s “The Price of Salt” (renamed “Carol,” and adapted by Phyllis Nagy), Colm Toibin’s “Brooklyn” (adapted by, as it happens, Hornby).
So here’s hoping for the best, for this season’s book-to-movie adaptations. If they turn out disappointing … well, as Hornby said, “The books are still there in the bookshops.” Here are five that look promising:
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (opening in theaters Sept. 30): Ransom Riggs’ best-selling quirky YA (young adult) tale about a very strange orphanage off the coast of Wales, illustrated by macabre vintage photos, seemed to be calling Tim Burton’s name from the moment it hit the shelves. And yes, the master of offbeat Goth will indeed be directing the film, in what might be a perfect match. (Let’s hope it’ll make us forget “Dark Shadows.”)
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“The Girl on the Train” (Oct. 7): The movie of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” — which was pretty good! — opened in theaters the first Friday in October 2014. Exactly two years later comes another woman-gone-missing, unreliable-narrator, “girl”-in-title thriller: the screen version of Paula Hawkins’ popular novel, to star the always-excellent Emily Blunt as a troubled alcoholic who may or may not have glimpsed something terrible from her commuter train.
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Nov. 11): Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel, about an Iraq war veteran returning home on a “victory tour,” was a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. Now it’s a film — and acclaimed director Ang Lee’s much-awaited follow-up to “Life of Pi” (itself a fine adaptation).
“Arrival” (Nov. 11): Based on a novella by local author Ted Chiang (called “ Story of Your Life,” and winner of a Nebula Award), this science-fiction drama stars Amy Adams as a linguist hired by the military to communicate with a race of aliens who have contacted Earth. Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners,” “Sicario”) directs.
“Nocturnal Animals” (Nov. 18): You won’t find a book under this title at the library, but you might find the 1993 novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright — a tense thriller in which a woman receives a disturbing manuscript written by her ex-husband. Tom Ford, the fashion designer and elegant filmmaker (“A Single Man”), will direct; Jake Gyllenhaal and the busy Adams play, respectively, Tony and Susan.
And here, just for fun, are five of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations from the last couple of decades; reminders that sometimes, a great book can spark a great film.
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999): The late Anthony Minghella took Patricia Highsmith’s dark novel and crafted the most stylish of thrillers; set under the Italian sun and impeccably acted by a stellar cast of 20-somethings whose names you might recognize: Damon, Law, Paltrow, Blanchett.
“The Constant Gardener” (2005): Another thriller, and also thrilling: This clever, twisty adaptation of the John le Carré novel about the murder of a British diplomat’s wife won an Oscar for Rachel Weisz (as the wife, in flashbacks). With Ralph Fiennes, she created a crackling chemistry, making the film the screen equivalent of a page-turner.
“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2007): Both the sprawling 1986 novel (by Patrick Suskind) and the film (directed by Tom Tykwer), are utterly intoxicating; you can practically smell, in both, the titular perfume. The latter stars Ben Whishaw in the central role — a murderous 18th-century Frenchman gifted with an uncannily perceptive nose.
“Never Let Me Go” (2010): Kazuo Ishiguro’s first filmed novel, “The Remains of the Day,” is an impeccable Merchant-Ivory adaptation; this one, his second, is lesser-known and just as haunting. It’s a delicate, literary science-fiction drama about a strange, secret-filled school in the English countryside, featuring beautiful work from Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.
“Atonement” (2007): I remember reading Ian McEwan’s exquisite novel, about wartime and memory and one terrible lie, on the plane on the way to the Toronto International Film Festival, and thinking, OK, the movie will never get this right. I was very, very wrong. Gorgeous movie, beautifully adapted by screenwriter/playwright Christopher Hampton.