If you go to the cinema any time in the next few months, chances are one of literature’s finest moments is going to be onscreen. Anna Karenina in a theatre is already in theatres, and On The Road, The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit and Midnight’s Children are close behind. Is anyone else dreading it?
Great books adapted for the big screen is a formula as old as celluloid. But this year Hollywood really is sticking the knife in. Every other flick feels like a butchering-in-waiting for one of my (and many, many others’) formative favourites. If Disney make an animated Of Mice and Men, call me spent.
I haven’t gone to see Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina yet; despite decent reviews, the thought of Jude Law as Karenin is enough to skip a month of Orange Wednesdays. Aaron Johnson pulled off a plucky young Lennon in Nowhere Boy, but if he’s Vronsky then I’m Voldemort.
Of the other big hitters above, most hope lies with Baz Luhrrman’s F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation. He’s got form for reimagining a sacred cow with Romeo & Juliet, and the same leonine leading man. Salmon Rushdie has adapted his Booker winner personally so there’s reasons to be cheerful about Midnight’s Children. Although as Bret Easton Ellis’ oft-amusing tweets on reveal, screenwriting your own books is no cakewalk.
There are countless examples of excellent, creative adaptations of classics. Last year’s Jane Eyre concentrated on the visual beauty of the book well. David Niven’s Great Expectations is a triumph hanging over Helena Bonham Carter’s upcoming grapple with Dickens. It’s just that every success is counteracted by countless catastrophes.
The crux for directors is getting the audience to buy into their vision for the book enough to temporarily forget their own, however deeply ingrained it is. In his Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson, despite the endless ending, did manage to make me forget my personal take on Tolkien and embrace his. Can he repeat the trick when back in the Burrow with The Hobbit?
We don’t mind our beloved books being ripped apart and sewn back together by the film industry. We don’t even mind if they fold the page corners . Just do it with some care, and make it good. Oh, and if at all possible, don’t cast Jude Law.