My Five Favourite (Childrens) Book-To-Film Adaptations

More details were announced yesterday about the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them film. Well, films now, five of them in particular. I’ll admit I’m nervous that this will be just like The Hobbifilms, where people will be excited for the first one, interested in the next one, and then just completely ignore the film series from then on (I remember being online when the third one was released, and if it wasn’t for me looking at the cineworld website I wouldn’t have even know it came out). Fingers crossed it turns out great, but to commemorate the release details here’s my favourite book-to-film adaptations. I will freely admit these aren’t the “best”, these are definitely my personal choice, choices which are likely to change depending on what day I’m asked.

5. The BFG (2016)

The most recent film on this list, and the one most likely to not be on it if I was writing this on a different day. This definitely isn’t likely to be on someone’s top five list for this topic, truth be told it’s not even mine, it’s only here because of the negative reception it received. It’s currently got a 66 on Metacritic, which is the numerical equivalent of “meh”. I went into this with relatively low expectations, I saw Pete’s Dragon the same week and it did absolutely nothing for me, I appreciated what it did well, but I don’t need to see it again and I won’t recommend it to anyone. Also their was a family in front of me that I could tell were going to be problematic, with a whole bag of popcorn thrown on the floor behind them (i.e. in front of me) before the film even started. Yet within five minutes of this film I had completely forgotten Pete’s Dragon, I had forgotten the popcorn, I had forgotten the general feeling of ennui that accompanies my general existence, I was completely lost in the world that this film created. I completely brought into the universe that was created, if I saw this film whilst I was a child my parents would hate it due to the fact they’d have had to watch it every single day. This film also means that my list of for the “best performace” for the end of year blog now has two child actors in it. Ruby Barnhill is superb in it, she spends a lot of time being the only real thing on screen, so it’s down to her to convince you that the rest is real, and she manages it. So to summarise; some films are funny, some films are heart-breaking, very few films can be described as magical, this is one of them.

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4. Coraline

Because it’s been too long since I’ve seen The Witches and I wanted a film that scares the hell out of everyone, children and adults alike. This adaptation of the Neil Gaiman book also has one of the best uses of 3D in cinema. There’s a scene where somebody stares down a long and narrow corridor, the 3D in this helps enhance the vertigo-like feeling. Most films just go with the “oooo something is poking out at you, woooooo” with 3D, very few use it to enhance the universe as much as they should. The film also has a unique look, a look that is NOT TIM BURTON! People seem to forget that it wasn’t Burton that directed Nightmare Before Christmas, it was Henry Selick, and he is perfect for this film. Heavily influenced by the work of Japanese illustrator Tadahiro Uesigi.

He gives the film a unique look that is perfect for Neil Gaiman’s work, and it’s a real shame that he got pulled off the film version of The Graveyard Book (been replaced by Ron Howard, which could work, but will be very different)

3. Harry Potter

I’ll admit this isn’t the greatest film series, for one thing it’s missing Rik Mayall as Peeves. But it also did one thing very well; it accentuated the Harry Potter brand remarkably. Before this you could be forgiven for thinking the world had reached peak Potter, that the brand had reached a plateau, but the films pushed it through so it was no longer a well known book franchise, it was a global phenomenon. Without the films the chances of there being a Harry Potter world are a lot lower, as would be a lot of merchandising opportunities. Plus, it also gave us Alan Rickman as Snape.

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And now I have a sad

2. Matilda

I know, another Roald Dahl book, but there is no way I could not put this film in this list. One of my favourite books as a child, and one of my favourite films as an adult. Mara Wilson is of course, superb, whilst Pam Ferris is terrifying as Trunchbull. Back when this was released there wasn’t as many book-to-film adaptations as there is now, so seeing the shots of Trunchbull in newspapers in the lead to the film was genuinely exciting. A book which everybody read as a child was finally coming to life, if it went badly I would have been so disappointed that I probably would have developed a crack cocaine habit, trust issues, and a slightly itchy foot. Luckily it’s very good, the music is superb, Send Me On My Way in particular never fails to raise a smile. Actually that’s true of the whole film, it’s the film equivalent of a sweet heartwarming smile. The most disappointing part about it is that it didn’t lead to Danny DeVito having a glorious directing career, which is a shame as he completely nails it here, getting the tone exactly right, and he casts himself as a terrible person. Very few people would do that, most people when they choose to be villains do it in a “cool” way, make the character dark and brooding and misunderstood, DeVito plays his character as one of the most repulsive characters in cinema, and does it in a way that makes your skin crawl, it’s truly brilliant.

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This film really speaks to me for some reason

1. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Yeah, a third Dahl book. Truth be told I could have made this entire list Dahl adaptations, he’s lucky enough to have had a lot of very good books made of his work, but to me this reigns supreme. Not just one of my favourite children’s books adaptations, not just one of my favourite children’s films, this is one of my favourite films. It’s a shame Mel Stuart didn’t have a larger career after this, as visually this film is superb. Most of the acting is also pretty great (with the exception of one of the parents who is awful, just awful), but let’s be honest one of them stands head and shoulders above all the others.

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Just kidding, it was this guy.

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This film belongs to Wilder, his performance is like a sociopathic clown (something which 2016 is very familiar with), that scene in the tunnel in particular is one of the greatest scenes in cinema history, more so when you realise that Wilder never told the other actors what he was going to do, they all thought he was genuinely losing his mind, it’s brilliant. Now despite me loving this film, I’ve never read the book, I have read the sequel though, and this film sets the characters up so well in your head that it makes the book sequel better as you can clearly envision it in her head. The music is pretty darn good as well, Pure Imagination in particular surely has to go down as one of the greatest original songs created for film, it stands up as being so good it transcends the original source material, one of the only songs I can think that does that would be Rainbow Connection.

 

So that’s our list, where did we go wrong? Which Roald Dahl book should we have taken out? Why didn’t we put The Iron Giant in? If you have any questions comment and let us know, or do that if you have any other things you want to see us do.

The 5 Best HBO Shows

The American television industry had shockwaves running through it this week as president Michael Lombardo left after 33 years at the network, 9 of them as network head. Lombardo has spearheaded some of the networks most loved programming, notably he was responsible for guiding Game Of Thrones into development. The future for the network is now somewhat uncertain, not in a “they’re going out of business” way, but in a “wonder what’s happening next” way. Longtime collaborator Terence Winter quit halfway through development of the second series of Vinyl, Westworld had production halted when it was decided it needed retooling, and Game Of Thrones is suffering from rumours that it will end after another two seasons (or in other words; the time it takes George R.R. Martin to decide on a verb). So let’s celebrate the network with this, a look at the best work they’ve produced. This isn’t ranked by order of popularity, or critical success, just personal preference, so statistically nobody will agree with this, if that’s the case, comment and tell us where I went wrong.

5. Sopranos

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One of THE shows of the 2000’s. It was almost like they saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and said “Awww, Britain thinks they can make gangster related media, how adorable” and reclaimed America as the centrepiece for gangster films and television shows. I said “almost like”, the pilot was actually ordered in 1997, so it’s just a coincidence. But meh, still an awesome show. The effect it had on television cannot be understated, it could easily be argued that it was this, not Breaking Bad that legitimised television as an artform, not as a stepping stone on the way to film. If it wasn’t for this there wouldn’t be Six Feet Under, there wouldn’t be The Shield. It was this, more than anything, that legitimised HBO as a network that provides high concept dramas, a network that will produce content you wouldn’t get anywhere else. This was a show that could only really be done on this network, it was too brutal, too uncommercial to be made by anyone else.

4. Game Of Thrones

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A show so good it deserves its place here despite me having never seen an episode. A show once described (not by a critic, or anybody important, but by a woman behind me on the bus) as like “Merlin with muff”. Everyone knows roughly when Harry Potter was published, and it’s the same with a lot of book adaptations, but I think a lot of people would be surprised to discover the first book was published in 1996, yet most people weren’t aware of it until the TV series (the series didn’t really pick up until A Feast Of Crows in 2005). Without the show the book series would be highly regarded, but with it? It’s become a cultural phenomenon, and shown that you can do not just high concept, but high budget adaptations too. If the show was made sooner then the chances of Harry Potter being a TV series instead of film would be much higher, and we might have got Rik Mayall as Peeves, AS WE DESERVE!

3. Veep

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A show so good that it’s replaced The Office as evidence that American adaptations of British sitcoms can occasionally work out. Is this better than The Thick Of It? Not quite, but is it worthy enough to be discussed on its own? Definitely. It wasn’t really the easiest show to adapt, ABC attempted it in 2007 with Michael McKean (of Spinal Tap and Better Call Saul fame) and Oliver Platt in the leads. They made the pilot, and by all accounts it was pretty awful, they turned it into a conventionally shot sitcom, removed all improvisation and swearing, and then were surprised when it didn’t work. It would be like if you remade Transformers and took out all references to any robots, removed baking from Great British Bake Off, or added jokes to Joey. So when a second adaptation was announced, people were kind of worried. Then it was announced that Armando Iannucci would be directly involved and people were excited again. Then it was announced that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the lead and I became very excited as I was a massive Seinfeld fan. I was slightly concerned how an American version of this would be, but it’s just as sweary and brilliant as the original. The original was good, but it didn’t have the line “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo, it doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess”. It’s probably helped not just by Iannucci as showrunner (at least until the 5th season when David Mandel took over almost seamlessly), there’s other talent behind the camera too. The list of director’s is like a who’s who of British television comedy: Chris Morris, Chris Addison, Tristam Shapeero etc. This show is a mesh of British and American talent, and is all the better for it. Long may it continue (still needs Peter Capaldi though)

2. Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Seinfeld is undoubtedly one of the biggest American sitcoms of all time (sadly, one which has never really got the love it deserves over here) so it was always going to difficult for the creator, Larry David to pull off that greatness again. Yet he managed it, this show not just matches his previous show, at many times it beats it. Seinfeld had a weak period, the last two seasons in particular are nowhere near as good as the earlier seasons, but Curb hasn’t suffered that problem. The first season is a little off as the show is still finding its feet, but the second one is just all kinds of brilliant and details the character attempting to make a show after the success of Seinfeld, so lots of meta-comments and the media, lots of in-jokes, and a season long story arc. Basically, all the pretentious stuff that film students love. Oh yeah, the cameos. Because Larry David plays himself, and he konws famous people, there’s a lot of celebrity cameos; Ricky Gervais, John McEnroe, Mel Brooks all send themselves up beautifully. The Ricky Gervais one is important because he also made a cameo-heavy sitcom: Extras. There’s one major difference between the way the cameos are handled thought: Extras is defined by the cameos, episodes can almost be titled after them. People think “oh, that’s the Samuel L Jackson episode”, or “that’s the Orlando Bloom episode” and that’s how they’re defined, in Curb, the story comes first, and it’s all the better for it. The best one is probably Michael J. Fox, where he uses his Parkinsons as an excuse to be a bit of a dick in one of the best “I shouldn’t be laughing at this” moments, of which the show has plenty (a highlight is the episode where a holocaust survivor has dinner with someone from the TV series Survivor, and they argue over which one is the true survivor).

1. Last Week Tonight

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An odd choice for number one, I know. Not the funniest, not the best made, but definitely the most important. Like a surprisingly high amount of American political comedy, this owes its existence to The Daily Show. When Jon Stewart took a break from the show in 2013 to make Rosewater, he handed the show over to John Oliver, who filled the role admirably. That’s not an easy role to fill, as anybody who has been on the comments section of the facebook page of the show since Trevor Noah took over can attest (for the record, I think he’s doing an excellent job). John Oliver’s stint was so successful HBO offered him a series. Unlike the Daily Show this only has one episode a week, so isn’t really suited for extremely topical stuff. But what this does mean is the areas they do focus on, they REALLY focus on, aiming for them like US Military planes aim for terrorist training camps, only unlike the military, this show usually hits what it’s aiming for. Whether he’s creating Jeff The Diseased Lung in a segment on tobacco companies, or starting Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption to show how televangelists should by all rights be told to go f*ck themselves with that knife-penis from Seven, this show constantly creates amazing segments which are perfect for sharing on social media. His reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris last year was particularly fantastic, basically telling ISIS “if you gigantic arseholes are hoping to win a war of culture with France, good fucking luck”. To me, a personal highlight will alway be his war of words with former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, which led to the corrupt former executive to respond, calling him a “comedian fool” in a really badly made video. It’s weird, you’d think a guy who (allegedly) diverted relief funds from a Haiti earthquake appeal, and illegally sold black market tickets (not allegedly, this definitely happened, and he was punished for this million dollar making fraud by being made to pay back $250,000) would have enough money to make sure his videos were of a better production quality.