Moose Chat: Favorite Adaptations

"... the unwritten contract between author & reader differs somewhat to the unwritten contract between filmmaker & viewer. Adaptations gloss over these differences at their peril." -- David Mitchell

A good adaptation is a rare jewel, a fine Brunello di Montalcino, ambrosia and other hyperbole. They can be hard to find. With this in mind, the Moose would like to share the adaptations that have most pleased us. Ready? Here we go!



To be perfectly honest I tend to avoid adaptations, if I can. I mentioned this in our last Moose Chat about our least favorite adaptations. For instance, I will never, ever watch the film adaptation of The Book Thief. That book holds a very special place in my heart and I know that the film will just disappoint at the very least or make me incredibly angry at the worst.

I have a couple adaptations that I enjoy while also critiquing. Stardust the film is a comfort movie for me – and a film I enjoy immensely for both nostalgia and fun – but does suffer in comparison to its source material. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is another adaptation that I marathon every couple of years. It certainly has its flaws but it will always be important to me because the film trilogy introduced me to Tolkien’s world (and lead me to The Silmarillion, my favorite of Tolkien’s works).

But in terms of an adaptation I consider a favorite? It actually took a long time and a lot of pondering and staring at my shelves to realize the answer. My favorite adaptation is going to an anime. Azumanga Daioh was originally published as a series of four panel comic strips detailing the lives of a group of high schoolers over the course of the three year high school career. It’s slice of life. Vignettes placed side by side to form larger, but still simple narratives. It’s sweet and wacky and funny and the anime manages, in twenty-six episodes to take these four panel strips and weave them together into cohesive episodes while still keeping the tone, character and moments of the day feeling intact. It’s an impressive achievement.



It pains me to say it, because I hate the director’s most recent movies so much but, it’s Watchmen. Most specifically the Ultimate Cut that came out on DVD that splices back in the Black Freighter story. First of all, if anyone complains about them taking out the giant squid I will argue with you, loudly, while standing on the back of a couch. I have done this.1

Comic book adaptation is especially tricky, especially if you’re doing something as specific as Watchmen. When someone decides they want to make a movie version of a novel, I may have an idea about what I think a character looks like, and you may have yours. I may have imagined a scene differently than you would. There’s some wiggle room. But with something like Watchmen not only do I know what every character looks like, I know how every scene was laid out; how every bookshelf looked; what color suit every person was wearing, and in this case far too much about Dr. Manhattan.

Not only does Zack Snyder manage to perfectly pull the events and characters of the comic out of the panels and on to his slow motion music video reality, he manages to add memorable, amazing sequences. For instance, the opening credits happens to be the best thing Snyder has done in his entire career.



Oh it’s totally Jurassic Park. It is one of my most read books ever, and I love Spielberg’s adaptation. Considering the script was Crichton himself, Jurassic Park also has the distinction of me loving each piece distinctly. There are many aspects about the book I love that aren’t in the movie at all… missing characters (e.g. Ed Regis), characters with far more to do (e.g. Henry Wu), characters with different personalities (Hammond possibly being the biggest), and a death toll that is nearly inverse to who lives/dies the movie… But I like the movie all the same, and I can understand why most of the changes occurred. Also, the movies has that theme.



I tend not to like adaptations. I tend to rage at adaptations. It’s probably not great for my blood pressure. But the mishandling of a good story is hard to watch. Accuracy is definitely something I look for, but a good adaptation2 (like a good translation) finds the soul of a story and of its characters and preserves that. Not necessarily a beat by beat parallel, but the feel.3

The first adaptation I remember registering as an adaptation was “Rikki Tikki Tavi” — a short story from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. I watched the animated version as a kid and then when I read the story, I was delighted to find them terribly close together.

Since then, it’s been mostly down hill. See above reference to my rage. And unfortunately the adaptations I tend to like are ones where I’ve seen the movie first and then gone back to read the book. Notably the 1970 version of The Three Musketeers (don’t talk to me about the other adaptations) and The Princess Bride. And probably my favorite adaptation is actually T. H. White’s The Once and Future King – a classic in itself, but also an adaptation of the Arthurian myths.

But! If I have to pick a movie, I’d actually go with The Hunger Games — largely because I liked the adaptation after reading the book. I think it’s a faithful interpretation and that Peeta and Katniss aren’t the easiest people to capture on screen.

  1. I may have had a quarter of a bottle of Admiral Nelson rum in my system at the time. And I really didn’t like that particular guy.
  2. Evidence A that I don’t NEED Accuracy: I like the switch in Ozymandias’ fall guy in Watchmen. So there.
  3. For instance, as much as I didn’t love Rogue One, it got the visual tone right. Which gives it a leg up over certain Star Wars that shall not be named.