Made into a movie?! Impossible!

Somehow I managed to miss that Winter’s Tale was made into a movie to be released soon. One of my favorite books, so I am looking forward to this with a little trepidation. I am having trouble seeing anyone capture the spirit of this great story on film. But I have been amazed recently at people taking on books like Life Of Pi or Cloud Atlas with remarkable results. Life Of Pi brilliantly and Cloud Atlas a bit less so, but even the attempt was astonishing.
What favorite story or book of yours can you just not see as a movie? What is the next major challenge for the creative minds in film?

I loved Cloud Atlas, and the “less so” rankles a bit, but I haven’t read the book and can’t tell how it stacks up (and I’ve neither read Life of Pi nor seen the film yet).

I didn’t think they’d be able to make watchmen into a movie of reasonable length, but I thought they did a great job. Unfortunately, unless you’re already kind of ac comic book geek, it probably wouldn’t work for you.

Woody Allen’s Everything you wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask* took an "unfilmable’ book and made a movie with the same title, although it certainly wasn’t an attempt to actually film the book.

Books without a proper narrative and drama (or in which those parts aren’t so important in the book0 end up being filmed with a script that imposes a plot with protagonist, antagonist, and a clear direction to the story that the book lacked. This happened with Charles Finney’s Circus of Dr. Lao, which Charles Beaumont and George Pal turned into the Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. The film was successful in its own way, but it’s a very different experience from the book. it would be interesting to see it filmed today, when you can get away with much more, and with CGI available.

They did the same with the works of Jules Verne. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is great and prophetic, but also episodic and wandering, and for the 1954 Disney/Richard Fleischer movie they admittedly added plot (and turned Verne’s smooth, accurate submarine into a gewgaw rivet-covered proto-steampunk piece of eye candy). Other versions of the book have also had added plot. The same is true of various versions of Mysterious Island, Robur the Conqueror/Master of the World, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and other Verne adaptation.

I thus hesitate to say you can’t film anything, although I will say that you can change anything enough to make a filmable story. There ain’t enough to Philip K. Dick’s we can Remember it for you Wholesale to make a full-length movie (and it’s about somebody remembering, which isn’t very photogenic), but if you steal plot from elsewhere (I’ve suggested Robert Sheckley’s The Status Civilization and make it into essentially a Virtual Reality/Dream film, then you can release it as Total Recall.
I don’t think you could film Edwin Abbott’s classic Flatland (despite the fact that it’s been tried, twice*), but you could pad it into a sci-fi action adventure easily enough.

The I’d like to see done is Fredric Brown’s Arena, which would make a helluva film, done right. (And, no, I don’t count the Star Trek episode nominally based on it as a real adaptation.)

*It was done in an animated form, which I’ve seen at the closing Mathematica exhibit at the Museum of Science, but it’s short and not satisfying. It also served as the basis for the padded-out Outer Limits episode Behold, Eck!, which shows you how NOT to do this sort of thing.

I loved Cloud Atlas as well, taken as a movie. It was the translation from book to film that I felt lacked something.

For me, the clearest case where, sometime after reading a book, I was told that they were making of movie of it and I found that downright bizarre was the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr, made into the film A Dangerous Method.

I was curious and skeptical when they turned Moneyball into a movie, but it turned out pretty good.

I’m looking forward to the word-for-word, unedited, completely faithful Wheel of Time movie.

I always thought Dune was an unfilmable book and I feel the two movie versions support this.

I want to see a film adaptation of the Weiss & Hickman Rose of the Prophet trilogy.

Pseudo-Arab tribe saves the world from jihad seeking pseudo-Persian God with the help of a pseudo-Christian wizard who happens to be gay and is mistaken for a woman? Something to offend everyone!

I actually think it would make for a pretty cool movie but I couldn’t ever see it happening.

One special category is children’s books. The reality is many popular children’s books have a very short narrative. A film version which stuck to the book would end up as a five minute short. So filmmakers are forced into “opening up” the story and adding in a bunch of new stuff in order to fill a feature length movie.

How about What To Expect When You’re Expecting? No story, no characters.

I would love to see either “Gravity’s Rainbow” or “Infinite Jest” made into films but I fear both are too sprawling to be able to be whittled down well enough.

I’d go with “inconceivable!” rather than impossible, because The Princess Bride was one of those books I didn’t think they could film. (They came close, but I don’t think they quite got it.) I think the Winter Tale film maker’s know that this is the territory they’re in, because they’re using the somewhat fatuous tag line “This is not a true story. This is true love.” Which can’t help but hearken back to The Princess Bride’s “trooo luv”.

I guess I don’t have a lot of hope for Winter’s Tale (I didn’t know it was coming out either), but it is true that there was a lot of extraneous material that could be cropped out. I always thought that Helprin concatenated a bunch of short stories (some of which worked better than others) that he had lying around into one mostly cohesive work.

House of Leaves. I just can’t imagine how it could possibly be made into a movie that does justice to the book.

I’m looking forward to seeing the BBC miniseries of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel when it comes out. It will be very interesting to see how they solved the problem of showing characters moving along in two different worlds at the same time and in the same space.

I also want to see what the hell thistle-down hair looks like.

World War Z is unfilmable despite the fact that it was filmed. The movie bore no resemblance to the book, and one wonders if the only reason they licensed the book was for name recognition.

Illuminatus ! is one of those unfilmable movie.

I don’t think so. Yes, it would be very episodic and looong, but I’d love to see it done.


I can’t see Stephen King’s Dark Tower series as films. I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t think a film could capture the senses of majesty and scope that the books do.

I approve of what you did there. . . and I didn’t approve of what they did there, either.

I loved the Animorphs books, but the TV series was horrible. Even with a huge budget they’d be damn near impossible to film given how much of the plot takes place with the main characters in animal form (ranging from ants to whales) speaking telepathically. Ironically K. A. Applegate was going to make the Andalites standard grey aliens in case the books got optioned for TV, but her publishers told her to be more creative. So she made them into centaurs; they’re the closest thing to humanoid aliens in the series;).