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Movie Adaptations of Classic Novels

I was watching a 90’s version of The Three Musketeers and I thought two things: 1) this is very different from the newest version and 2) the newest version is so unlike the book. Then I thought, how far can you stray from the actual story when you’re making an adaptation of a book that’s been adapted so many times?

I will take The Three Musketeers as an example. The one that’s the ‘newest version’ is the one with Logan Lerman (as in Percy Jackson) as D’Artagnan. That one is SO different from the book, and I’ll go through some points that are probably spoilers so if you want to watch the movie then don’t read it! First of all, the biggest point, there are AIRSHIPS in this one. I mean… what? I did love this movie A LOT, but the airships were a random, but cool, twist. I was like ‘are airships in the book too? If so, awesome!’ Other things that were different were Milady’s method of death (in the book she’s executed but in the movie she jumps off the airship, but she doesn’t actually die); Constance’s death (or not death in the movie’s case) and a lot of the plot. The main thing was the same, that the Queen’s diamonds had to be retrieved for a big event, a party I believe, and Athos, Porthos and Aramis, with D’Artagnan, have to go get them back. They go to London and have a few escapades and scrapes with the evil Lord Buckingham. But the filmmakers did play with the story a lot and added in or took away different things. If you watched an older version of The Three Musketeers it was probably much more faithful to the book, but the newest version is visually amazing, almost as amazing as Snow White and the Huntsman. And it was a swashbuckling adventure (I had to add that in there somewhere)!

My other example is Sherlock Holmes. I’m sure we all know about the newest version of this one (and I’m not talking about any of the TV show versions, which I don’t really care to watch) with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. This version was really action-packed and exciting, with tons of fights and tense moments, and some occasional humour (in A Game of Shadows, I love the bit about the embalming fluid 😀 it makes me laugh every time). The plot of both the movies is not related to any one of the books, but I saw some lines from it that were taken right out of them. So this adaptation was not an adaptation of a certain story, it was just a general ‘Sherlock Holmes’ kind of thing with bits of, I suppose, different Sherlock Holmes stories. The second one, A Game of Shadows, is a bit more like one of the books (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, I think it’s called The Final Adventure). At least, the end of both are the same. But it’s centred on Moriarty, like The Final Adventure, and he’s got an evil plot which takes the two guys to loads of countries around Europe. That whole bit isn’t like any one of the books either. So it’s a completely unfaithful adaptation of the stories, but both of them are two of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and the only Sherlock Holmes movies I’ve seen too.

So both of these examples are generally very far away from the actual novel, and purists might be really annoyed at that, but watching both of them got me interested in the original book. After watching The Three Musketeers, I downloaded it for my Kindle and read it, and enjoyed it, and bought Twenty Years After too. After watching Sherlock Holmes (and A Game of Shadows), I bought the entire set of novels for 77p on Kindle (I’m on The Hound of the Baskervilles now), and my sister got the book version of it. These unfaithful adaptations, although completely different, had the power to make us want to read the books.

I think that’s different to ‘faithful’ adaptations. With those, you watch it and you basically know what’s going to happen, and if you’re old, then you’ve either read the book, or seen millions of other versions. We’re now in a really advanced age, and there have been so many versions of classic novels like these (I think The Three Musketeers and all its sequels, and the Sherlock Holmes stories, have probably been adapted the most out of any other classic novel, but if I’m wrong then sorry), so it is time to start playing around with the stories, and adding more action to them. Filmmakers have access to some great special effects technology, so why don’t they use it and change Sherlock Holmes from a brooding detective to a witty action hero? They’ve already done that particular one, and it’s probably worked, unless you’re a purist. But if you are, then try and experience more. It’s good to freshen things up, especially something that’s been done to death. I do say this, but I’m not up for making Watson and Sherlock girls living in the 25th century or anything like that. But if the filmmakers decide to set an adventure in the Sahara and create an entirely new enemy, then they should go for it. I mean, that’s what happened with the James Bond series. Ian Fleming (it is him that wrote them, right?) didn’t write as many stories as movies that have been made. So the filmmakers had to make it up, and I think that’s what should happen to future adaptations of classic novels. How about A Tale of Two Cities, with some Mythbusters-esque explosions? Or Les Miserables, with more fights and no songs??? (Please, please let that happen. The new movie looked good… until they started singing. It’s about the FRENCH REVOLUTION, not exactly a happy time, so why the songs?) Or Jane Eyre with Jane as a swashbuckling heroine fighting the forces of evil? Or Animal Farm set in the Amazon Rainforest? I don’t know, but I think that movie adaptations are going to take a big turn and purists better turn on their Basil Rathbone and lock themselves in their rooms.

Your adapted blogger, Jaz


One comment on “Movie Adaptations of Classic Novels

  1. Good points, Jaz. Maybe read Les Misérables in its original translation (I’m sure that the original French would be too much for both of us !). You’re right about it being a depressing and sad book, but the songs in the show are all pertinent to the feelings of the characters – love, fear, anger, revolution, despair etc.

    Yes, the James Bond films are mostly nothing at all like the books. It wasn’t just that the number of films overtook the number of books; they started mixing plots and characters very early on in the series of films.

    Whether it’s Bond, the Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes or any other fictional character, it’s always possible to write and depict on film other elements of their lives and personalities.

    By the way, don’t forget that ‘awesome’ is the most overused word in the English language, followed not very far behind by ‘amazing’.

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