Adapting can be hard. The hardest part, I imagine, is dealing with fans. When an adaptation of a book/TV-series/video-game/concept-album/play/board-game/action-figure is announced, fans of the original break up into two camps: those who can’t wait for it and those who think it will be a disgrace to the sheer awesomeness that was the original. I’ve chosen three masterpieces-of-film-waiting-to-happen and predicted the thought process behind both camps.
3) A Confederacy of Dunces
The source material: A Confederacy of Dunces is 400 pages of insanely layered and complex comedy. John Kennedy Toole penned the cult-classic while living with his mother. He was paranoid, depressed and unappreciated. He commit suicide at the age of 31. 11 years later, his mother got A Confederacy of Dunces published. The book, as a result, has considerably dark undertones. It doesn’t tell a story as much as it introduces a bunch of incredibly memorable characters. Toole’s fractured structure and brilliant pen earned him the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For a comedy.
What the haters would say: “First, no one can cram that much crap into a single film. They would have to take out entire characters, entire plot points! Second, Toole’s award winning prose would be completely absent. Besides, who the hell could pull off the character of Ignatious J. Reilly? John Belushi? John Candy? Chris Farley? Oh wait, they died after being cast in this role. Who would risk their life by accepting a role so cursed and so complicated?”
How it could work: Take a look at High Fidelity. Just the book, for now. Nick Hornby fills his text with multiple ex girlfriends and long monologues where the protagonist muses on his loneliness and whether or not he may be an asshole. I wasn’t old enough to remember what fans thought when a film version was announced. I imagine the complaints were similar to those for A Confederacy of Dunces: too many characters and too much of the success of the text revolves around narration. The film’s solution? Move from character to character and scene to scene at a lightning fast speed and have the protagonist monologue to the audience. As anyone who saw the film can say, it turned out pretty fantastically. Sure, some parts of the novel have been cut out but the film is sleeker as a result. Dunces could be cut in a similar way. Yes, every scene is fantastic. No, not every scene is mandatory. It could be cut and be every bit as funny.
Who could adapt it best: Edgar Wright. Say what you will about his divisive film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (I happen to think it’s among the funniest films and best adaptations in recent memory), but it’s impossible to deny how quickly he moved the plot along. He introduced all the significant characters from the comics and cut down on parts he didn’t think would translate well (the subspace highway). The result was, as I mentioned earlier, dividing. Many loved it for its fast paced action and comedy while others hated it for, well, the same exact reasons. Who could play Reilly, you ask? The best answer would be a young Jack Nicholson, but it seems to be about 35 years too late for that one. Who could play him now? My money would go with Will Ferrell. He’s proven his comedic range from subtle (Stranger than Fiction) to over-the-top (Blades of Glory). He’s got a wide enough comedic spectrum to deftly handle a role as demanding as Reilly.
2. Arrested Development
The source material: Given the demographic of Flixist, I’m guessing I won’t have to say much about Arrested Development. Just in case you haven’t seen this masterpiece of television comedy (get on that ASAP! it’s streaming on Netflix), the show follows the members of the Bluth family. The Bluths run a company that markets and builds extremely large houses and the patriarch of the family, also the CEO of Bluth Company, was just imprisoned for spending company money for personal expenses. What made the show a classic, however, were the members of the Bluth family. They’re all hilarious and perfectly cast in their role. Featuring a now all-star cast including Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Will Arnett and Portia de Rossi (among others of course), Arrested Development contained slapstick/physical humor, strangely provocative comedy and more than its fair share of puns. Unfortunately Fox, being the assholes they are, canceled the show abruptly. The show, in typical Arrested Development fashion, made fun of its cancellation and very heavily hinted at a film adaptation.
What the haters would say: “It’s been five years. The actors have moved on and grown up. Big time. For instance: here’s a picture of Alia Shawkat who played Maeby on Arrested Development from her AD days:
And here’s a more recent picture:
So there are two options: use intense amounts of makeup and CGI in order to make the actors look younger or, Heaven forbid, cast new actors. Let’s not even think about doing that. An Arrested Development film would have been great three or four years ago but it’s time to let sleeping dogs lie.”
How it could work: Two words: flash forward. That’s all it takes to make this show work. Let’s look at Showtime’s TV show Weeds. Season 6 was met with, um, considerable dislike. For season 7, they skipped 3 years and started fresh. They kept the same characters that fans knew and loved but they gave it a total makeover in order to get it out of its rut. And the season was, all things considered, better. Now, imagine that for Arrested Development. Imagine moving forward to Michael Bluth getting married. Or George Michael in college. Or Maeby as the fully realized film producer she’s always wanted to be. How about Tobias? Think of how far his character could go. He could have finally been accepted into the Blue Man Group. He could have returned to being an Analrapist (his portmanteau of Analyst and Therapist). What about Buster? Gob? Lucille? Other Lucille? For a show with so many memorable characters, a flash forward could be exactly what it needs to bring a freshness to it.
Who could adapt it best: This may qualify as cheating, but AD’s creator Michael Hurwitz would be the best and most obvious choice to write it. He wrote or co-wrote the majority of show. The Russo brothers directed most of the episodes and they could direct it together. On the other hand, they could take The Simpsons Movie approach and have eleven writers working on it. It seems like these characters have limitless possibilities and a team of writers could easily work up something fantastic for them.
1. The Catcher in the Rye
The source material: Unless it was banned from your school library, chances are you’ve read it in high-school (or will read by the time you finish). J.D. Salinger’s singular masterpiece follows the now-legendary Holden Caulfield as he gets kicked out of boarding school. Complete with some of the sharpest social criticism and honest portrayal of teenage sexuality and angst, Catcher in the Rye earns new fans every day and still sells hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.
What the haters would say: “Salinger was a hermit and 100% against an adaptation of his magnum opus. Why would you ever go directly against an artist’s intention for his work? And besides, no one could ever play Holden Caulfield. He would have to be both a caricature and an understated, complex character and no teenage actor could ever pull that off. I can imagine it now: a three hour film containing painfully long and horribly read voiceovers while the director indulgently pans his camera around the room to pretend that he has something to say.”
How it might work: Catcher in the Rye has “mainstream-indie” written all over it. Put it in the hands of a modern auteur, cast an unknown actor to play the lead and you’ve got yourself gold. Look at a movie like The Girlfriend Experience. It has non-cinematic actress (read: porn star) Sasha Grey playing an understated role while Soderbergh, yes, pans his camera dramatically while listening to people ramble on about everything from sex to the financial crisis. And you know what? It worked. It transformed uninteresting characters and a less-than-exciting plot into an art film that works at a whole other level. Picture how many different ways the famous prostitute scene (where Holden hires a prostitute and talks to her instead of having sex) from the text could work. Imagine how it could be shot. Should it be one, long static shot a la Ingmar Bergman or should it be slow moving dolly shots of objects in the hotel room a la Sergio Leone? The two different styles would give the scene two completely different feels. The text is versatile enough for both styles to succeed in their own ways.
Who could do it best: Some of you may have picked up on this already but I’d go with Gus Van Sant. If you think about it, Catcher screams Gus Van Sant. Teenage angst, long sequences without any dialog, an intense amount of versatility. It’s all in his filmography. Few have done teenage angst better than he did in Elephant. He’s mastered the art of dialog-less film (see: Paranoid Park). As the cherry on top, he’s proven to be one of the most versatile directors of all time. With films ranging from incomprehensible art features (My Own Private Idaho) to bad comedies (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) to mainstream biopics (Milk), he has covered a variety of styles and is a strong enough in each of them to meld them together into the Frankenstein that is Catcher in the Rye.
And that’s all I’ve got for today. Thanks for reading and happy movie watching.