I love books and I love movies and TV. An adaptation in the right hands can be a beautiful thing. Combining good source material with the right director’s vision can produce something great, like mixing chocolate and peanut butter. But not always. Sometimes a book really struggles in its adaptation and what comes out is less peanut butter and chocolate and more orange juice and toothpaste.
For instance, I have loved just about every big (and little) screen version of Jane Austen’s novels. There’s something about the romance, setting, costume, and characters of Austen that make these books shine on a screen.
And then there are the others – the books that are wonderful on page, but should probably never see the darkened light of a movie theater. Here are my top three contenders.
House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski
I’ve read this book three times and with each re-read I find myself pulled further into unnerving narrative. The setting of the book (the terrifying and seemingly alive endless place that somehow exists inside a normal suburban home) is pitch black and massive, so it wouldn’t show up on screen very well. Also, there’s no way that any CGI could compare to the mental picture Danielewski creates or the clues he leaves strewn about.
Robinson’s voice is so poetic and rich that I found myself wanting to memorize whole pages of this text. But the story itself is bleak and I’m worried a big screen adaptation would tell a dark, depressing story without Robinson’s beautiful writing to anchor it.
Technically, a version of this was released in theaters in 1970, but the reviews weren’t great, and I’ll admit, I’ve never seen it. The non-linear structure of this book is a huge part of what makes it so successful and the 1970 version did away with that completely. In the novel, the different plot lines taking place over different times with different characters slowly come together to creating a perfect ending. It’s a high bar to set.