A Brief History of Books Turning into Other Works of Art
Books have always been multi-functional and have served many purposes. Numerous books have been written about countless topics, such as history and descriptions of unknown lands or various countries, epic stories about wars and heroes, tragedies about grief and loss, love stories, and mysteries where the detective tries to solve the case before it is too late, stories about magical lands where adventurers wander...
Books have evolved and reflected the current society in which they were written, in one way or another. And of course, like everything else, books had to transform and move forward with the times as well. This has caused books to have some sub-variants that feed off of them. Probably the most famous example of this is none other than book translation. If you would like to learn more about the process of book translation and how book translation is done, you can read more here. If you’re interested in comics translation, this article may be your cup of tea.
Another one of the most well-known examples of this is none other than our main topic: movie adaptations of books. So why not take a look at how it all started?
When was the First Book Made into a Movie?
Ever since the movie camera, which is also known as the Kinetograph, was invented in 1892, books have always been an inspiration for movies, even in the oldest days of cinema.
Movies Lost in Time
Trilby and Little Billee (1896)
This video lasted only 45 seconds and depicted a part of the best-selling novel Trilby, which came out in 1895. In this footage, the main character Trilby sits at a table while eating a cake and talks to her friend Little Billee. Even though the footage of this scene is lost, ironically, another movie named Trilby, which was made in 1915 and based on the same novel is one of the earliest surviving movies.
The Death of Nancy Sykes (1897)
This was the earliest adaptation of another best-selling novel, Oliver Twist. Rather than focusing on the protagonist of the story, it focused on the villain, a merciless thief who murders his girlfriend for preventing a kidnapping attempt on Oliver Twist.
Mr. Bumble the Beadle (1898)
Yet another Oliver Twist adaptation appears on this list. It focuses on another villain this time, who is Mr. Bumble the Beadle, meaning our protagonist loses his spotlight once again. No worries; in the later days of cinema, he will get plenty of time to shine.
Unfortunately, the footage of these said movies is lost and yet to be found along with the information about the cast and the crew.
The Early Days of Survived Film
The first known footage of a book to movie adaptation belongs to Georges Méliès, who was a pioneer that paved the way for many film techniques. In 1899, he released two adaptations: Cinderella, which is based on the Brothers Grimm story; and King John, which is the first known film to be based on Shakespeare’s works. Another one of his works is based on the novel She: A History of Adventure by English writer H. Rider Haggard.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A Trip to the Moon, being Méliès’ most well-known work, is loosely based on Jules Verne’s novels From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and its sequel, Around the Moon (1870). Back in the day, it was called a trick film—which means a film made with innovative special effects—but now it is known for being the first sci-fi movie ever made.
The First and Most Well-Known Book to Film Adaptations
When we think about the Golden Days of Hollywood combined with movie to screen adaptations, these two are the first ones to pop into our minds.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
This classic movie was adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s book, which has the same name and was published in 1936. Even though this lengthy book is well over a thousand pages, the movie stays true to the book. With this being said, it would not be such a big surprise that the movie adaptation is almost 4 hours long. With its glamorous clothes, sets, and acting, Gone With the Wind is still considered way ahead of its time.
(The video above may contain spoilers for the movie.)
This beloved mystery drama movie has the same name as its gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1938. Most say that even though the movie is slow-paced like the book, it starts to pick up at one point and the pay-off is worth it.
Books that Challenge Time
Before starting to read this part of the article, we’ll leave a link down below to set the ambiance for the movie we are going to be talking about, because romanticizing life, even just a tiny bit, never hurts anyone.
We compared the Pride and Prejudice adaptations to see what worked and what didn't.
Known as the godmother of the “enemies-to-lovers” trope, which is loved by many people, this novel was written by Jane Austen and published in 1813. Even after over two centuries, the witty, free-spirited Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet is still one of the most well-loved heroines of all time along with the misunderstood, socially awkward but selfless and generous love interest, Mr. Darcy. The book itself is not just a romance about the two leads, their clashing personalities and banters, pining and yearning, but it also shows the life and dynamics between the Bennet family and is full of clever remarks, sarcasm, and social commentary on the early 19th century of England as well.
1940 movie version: This first-ever adaptation of Pride and Prejudice took some considerable liberties. Three examples of this are that: the movie is actually based on the stage play, some of the actors were older than they were supposed to be and this movie’s Mr. Darcy is more open about his feelings than in the book Mr. Darcy, even so, this does not take anything from the actor’s and actress’ chemistry. One of the upsides of the liberties the movie took was, making it even more humorous and light-hearted than the book. It still makes all of the points the book makes.
1995 mini-series version: This is the adaptation that stayed true to the source material the most. It takes little to no liberties in the story or the characters and the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable. Without a doubt, these are some of the reasons why it is considered one of the, if not the best version by many people. This doesn’t stop the fact that it shares the top spot with another version which is the next one!
2005 movie version: For many people, this adaptation is probably not only the first time they have watched Pride and Prejudice but also their introduction to Austen’s works. This comforting, eye-candy of a movie that feels like a love letter to nature, features Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden as the main characters. Sparks fly between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy whenever they’re on screen together. No one’s acting, including the actors and actresses who play the side characters, feels forced.
This adaptation had to take a few liberties since this is a movie and had a limited time span. So basically, what the ‘95 version did in well over 5 hours this movie had to do in 2 hours. We haven’t seen anyone say that this was necessarily a bad thing after watching both of “the proposal” scenes. “The field” scene at the end of the movie proves that a movie can beautifully and successfully add or change some things that are not originally in the novel.
Seeing that our own bias is showing right now, we will see ourselves out.
Now, why don’t we do the same for another classic: Little Women?
Written by Louisa May Alcott and published in 1868, this is another one of the books adapted to movies that have stood the test of time since its first adaptation was released in 1917 when its footage is considered lost and another one just a year later.
This wholesome, emotional book that has been loved and read for generations tells the story of the four March sisters: Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth.
You can listen to the soundtrack of the Little Women 2019 adaptation here.
1994 version: This beloved version, which features Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, is the one many people have grown up with. It is the adaptation that stays true to the novel the most.
2019 version: The latest version of Little Women features stars from various generations, from Saorise Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, and Timotheé Chalamet to Meryl Streep. It modernizes the characters and adds some things without taking away from the novel’s essence. One of the things that set this adaptation aside is the portrayal of Amy March. In the earlier versions of the movie, she was portrayed just as a spoiled, selfish child that unfortunately did not change that much even when she grew up and (spoiler alert) as a stepping tool for Laurie to kind of get revenge on Jo. It made it seem like Laurie was just using Amy. In this version, Amy still has her flaws just like in the novel, but she is more realistic and as she grows up she becomes her own person. Here’s an interpretation of the same scene in the novel in different versions.
Of course, we couldn’t include all of the adaptations of either of the novels even if we’d like to, but that would mean this article would be undoubtedly considerably longer.
Some of the Best Film Adaptations of Books
- Harry Potter
- The Shining
- Brokeback Mountain (which is actually based on the short story written by Annie Proulx)
- Fight Club
We don’t think these need any explanation.
Unfortunately, not all movies are in the same category.
Some of the Worst Book to Movie Adaptations
Percy Jackson Movies
A Percy Jackson series will launch in 2023. Since Uncle Rick (Rick Riordan, the author of the book series) is involved in choosing the Percy Jackson series TV cast and the writing, maybe this adaptation will come and (hopefully) save the day.
Sadly, we don’t think these two need an explanation either.
Some of the Best Movie Sequels
The process of adapting a book is tough work, especially if it is a well-known one since this will increase people’s expectations and curiosity about the upcoming movie. But making a continuation to a beloved film or series is no easy task either.
A movie adaptation comes with the pressure of living up to the expectations of the original work. A movie comes with the burden of living up to the expectations that the first or previous one has set. The sequel maintains or maintains and expands on the world and characters that the previous movie or movies have established. The storyline is consistent enough within the franchise and does not contradict any of the themes that were discussed or handled before the sequel so that fans will be satisfied. This is similar to a movie adapted from a book.
Here are some memorable sequels to some well-known and well-loved movies:
Blade Runner: 2049
The nostalgia of the first Blade Runner movie meets the 21st century’s technology, CGI, and a quality soundtrack in this movie.
Did you know that this film was a pioneer in developing the "cyberpunk" aesthetic, which is now widely used in movies, video games, and other media?
This sequel follows two parallel storylines and has everything a great gangster movie needs: a criminal mastermind, violence, some more violence, drama, betrayal, etc.
Toy Story 3
If we do not count the fourth movie, this is one of the most memorable endings to one of our beloved childhood movie franchises.
A Quick Little Recap
Up until this point, as you have probably noticed, we’ve been chatting a lot about a particular theme: books, translation of books, books with movie adaptations, books, movies, etc.
So it wouldn’t hurt anyone to switch up the theme just a little bit and talk about a video game adapted to a TV series.
Quite a Journey: A Book Series Adapted to Video Games Adapted to a Netflix Series
Originally, The Witcher was a book series that was started in 1986 by Andrzej Sapkowski. It was later turned into a game series. The first game launched in 2007. A total of three games were made, and all of the games became successful. Years and years later, seeing the game’s success, it was adapted to be a Netflix series starring Henry Cavill as The Witcher himself. The Witcher season 3 release date is still unknown as of August 2022, but at least it is certain that the filming has officially started and another season is on the way.
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