I was thinking recently about books that have been made into movies. In fact I started writing this blog post with the intention of discussing the all important question of whether you should read the book first before you see the film and whether or not you can meaningfully tell the same story via different media without compromising the effect.
But I’m going to have to leave that discussion for another day because what I really want to talk about right now is David Fincher.
As well as reading and writing, I’m an avid movie goer to boot and Fincher is one of my all time favourite directors. However, I’d never made the connection until now about how so many of his movies are based in literature. A quick flick through his back catalogue is revealing. From my quick perusal of IMDB, Fincher has complete 10 feature films to date, 6 of which had book based underpinnings –
Fight Club (1999) – based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Zodiac (2007) – an adaptation of Robert Graysmith’s books on the hunt for the Zodiac killer
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – an adaptation of a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Social Network (2010) – based on a book about the founding of Facebook called the Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – based on a novel by Stieg Larsson
Gone Girl (2014) – based on a novel by Gillian Flynn
Looking over this it seems clearer to me why I like his work. I too like my art with a side order of grit. Admittedly, I really hated the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but I love the short story on which it’s based and I’ve not been disappointed by his other movies so far. But this has got me wondering if much of what I like about his work is his ability to transfer a narrative on the page (e.g. from a novel) to one on the screen. This is a different proposition to taking a screenplay, which is designed and structured for film, and making a movie from it.
People often dish out the old trope that the film wasn’t as good as the book and that great books often translate into terrible movies and vice versa, but what if that translation is a skill in itself and one that Fincher seems to be particularly good at. I can think of many novels that I loudly proclaimed to be un-filmable only to have had to eat my words when the movies themselves turned out to be amazing (Atonement, We Need to Talk about Kevin and the LOTR trilogy – I’m looking at you). I wrongly assumed that justice could only be done to these stories when they were told through the appropriate medium. To try and fit a square peg in a round hole would only court disaster and yet clearly, in many cases, I have been wrong. I now try to look closer at the people behind the movie – the screenwriters, the producers and the directors before worrying about a great book will become a bad film.
So over to you. Can you think of other directors who excel taking a story from page to screen? What books have you read that made (or would make) great movies? What about Gone Girl? Have you read it? Did you like it and what do you think the film will be like?