There's a pretty informative story about how, after getting the gig to adapt his own novel The Cider House Rules, John Irving sat down feeling fairly confident, thinking something to the effect that "Hey, all I have to do is re-type who people are, what they do and what they say -- this'll be a breeze ..." and, after doing that with his novel, found he had enough screenplay pages ... for a nine-hour film. Adaptations are tough: What do you leave in, what do you leave out? Is fidelity the only true measure of worth, or can carefully-made changes actually improve the film version of a book? Below are some of my picks for the best adapted screenplays of the past ten years; as ever, this list is wildly subjective, and our ever-hungry comments section awaits your picks. ...
1) Jackie Brown (1997)
A great example of how tweaking a good book can make it even better -- Quentin Tarantino's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch moved the setting from one coast to another, changed the race of one of the leads -- and, by ignoring such petty details, wound with a film that completely nails the talky, criminal, human spirit of Elmore Leonard's amazing body of work. Leonard's work also gave Tarantino the first grown-up story he's ever worked with, and Tarantino stepped up to the plate and delivered -- as fond as I am of Pulp Fiction's incendiary inventions, I still think Jackie Brown is the better actual film.
2) Children of Men (2006)
Another case where the screenwriters modified much of the book to the improvement of the story -- P.D. James's novel takes place over a period of months, while Curaron's film speeds by over a few days like a fever-dream nightmare. There are other changes, too (Clive Owen's lead is no longer related to England's all-powerful Big Brother, but, instead, Danny Huston's minor functionary), but the decision to strip Children of Men down to a few nightmare days was incredibly insightful -- and made for an adaptation that works as an amazing film.