"The book is always better" is an adage that we remember hearing from a young age whenever we expressed any interest in seeing some Hollywood adaptation of one of our favorite novels. It's a truism that's come in handy over the years, if only so that, at best, we can be pleasantly surprised at a good adaptation, but also prepared for the worst. And, um, there's lots of bad ones! For every great book-to-movie adaptation (what's up, Princess Bride) there's tons of not-so-great ones. We were recently reminded of this with the lukewarm reviews for the film adaptation of The Girl on the Train, and decided to look back at some of the most egregious screen translations of some of our favorite books, and figure out where they went wrong—like, so, so wrong.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is better than The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann
Here's the thing: Baz Luhrmann makes really good trailers for movies. The actual movies? They're very hit or miss. The hits (i.e. Romeo + Juliet) come when his source material is over-the-top dramatic and coalesces with his own tendencies for, uh, over-the-top drama, and what results is a mania-fuled, riotous mishmash of noise, and color, and hysteria. But when the source material is inherently subtle? When its beauty lies in its quiet scenes, its somber reflections, rather than in its glamour? When, in fact, the whole point of including glitzy party scenes is to demonstrate their inherent lack of worth? Then Luhrmann makes a mess of it, because he can only make a good movie when the story is about a party, not when it's in spite of a party. All of which is to say, read Fitzgerald, and skip this film. It might feature one of the greatest Lana Del Rey songs of all time, but you can listen to Lana while you're reading.