There are plenty of people who would prefer that Hollywood, and the film industry in general, never lay a finger on their favorite works of literature. Some books are deemed “unfilmable,” others readers feel are too good to be tarnished by an adaptation. Some books, however, fairly cry out for a big screen treatment. Here are five novels that I would love to see adapted for the silver screen.
1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
In 1998, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible became a literary sensation. Critics and book lovers swooned, and Kingsolver became a darling of the writing world. It was chosen by the goddess of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey, as an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 1999. The same year, it was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It became assigned reading in high schools (at least it did in mine). It seemed like the perfect property to be run through the Hollywood mill and beamed up on the silver screen. There are a host of juicy roles for men, women and children that, if performed well, would put the actors at the front of the pack come awards season. The exotic setting in the Belgian Congo of the 1960s is a fascinating backdrop and not particularly well-covered territory for major motion pictures. Hollywood has never had an issue with movies about Africa seen through the eyes of whites and/or foreigners (see: Out of Africa, Nowhere in Africa). Why this book has never been snatched up by a studio and turned into a cinematic gem is a mystery to this day.
2. Don Quixote by Cervantes
All right, so this one actually has been adapted. Many times. However, there is one version in particular which hasn’t made it that I would love to see. Director Terry Gilliam has wanted to make this classic for years as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an altered version of the Cervantes novel where a 21st-century man is sent back in time to take the place of Sancho Panza.In 2000, it looked like Gilliam’s dream was going to come true. He had a cast attached (including Johnny Depp and legendary French actor Jean Rochefort), sets were being built and costumes were made. However, as those who have seen the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha know only too well, the director’s hopes and dreams were about to be cruelly dashed. The production experienced an unending wave of bad luck, including the dangerously deteriorating health of Rochefort, sound interference from NATO aircraft, and a flash flood on the second day of shooting. That version was abandoned and the rights to the screenplay were turned over to an insurance company for several years. In 2010, Gilliam was re-casting the film for a second try, now with Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor in the lead roles. That version also never came to pass and the project is currently listed as being in pre-production, with John Hurt rumored as Don Quixote. In 2000, a made-for-TV adaptation starring John Lithgow was fairly well received. The most recent big screen attempt is a curious version with 10 co-directors titled Don Quixote: The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha. While there isn’t much information on this one, the film’s credits list the USC School of the Cinematic Arts as a production company, indicating it may be a massive student undertaking. James Franco and Luis Guzmán are billed in small roles.
3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s stunning and heartbreaking first novel about a young black girl who longs for blue eyes and light skin is notorious in the literary world. Set amid the turmoil of post-Depression era Ohio, the story deals frankly with matters of harsh racism, prostitution, incest, and child molestation. For these reasons, there have been repeated attempts to have the book banned from schools. In reality, these are probably some of the same reasons it hasn’t been turned into a film. Another issue is that of the main character; a young black girl is not the most frequently seen protagonist on film. Perhaps the enormous success of Beasts of the Southern Wild, complete with a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for pint-sized Quvenzhané Wallis, will change all that. If handled properly, the film could be an immense work of art.
4. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
This is the first book in a series known as “The Bartimaeus Sequence.” These fantasy novels were originally called “The Bartimaeus Trilogy” for the first three books in the series, but were re-dubbed after a prequel was later published. The books concern the adventures of Bartimaeus, a djinn who is summoned periodically by magicians to reluctantly do their bidding. In the first installment, he is called on by Nathaniel, a talented but troubled young boy. In the post-Harry Potter era, studios are climbing over one another to get every kid and teen lit fantasy/sci-fi hit on the big screen. The success of the Twilight and The Hunger Games films has only spurred them on to make more. In Samarkand, Stroud creates a richly detailed world full of fascinatingly flawed characters. The entire creation is wonderfully cinematic, and with a built-in fan base, it seems like a no-brainer for a studio. Miramax had the same idea back in 2008 when they slated the project for development. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and screenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove) were attached. However, that rendition of the film was subsequently scrapped, and not a peep about a film adaptation has been heard since. Fans of the arch, wonderfully droll Bartimaeus eagerly await his return.
5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, about a pair of Jewish cousins who create a Nazi-fighting comic book hero called The Escapist during World War 2, is one of the most notorious films that never was. The titular pair is based on Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, real-life creators of the Superman comics. Michael Chabon is one of the literary world’s most prolific and highly lauded authors. Several of his books have been turned into films, including Curtis Hanson’s fantastic Wonder Boys. A film adaptation of this gem has long been in the works, beginning before the book was even published in 2000, when producer Scott Rudin (who also produced Wonder Boys) bought the rights to the film. Since then, a number of drafts of the screenplay have been churned out by Chabon. For various reasons, none of them have been green-lit. Every few years, a new crop of actors is rumored to be attached to the project. The long list includes Jamie Bell, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Ben Whishaw, Ryan Gosling, and Andrew Garfield. Since 2004, director Stephen Daldry has mentioned his plans to adapt the book on numerous occasions. In 2011, he expressed his desire to adapt Kavalier and Clay as an 8-part mini-series for HBO. Given the current climate, in which many film directors are turning to television in favor of cinema, this might be where it ultimately ends up. Chabon himself has noted the difficulties of turning this work into a film, namely the long time span that is covered and an 11-year gap between sections of the book. At the same time, so much about the story is tantalizingly visual and could make for a gorgeous big screen experience. All of this back and forth is enough to make long-waiting fans throw up their hands and scream, “Oy vey!”