Reading the Screen

Um, is anyone surprised? It’s recently been reported that Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight saga, has optioned Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, slated for 2013. While I’m sort of offended that the two books-cum-films share an identical fan base (since I believe that Morgenstern is, if not a phenomenal writer herself, then at least a far better writer than Meyer), it makes sense, of course. Magic, sex, and pallor. These seem to be the new sex, drugs, and rock and roll, so a movie seemed on the mark, really.

What surprised me more was news that Evan Mandery’s unconventional love story Q was so quickly getting the same glitzy treatment, if I may be so bold as to call the director of an upcoming Jonah Hill bomb “glitzy.” The point is, you can’t blink without one of your recent reads becoming part of your Netflix queue. And it’s fun trying to see which will be the next domino to fall.

It got me thinking about other books we’ve reviewed here at DBC|Reads that would make for obvious movie choices. Interestingly, none of the biggest-selling books we’ve reviewed really fit the bill. (None that haven’t already gotten movie deals, that is. The Art of Fielding and The Marriage Plot are currently trundling their way through Hollywood pre-production stages, so it seems unfair to list them as potential screenplay material)

Then, too, is that matter concerning some of our biggest bestsellers we’ve read: their complete and utter lack of screen potential, despite their commercial success. It’s just as important to keep those selections away from the screen as it is to bring other titles to greater light there. With that, here are my top votes and vetos for book-to-film adaptations:

We the Animals by Justin Torres. One Amazon review said it reads like “home movies spliced together,” and there’s no better way to describe the randomly placed, telegraphic series of memories that tumble forth. If rendered in film, this could be as powerful as it was to read, but it would have to be carefully handled in order to maintain that spliced-video feeling in a way most film studios have always attempted and mangled with overproduction. Indeed, if Hollywood didn’t go the actual rustic route of a home movie camera with this one, they’d still need Terrence Malick on board to direct with a cast of fresh-faced unknowns. Worth it? I, for one, see Cannes potential all over this. Not least of all because I don’t foresee a lot of dialogue, and film festivals fawn all over verbal minimalism. (Pray tell if my stereotypes are too strong and/or accurate in this regard.)

Room by Emma Donoghue. There’s no more immediate way I can say this: this book should never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever EVER be turned into a film. Nor will it be. No one, I don’t believe, is so stupid as to pick up the rights to her already completed screenplay of the book — that’s right, she’s just sitting on them waiting for a bid — because no one has the heart to even think about casting a five-year-old in the role of Jack and then saying, “Okay, Billy,  this is the scene where you hide in the closet while your mother gets raped.” Or, “Okay, now Jack has to breast-feed.” Of course, directors would do anything if they thought audiences would watch it. But there is an inherent guilt in every reader’s obsessive consumption of that novel that no one wants to relive in a theater amongst other people. I myself stayed up all night reading Room and even if no one knew that I’d still feel dirty, like I’m basking in the grotesquerie of the situation at hand. All that aside, so much of the book relies on the arresting effect of narrator Jack’s personal voice, and unless the movie version wanted to do massive amounts of cheesy voiceover dubbing, that framing that gave the book so much power would be lost entirely.

But who knows, maybe some ambitious filmmaker will pick up the rights to that Room screenplay. Maybe Chad Harbach’s breakout hit will lose steam throughout production due to an unwieldy cast. Maybe The Night Circus will run dreadfully over-budget on the CGI. Maybe someone will decide, awaking from some sort of inspired dream, that Bright’s Passage warrants a really po-mo paper-animated short feature film. (Personal pipe dream.) Movies in their early stages are such delicate potentialities that maybe it’s too risky even to speculate on their future.

It is fun, though, to take the leap with your favorite literary characters into six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon territory, once and for all.

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