Oscars 2020: from book to big screen
Feb 07, 2020
“The book was better” – these are four words we’ve all heard while walking out of the cinema, and probably something we’ve each said ourselves in the past. Adaptations are open to a level of scrutiny that original works simply aren’t. Sometimes, the scenes don’t grab us the same way they did down on paper, sometimes the characters are so much different to the ones we dreamed up – but sometimes, a great interpretation can go on to become the world’s most successful TV series, or even the highest-grossing film.
This is the reason the industry is still filled with filmmakers willing to take the risk and try their hand at an adaptation – you only have to look at the Golden Globe winners in January to see that something must be working, and we’re set to see a handful more take home awards at the Oscars this coming Sunday.
Not many people know that Jojo Rabbit found its inspiration from the novel Caging Skies. It seems like a strange choice for Taika Waititi – the Bafta-award-winning director known for light-hearted films like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and In the Shadows – but watch the movie, and soon it’ll all make sense. Waititi has taken a dark storyline about a member of the Hitler Youth who discovers a Jewish girl in his attic, and injected it with his famous satirical scriptwriting. In the end, Jojo Rabbit is an adaptation that explores the same complex issues as the book it was based on, while also creating something entirely unique.
Next up in the Oscars nomination shortlist is a movie that also proved to work incredibly well in this new medium. Martin Scorcese tasked screenwriter of Schindler’s List, Steven Zaillian, with turning another non-fiction book into a production worthy of his influential filmography (like Goodfellas). The novel ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ chronicles the life and confessions of alleged hitman, Frank Sheeran, during his time working for the mafia – and the end result is what we now know as The Irishman; a gangster tale that interweaves 60 years of a man’s life into a 210-minute crime-epic.
The Irishman has been the topic of conversation since its release in November, but Sheeran isn’t the only bad man to have inspired an Oscar-worthy screenplay in 2020. The Joker has been interpreted in many different ways since he first appeared in a graphic novel back in the 1940s. In the latest release of this psychological thriller, director and producer Todd Phillips decided to completely strip the Joker of his comic-book qualities and place him in a world that mirrors our own. This new narrative has made a once super-villain feel frighteningly human – and for an adaptation that’s been done several times before, Phillips has managed to retell the story and make it relevant again.
Two Popes wasn’t originally a book like the above, but this biographical drama has been adapted from a play Anthony McCarten had written himself back in 2017. The film stands out particularly for its simplicity among all the action of the other Oscar adaptations; it’s instead popular because it relies almost exclusively on the power of its dialogue. Creating a voice for two highly revered figures – who are still alive and well – is no easy feat, and McCarten had to focus on finding ways to carefully translate the interior thoughts of both characters onto the screen.
“A lot of interior thoughts and narration has to be externalized. So you have to find visual ways to tell the story.”
The nature of this internal-external transformation isn’t exclusive to book and film adaptations either. In the same way a film must find a way to showcase an internal monologue visually, an audio brand has to turn a brand concept into a script, and communicate a message with personality, feeling and purpose, using only the medium of sound.