The Best (and Worst) Movies of 2013: Adaptations Edition
“I liked the book better than the film.”
If you’ve ever ventured out into the public and engaged someone in a conversation about movies at some point in your life, it’s likely you’ve heard this phrase. Maybe you agree with it, or maybe you don’t, but there’s no disputing the dominance film adaptations have asserted in modern cinema, re-imagined for both a built-in fan base and a potential new market of moviegoers.
2013, of course, saw the release of several notable adaptations, both the great and the terrible. In an effort to re-visit and evaluate the year as it quickly closes, here’s a look at what we consider to be the best and worst adaptations that debuted on screen this year.
Best Adaptations of 2013
Tom Hanks delivered an inspiring performance in Captain Phillips as, well, Captain Richard Phillips, a ship captain whose dramatic capture by Somali pirates escalated into a major national event back in 2009. Great use of tension in the film will grab you from the start and keep you in its unrelenting grip throughout its entirety, and although one can sometimes feel the 134-minute running time, solid performances and interesting themes are likely to stick with you long after the credits roll.
While the original film was an enjoyable one in its own right, The Hunger Games never fully embraced many of the complex and nuanced elements of its source material. Political struggles were glossed over for the sake of the action being properly delivered, relationships felt forced and muddled, and the world never felt quite as alive as it does in Suzanne Collin’s writing.
Thankfully, Catching Fire came forward and was able to deliver exactly what we want from a great sequel: it took the premise of the original and expanded on nearly all of its elements, from the political struggles of Panem to the relationships Katniss shares with the other characters within the story. It’s bigger and better, and although it has a few story and characterization issues, Catching Fire is the ambitious film that the original Hunger Games should have been.
Just as we reached a time when we figured we’re more likely to get schlock than anything substantive and meaningful in the realm of paranormal romance, Beautiful Creatures came along and proved that you really can make a decent paranormal romance story without resorting to cheese.
Sure, it contains the typical and cliched elements of so many other YA adaptations including ideas of choosing one’s own path and finding true love at the ripe old age of 16, but there’s a sense of authenticity and genuine emotion shared between the two leads that serves to make their romance actually feel compelling. The ending is a little clumsy, but the overall themes and quality of the dialogue actually makes Beautiful Creatures one of the more underrated films of the year.
Of every film on this list, Frozen probably embraces the definition of adaptation the least. True, it’s an adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale The Snow Queen, but creative liberties taken by creators have rendered Frozen as an almost completely different story all its own.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as great adaptations often embrace the source material and use it to build their own interpretation. In Frozen’s case, the writers wanted to explore the origins and character of The Snow Queen herself, and the end result is a charming story about true love, acceptance, and family that is worthy of standing alongside the other great Disney classics in history.
The captivating story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and his three fellow officers as they try to overthrow a Taliban leader comes to life on the big screen in Lone Survivor, a dramatic film that brings home the crushing realities of war and the harrowing decisions made because of it.
Directed by Peter Burg, Lone Survivor is an engaging and powerful film not suited for the faint of heart.
Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon took a break counting all of his Avengers money to direct Much Ado About Nothing, a direct adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Using the classic language of The Bard and telling an amusing love story, Much Ado About Nothing is an interesting blend of old and new that particularly impressed in 2013.
Worst Adaptations of 2013
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The original novel of The Mortal Instruments was a mediocre one at best, whose themes and ideas weren’t really anything new or original in the Young Adult genre. Sadly, even its mediocrity outshines that of the awful film adaptation released quietly in late summer.
Cheap effects, bad acting, lame plot pacing, and awkward incest themes make the film an unbearable mess that is best reserved for the bottom of the DVD bargain bin.
Continuing the parade of awful fiction translated into an equally awful film, The Host is an adaptation of Stephanie Myers’ non-twilight work of fiction of the same name. With bad acting, awkward dialogue, and a twisted sci-fi romance narrative that can only be described as a love parallelogram, The Host rivals Twilight as one of the more painful fiction adaptations in years.
Nicholas Sparks’ fiction is the king of campy romance the likes of which idealistic hopeless romantics worldwide grab hold of, and Safe Haven is nothing more than a continuation of this unfortunate trend. Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel star in this melodramatic and nonsensical love story for the ages whose ridiculous ending plot twist will likely cause your brain to bleed.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is a textbook example of style vs. substance. A story dripping with cynicism about the American Dream, any sort of emotional or thematic resonance the film might have had was completely negated by the film’s obsession with being the most stunning thing you’ve ever seen. Taking place in a world that resembles Panem’s Capitol more than turn-of-the-century America, The Great Gatsby attempts to wow with its bold visuals and anachronistic music remixes, while never truly delivering any sort of meaningful or interesting story. Even DiCaprio’s portrayal as the enigmatic Gatsby can’t save this movie from itself, and it sadly never rises above being lackluster.
Where Whedon successfully interpreted Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing, Warm Bodies is a cliched Romeo and Juliet clone whose inconsistent tone, confused themes, lack of chemistry, and overall clumsy storytelling kept it from being anything significant. While it’s understood that we’re meant to connect to the zombies in the story, it’s arguable that audiences felt a need to do so more out of necessity than actual desire, due to the flat survivor characters who felt more lifeless than their undead counterparts.