*Editor’s note: Make sure you read our follow-up film review here.
Over the years a bestselling novel will grab the public, and the public will clamor for it and want more. Since the dawn of the motion picture, that story, if enough of the public demands it, will become forever turned into the re-watchable image, and itself become immortal. The public is anxious to see who will be cast in the lead roles. Will the film be true to the novel? they ask. The movie becomes a blockbuster, even in the days before the term was coined, with ever larger opening weekend box office returns. Over time new topical novels come seemingly out of nowhere, unpredictable, heralding in The Next Big Thing. You can’t predict it. You don’t know what it will be about. But each new person who hears of it will jump on the bandwagon and have to read it. And then the movie deal comes, and everyone will pay to see it.
These stories that become household names are typically dramas. You can’t get through even a grocery store without seeing stacks of these books. Sometimes they are merely historical, as in earlier days of film, like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (civil war), Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember (sinking of the Titanic), and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (life in wartime).
And then there are the other novels. And at the heart of these dramas is something that shocks the senses of the mainstream public of its day. You can skip across the past 75 years and see these prominent moments of books that must become film. And each carries its own unique theme, typically experiences we don’t want to face in our own lives. Yet for some reason we want to see it on the big screen. These include:
- In 1941, Richard Llwellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (dangerous labor conditions)
- In 1953, James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (military hazing)
- In 1957, Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place (incest, abortion, adultery)
- In 1957, Corbett Thigpen’s The Three Faces of Eve (multiple personality disorder)
- In 1957, Pierre Boulle’s Bridge Over the River Kwai (torture and POWs)
- In 1962, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (child sexual abuse)
- In 1962, Henry Farrell’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (mental illness)
- In 1967, Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (drug abuse)
- In 1967, Charles Webb’s The Graduate (adultery, uncertainty of future)
- In 1968, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (cults/satanism/rape)
- In 1970, Erich Segal’s Love Story (dying young)
- In 1971, Antony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (ultraviolence)
- In 1972, James Dickey’s Deliverance (rape, fear)
- In 1975, Peter Benchley’s Jaws (fear of the uncontrollable)
- In 1975, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (mental institutions)
- in 1975, Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (submission, sexism)
- In 1979, Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror (fear)
- In 1982, John Irving’s The World According to Garp (obsession with death and sex)
- In 1987, V.C Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic (incest)
- In 1991, Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs (cannibalism)
- In 1992, John Braine’s The Crying Game (transgenderism)
- In 1994, Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption (hopelessness and self-worth)
- In 1994, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (vampirism, senseless violence)
- In 1995 Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County (adultery)
- In 1996, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (adultery, war, regret)
- In 1997, John Behrendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (murder and sex in a small town)
- In 2006, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (skewed history/false prophesies)
The nature of the blockbuster has changed from decade to decade, but these books were standouts in their years, bestselling novels that catapulted into something else, they went “viral” before that term was coined.
And The Next Big Thing? Coming later this month, in 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the novel by Steig Larsson. Check out this preview, and watch closely, a quiz will follow:
From that trailer we can tell the film must be the ultimate compilation of several past bestsellers-turned-movies. It has: rape, torture, violence, sex, intra-family murder… actually too many things to list. The name of the original novel? Not really the uber-catchy Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, believe it or not. The author didn’t even know that title in his lifetime. His title for the novel? The aptly named Men Who Hate Women.
Is all this proof that sex, shock, and violence sells?
No commentary here. Really. Just a reflection on what the public must be after. And that we keep going back for more, over and over, not just in this generation, but the one before and the ones before that.
Personally, I try to avoid The Next Big Thing. Why? Hype. I find I am usually disappointed. And over time, shock after shock after shock dulls the mind. It becomes common. Boring. Instead I prefer hunting out the little seen gems, or alternatively, the purely escapist stuff: action, sci-fi, fantasy, fun stuff, or even comedies… and I stay away from the Real. And the Bleak.
Then one of these trailers includes an actor you just can’t stay away from. Like Daniel Craig. Even when his last film was a bit disappointing. And who doesn’t like a rough (very rough) and tumble female protagonist? And then you find the new Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a remake. And you can get the dubbed original on video. Streaming video even. And you learn the main characters are pretty interesting and have some real chemistry of the camaraderie variety, if you can just wade through all the ultraviolence and ugliness. Disturbing, for sure. How does a movie like this become mainstream? There are certainly hints in the trailer to the new movie to the nature of this one. But the title of the original book sums it all up.
Will I see this one in the theater just because it stars Daniel Craig? Not sure yet on that one.