The Killers (1947): For a short story as short as Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, it sure has been adapted into a lot of films. Over a mere eight pages, hitmen stick up a diner in order to track down a mark. It’s a great setup, so great that the two major Hollywood films made from it use it as a killer opening, then spiral into a wholly made-up backstory. In the beloved 1947 noir version, the focus turns to detectives and flashbacks. In Don Siegel’s trashy 1964 version—featuring a Ronald Reagan bitch-slapping Angie Dickinson—it’s the hitmen themselves (Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager) who do the snooping. The only version that remains faithful is a 1956 short Andrei Tarkovsky made while in film school.
Masque of the Red Death (1964): In the early ’60s, Roger Corman hit gold by turning Edgar Allan Poe into what—for the famously penny-pinching filmmaker—were lavish hits. His expansion of Poe’s essentially plotless 1842 chiller, with Vincent Price as a sadistic medieval despot, isn’t very in-depth. But it is his most visually striking work, with gorgeous colors and elegant camerawork from Nicolas Roeg.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): The inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s space opus was Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinel. Thing is, it runs only six pages, merely hinting at what wound up in the film. Clarke himself said comparing the story to the film was like “comparing an acorn to the resulting oak tree.” He later expanded his story into the official 2001 novelization.
La Belle Noiseuse (1991): Jacques Rivette is famous for his long films—1971’s Out 1 runs for more than 13 hours—and he couldn’t help himself when (loosely) adapting Honore de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece. A 21-page story became a four-hour epic, much of it devoted to the slow artistic process of painter Michel Piccoli working with nude model Emannuelle Beart.
Tony Takitani (2004): This minor-key character study runs only 75 minutes. But even that seems excessive given that the Haruki Murakami source will take you only five minutes to read.
The Lorax (2012): Remember that part in Dr. Seuss’ eco-tut-tutter when the Lorax tells jokes and stuff? Yeah, me neither.
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