One underestimates just how much books - ranging from paperbacks to comics to graphic novels - have an influence on what is seen on television and in film. And with a slower economy and a lack of ideas in Hollywood (note all the remakes and sequels seen as of late), thrilling page-turners and bestsellers are more important than ever. The list that follows is, in no particular order, a brief guide to book adaptations that really shined this year, on both the big and small screens.
"The Hunger Games"
Based on the fantasy novel by Suzanne Collins, the film starred Jennifer Lawrence in the role of the archer Katniss. Set in a dystopian nation called Panem, children are selected by a lottery to participate in a televised battle to the death for the entertainment of the rich. Filled with Greek mythological and political references, the book offered excellent commentary on the vapidity of reality television, the desensitization of youth to violence, and the profit-centric worldview of the rich one percent. For the most part, the film stayed true to the messages and metaphors of the book, and struck a nice balance between well-choreographed action and spot-on acting.
While on the topic of archery, this television adaptation of the Green Arrow comic series for the CW deserves a mention. It's neither groundbreaking nor awful; it's merely satisfactory and memorable. What warrants its place on this list is its fast-paced action, use of fan-favorite comic characters, and several interesting subplots that have not yet fully played out. It follows the story of a man who assumes the role of a modern day Robin Hood and goes after the rich and the criminal underworld. Though "Arrow" certainly grows more intriguing over time (it's already been secured for a second season), it needs to dial back on the soap opera and work harder to highlight its strong points.
"A Game of Thrones"
Based on the epic fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin, and named after the first entry in the saga, "A Game of Thrones" is a television series following the conflict of families over the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Laced with subtle elements of magic, it pushes battles and political intrigue to the forefront. The series airs on HBO and deeply explores issues of religion, civil war, and sexuality. It has drawn both critical acclaim for its storylines, and nervous criticism over its constant use of nudity. With a third season forthcoming, it has more than lived up to the reputation of the superb books upon which it is based.
Another adaptation that has enjoyed critical acclaim, "Lincoln" ruled the box office throughout November. Audiences flocked to watch alumni including Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this important moment in the president's life during 1865, chronicling his efforts to abolish slavery. Amidst all the hype, it's been nearly forgotten that this movie is a partial adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which itself was considered a great work.
What began as a 2004 novel by David Mitchell became an independent film starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and Susan Sarandon. The book was a fantasy-drama-sci-fi hybrid, telling six interconnected stories ranging from the 19th century South Pacific to a futuristic world of clones and other advanced technology. While the novel was a brilliant masterpiece that was overlooked, underrated, and nearly forgotten, its film counterpart has polarized critics. On one hand, it received a ten-minute standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival and notable critics have considered it one of the most thought-provoking films in recent times; on the other, many have reacted negatively to it. Despite this, "Cloud Atlas" is an intense, three-hour journey that is at once impressively deep and complex, though a thorough read of the book is definitely recommended.
This ensemble fantasy film adapted the popular comic series of the same name, bringing together classic, iconic heroes from Marvel Studios' previous films (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor). It was sure to be a box office success, and one hell of a good time for comic fans. As for how it measures up in the scheme of things this year, "The Avengers" was applaudable for its witty dialogue, uncomplicated-yet-satisfactory plot, and brilliant chemistry between actors. Oh, and Robert Downey Jr.
Speaking of Robert Downey Jr., he was one of the main reasons the recent Sherlock Holmes films were so successful - and so hard to outdo. But the British television series "Sherlock" has become a fierce contender. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, with Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) playing Watson, "Sherlock" has put a modern-day twist on the classic story, without tarnishing its legacy.
"The Walking Dead"
The Walking Dead graphic novels were successful enough, but the TV version, which debuted on AMC three years ago, has become a cultural and worldwide phenomenon. Following the story of survivors in a post-zombie apocalypse world, they must, as the slogan goes, "fight the dead, but fear the living." Between the undead and the untrustworthy who are still alive and willing to kill for a little power, main protagonist Rick Grimes must lead his group to safety and avoid the zombie plague. The series, now in its third season, has drawn a record-breaking, history-making 11 million viewers this year. Generating just as much outrage as acclaim, it's a balance that is sure to plant the series on the tip of peoples' tongues - and keep it there for many years to come.
What can one say about an adaptation - finally - of the J. R. R. Tolkien classic? Well, some, like me, can worry that the story is simply best left to ink and paper, and that a film version could never trump it. But director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings franchise was wildly successful for a reason, and "The Hobbit" is sure to build on that.
"The Dark Knight Rises"
How does one top the all-time greatest film in the superhero genre? That was the question on the minds of many a fan of the Christopher Nolan-directed The Dark Knight. As it happened, Nolan didn't quite top his prior film, but "The Dark Knight Rises" came close enough. Once again filled with brilliant actors, deep philosophical undertones, and jaw-dropping writing and execution, this was certainly one of 2012's best films. An iconic movie that will not be forgotten.
Photo: HBO's "A Game of Thrones." fanpop