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Sep 21, 2020

BASED ON: LOTR to le Carré, the Best Adapted Screenplays, 2000-2010


Our producer-at-large, USC film-school alum Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., is both a movie buff and a big reader. In his BASED ON series of blog posts, he looks at works adapted to the screen from other mediums decade by decade. Here, he rounds up some of his top choices for the first decade of the century.

Best Family Film

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and his subsequent Hobbit prequels rank amongst the best fantasy-genre films of all time. The first film works best as the classic hero’s journey of Frodo Baggins. It’s also the most family friendly, as it contains less of the stylistic violence that the second and third installments ramped up.

I remember vividly when I first saw the movie in theaters. I dragged my older sister, who would otherwise file the film under the category “nerdy things my little brother watches.” A friend, now a sports-radio celebrity in Chicago, also tagged along somewhat begrudgingly, as he was suspicious of anything not staring Al Pacino or Robert De Niro. They both loved LOTR.

Best Source Material

The Odyssey by Homer

Of the many pieces of Western literature we pored through during my high-school years, I most enjoyed this epic poem of Odysseus' long journey home to his wife, Penelope. Revisiting the classic in adult years, it holds continual relevance, as Odysseus’ struggle returning from the Trojan War (as related in Homer’s The Iliad) speaks to our own nation’s warriors adapting into civilian life after serving in armed conflicts.

While capturing the visual look of what was the 1930s Dust Bowl, I felt the Coen brother’s 2000 adaptation, O’Brother, Where Art Thou? underserved the somber tone of Homer’s work, opting instead for a comedy crime satire. Usually, I appreciate the brothers duo as the most religiously alert filmmakers of our time, so I’ll give them a pass on what they described as a film “very loosely based” on the Greek tale.

Best Adaptation

The Constant Gardener (2005)

I find John le Carré spy novels somniferous. You’ll still find them on my nightstand for that very reason. One exception is The Constant Gardener, which comes out of the thriller genre and ranks as the most gripping novel out of the le Carré canon.

A British diplomat, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) backtracks what lead to the mysterious death of his activist wife (Rachel Weisz, in an Oscar-winning performance). The globe-trotting search takes Quayle away from London to Nairobi, with a detour to Amsterdam.

The very year the film was released, I traveled through all three cities during a summer study abroad course in Kenya. The director, Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes) captures the essence of each city masterfully.

Kibera, a slum of Nairobi, features citizens who are poverty-stricken, yet faith-filled; London is decadent, yet socially conscious; and Amsterdam something unique to itself, defying most any description. =

It’s no wonder producers from the “Cities of Love” anthology tapped Meirells to helm a short segment of Rio, I Love You. In it, he accurately captures the Brazilian art scene. When the virus precludes us from foreign travel, films like these allow this director to whisk you to your favorite city.

Best of the Rest by Year

  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)/novel by Wang Dulu
  • Shrek (2001)/children’s book by William Steig
  • The Pianist (2002)/memoir by Wladyslaw Szpilman
  • LOTR: The Return of the King (2003)/novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Before Sunset (2004)/characters from Before Sunrise, directed by Richard Linklater
  • Munich (2005)/book Vengeance by George Jonas
  • Children of Men (2006)/novel by P.D. James
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)/novel by Cormac McCarthy
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008)/novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup
  • Up in the Air (2009)/novel by Walter Kirn

Image: Adobe Stock

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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