Making a movie based on a book is the riskiest thing any filmmaker could do. Readers either celebrate or are worried when they learn that their favorite book is being adapted for a movie and, out of all the manifold reasons, why the greatest problem is that the director cannot express the same things on screen the same way as the author does on paper. Books are open to interpretation and limited only by the writer’s imagination, while movies are set to the producer’s view and limited by technology, budgets, and a two-hour runtime. Such different mediums make some books impossible to be made into movies.
Yet, with the much-anticipated Dune: Part 2 coming later this year, we know that some previously considered “unfilmable” books can be made into movies. There are plenty of impossible books that could be turned into movies, so here are the unfilmable books that we want to see become movies next.
It would be nearly impossible to get the full effect of Joe Holdeman’s The Forever War into a movie, as we follow William Mandella in a war that takes forever. Conscripted to fight against an alien threat, Mandella starts his first expedition far away from Earth in 1997, and when he returns two years later, he finds that it’s 2024. Mandella goes to fight for just four years, but comes back to find that centuries have passed on Earth. This is due to time dilation, a theory of space travel developed by Einstein, in which time moves slowly for the traveler, but continues for everyone else. Mandella stays in the war because everything is so changed, and spends millennia fighting until the end of humanity. The effects of future shock and such insane changes over forever are hard to fit in two hours, but a series of movies may be able to properly adapt Holdeman’s war to the screen.
Cien Años de Soledad or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez follows the story of the Buendía family in their own small town cut off from the rest of the world for a century until civil war finds the doomed family. Filled with symbolism and metaphors, Cien Años is a haunting journey spanning generations. Not impossible to do within two hours, yet the difficult part is capturing the magical realism of Márquez’s magnum opus and filling the screen with the same bewildering wonder.
Les Misérables, or The Miserable Ones, is a classic work of literature written over a century and a half ago by Victor Hugo, and is impossible to adapt into movie format. Following Jean Valjean, one of the most famous characters in literary history, who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and then tries to live a decent life while hunted by the police inspector Javert. A musical film was a big hit and a good adaptation, but it cut out many of the characters, events, and themes that make the novel so amazing.
The whole plot of the fantastic novel could be summarized in just a few pages, but the real reason why Les Mis is such a powerful book is that Hugo delves deep into the lives and minds of each and every character throughout the story, to such an extent that is impossible in television. Nonetheless, Les Mis is one of the greatest books ever, and we want to see a real attempt at adapting Hugo’s classic tale.
This book might actually need A LOT of changes to be made into a movie of any kind because Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine happens entirely inside the head of a man going up an escalator. Nothing else, just some guy on his lunch break who’s not even walking back to the office. Following the stream-of-consciousness of Howie as he reflects on simple things like the buoyant nature of plastic straws and how the office bathroom is fit for the pope, taking all these small thoughts of mundane life to their full conclusions with extensive footnotes on every page and even multipage footnotes at the end about the footnotes themselves.
It’s impossible practically to convey this to a movie audience, they’d fall asleep listening to Howie’s fond reminisces of shoelaces, and there’s no way it could all be condensed in an escalator ride. Baker’s The Mezzanine should probably never be attempted, but we’d like to see it tried anyway.
The most impossible novel on this list would be Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It’s the most unconventional book ever, stretching the literary medium to the breaking point. Stylized as the shared journal of different owners of the same haunted house, words come in different colors and fonts and sizes on the same page, entire passages are struck through and bleed onto other pages, sometimes the book must be flipped around because the text is at all sorts of wild angles, and it’s rumored that some pages are designed to fall out purposefully.
The only way House of Leaves could work as a film is if the movie is as unconventional and wild as the book is, which would take a lot of creativity and money, using such crazy tricks as making the audience pick up certain smells when watching the film adaptation. Though Danielewski has stated that he won’t sell the rights necessary to make the book a film, much to the relief of the novel’s large cult following.
There are many books that deserve movie adaptations and just as many that are above such attempts. We’ll see if any or all of these novels are just too good to be films. And while we wait, let’s just keep re-reading them and be amazed by the power of ink on paper.