I watched The Damned United the other night. I've been an admirer of David Peace's books for a long time and 2009 was his big year with four of his novels all successfully adapted to film. I have not read The Damned United but my gut tells me that the movie was better for me than the book would have been. (I really wanted to listen to the audio book version of TDU read by John Simm of Life on Mars fame but could never find a copy.) The Red Riding films come out at the end of summer on DVD. I tried to see them in the theater but in DC they were only here for a very short time and it was logistically impossible to see them all.
Even though nothing could be more alien to me than Leeds in the early 70s and English football, I was thrilled with the movie. I sort of knew about the legend of Brian Clough (who I discovered via reading about Jonathan Coe's great biography of B.S. Johnson). I had certain images in my head and seeing them on film worked for me. And I think that is the problem with adapting novels to film - in general, the depth and vividness of a book cannot compare with the time and budgetary limits of film. Almost every film adaptation of a book fails. (This is a sweeping generalization and I know there are countless examples I am not aware of which run counter to my argument. But it is more or less true.) I have a hard time watching the filmed version of anything I've read.
-Enduring Love and Atonement by Ian McEwan: couldn't do it
-The Golden Compass: had to stop after 15 minutes
-Watchmen: visually interesting but a failure overall
-Nobody's Fool/Empire Falls by Richard Russo: nice try HBO but no go
-The Ipcress File: this I want to see but its out of print in the US
-Strangers on a Train: very good both ways
-Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: opens this fall, am very interested to see
-About a Boy/High Fidelity/Fever Pitch(UK version): actually enjoyed all three films
-Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon: the movie worked
-Clockers by Richard Price: movie was decent
-The Third Man by Graham Greene: was a great film and then a book so doesn't count
-The Hunter/Point Blank by Richard Stark: something I really want to see now
-Eat, Prey, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: I've been told I have to go see this
-Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee: John Malkovich makes most things great
-Any John Malkovich film that was a novel - they all work
-The Road by Cormac McCarthy: will know shortly
-The Taltented Mr. Ripley/Plein en Soleil/Purple Noon: yes to the French version
I think I need to do some proper research to come up with better examples of failed adaptations of books. My little list is comprised of what popped into my head after I watched The Damned United.