On The Road: A Film Failure

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Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is one of the most iconic novels in American literary history. In this famed and publically devoured novel, Kerouac strings words together with the kind of tenderness one would struggle to gain from a night with Johnny Depp (this applies to all, his handsomeness defies the rules of sexual preference), let alone from any other book.

High Expectations

The book plays homage to an attention to detail that makes the nerves quiver, offering a whole-hearted explosion of the American Beat movement. So when the movie, starring Kristen Stewart, finally hit the American screen, inevitably expectations were high. This side of the Atlantic eagerly awaits its arrival on 12th October 2012. 

As one ponders the novel - vibrant characters, titillating descriptions of the vast American landscape and portrayals of the bubbling, bopping music scene of the Beat Generation - it seems the scope for an amazing piece of cinema was huge. But, like so many book-to-film adaptations, high hopes have been reduced to a bitter mass of modern day disappointment upon the On The Road movie release in the USA.

Harsh Reviews

Despite critics having a reputation for being more cynical than a clinically depressed Frankie Boyle, when they find a gem they do also have the tendency to gush praise and celebrate cinematic triumphs. I guess it’s safe to say, then, that Walter Salles’ On The Road is not the gem everyone had hoped for.

Whilst critic, James Powell claimed with fervour in his On The Road film review, “the film left me feeling indifferent and bored” another scathingly stated, “it was almost instantly forgettable”

How Did The Director Get It So Wrong?

It seems, then, those that described the novel as “unfilmable” knew what they were talking about. So many fabulous books have crashed and burned on the big, temperamental screen, but why?

The number one rookie error in most cases has to be a determination on the director’s behalf to stick to the novel more rigidly than a fresher’s lips to a pint glass. This seems to miss the point of film adaptation; successful cases show that big changes make big success. For example, traces of Alex Garland’s novel, The Beach, are often faint or even undetectable in Danny Boyle’s masterful reworking of the film.

It seems Walter Salles fell into this trap like a led balloon, reeling off the powerful and exquisite narration of central character, Sal, word for word as a voiceover to dramatic shots of Sam Riley scribbling “moodily” in a notebook. Cliché sandwich anyone? In the bat of an eyelid, or the flip of a page, the timeless beauty of the novel was crushed into bland and forgettable bits of cinema.

Here’s hoping there’s no big screen on the vast and dusky road that Kerouac haunts with his literary presence. One thing’s for sure, his novel ain’t going to be forgotten any time soon.

India Johnson

I have a degree in English from Leeds Uni and love to write. I like music, pretty words, films (especially French films) and books (especially American lit).

Website: https://plus.google.com/u/0/106033435697881711131?rel=author

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