10 Favorite Movie Characters - Adaptation Edition

Last week, when I took part in the 10 Favorite Movie Characters meme, I followed Michael May's rules. No characters from sources other than the films they appeared in. That was all fine, but it left a lot of characters out, including many that I didn't even know in any other incarnation. So I'm giving them their due. We're talking interpretation here.

Now, last week, my favorites could either be categorized as Charming Babes or Total Baddasses or both, but with adapted characters, things are skewed so that very few women appear (only one, in fact). I guess if there's one thing that these guys have in common, it's that their pretty much all Damaged Goods.

The exception that proves the rule
Alfred Pennyworth (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight; based on the comics)Not damaged goods, but takes care of damaged goods. Michael Caine's rendition of Bruce Wayne's loyal butler is one we haven't really seen before. Where he's usually Batman's conscience, only Caine's version can truly be called a father figure. He blew me away in Batman Begins, getting all the best lines, upstaging the lead character at every opportunity, and making me cry for more.

Other Old Men
Fast Eddie Felson (The Hustler, The Color of Money; based on Walter Tevis' novels)
Though I like young Eddie just fine, the cinematic power of this character resides in the idea that we meet him again later when his star is waning. I have a great deal of love for older characters who are chasing their youth and trying to hold on to their dignity at any cost. The hustler who becomes the hustled becomes epic and tragic.

Elvis Presley (Bubba Ho-Tep; based on Joe R. Lansdale's short story)
In the same vein, there's something about Bruce Campbell old, tired Elvis that transcends the actor's career. In this story, Elvis is still alive and living in an old folks home, and he fights a mummy with the help of Black JFK and a simple walker. Right there, that's special. But there's more to it. The character lives with deep regrets and there, at the end of his life when he's ready to give up, he finds a new sense of purpose in that ridiculous Egyptian curse. You can get more of this Elvis on one of the commentary tracks.

J. Jonah Jameson (Spider-Man movies; based on the comics)
They've put a lot of superheroes to screen, and a lot of villains, but here's another supporting cast member! Frankly, the costumed roles are pretty thankless sometimes. J.K. Simmons' JJJ is damn near perfect. Not only does he inhabit the well known part from the comics, but he puts his own rapid-fire spin on it, creating a brand new vision of the character. Say what you will about Spider-Man 3 (and I have), but he's the best thing about it.

Younger Men
Willard (Apocalypse Now; based on Josef Conrad's Heart of Darkness)
Apocalypse Now is pretty far from the source material, but its Captain Willard shines by the character's ambiguity. The performance was essentially created in narration, with Martin Sheen unsure of the character for the length of the shoot, or else is based on him, and on moments Coppola forced on him. Result: A haunted character with unplumbed depths. I don't know if the anti-performance makes him the perfect vessel for our own impressions of this nightmare world, or if it generates an ambiguity we can give multiple meanings to, but it's that mystery that lands him on this list.

Nick Naylor (Thank You for Smoking; based on Christopher Buckley's novel)
Who doesn't love the con man? And is there a greater con than telling people cigarettes are good for them? That Naylor does this without apology, serene in the use of his skills, and yet still comes across as sympathetic and as a good father is a minor miracle.

Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride; based on William Goldman's book)
Entering the badass portion of our show, I have to include Inigo Montoya. Another haunted character, this one by the murder of his father, but can still be fun an exciting. The Dread Pirate Wesley may be the hero of this tale, but it's Inigo you care about. Is there a better moment of revenge on film than "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Jason Bourne (the Bourne films; based on Robert Ludlum's novels)
Look, after we saw the aptly-named Bourne Supremacy, we started playing a number of games. One was "Who wins between X and Bourne?" Bourne always wins. Even against Bond. Even against Batman. You can't beat Bourne. Another was "Blame it on Bourne". If anything happens in your vicinity (ambulance, strange smoke, traffic jam) or on the news (name it), it's all Jason Bourne's fault. Of course, we never see him. He's too smart for that.

Not Men
Beatrice (Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing; based on Shakespeare's play)
I wouldn't say Beatrice is my favorite Shakespeare character, not by a long shot, but as far as filmic performances go? Yeah, Emma Thompson seals the deal. Completely charming and believable, even the bees want to make love to her (watch that opening scene), and where an actress might play her shrewish, Thompson's performance comes from a broken heart, and in a quiet moments, she makes herself completely vulnerable to the viewer.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey; based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel, or is it the other way around?)
Every list needs its villain, and I happen to think HAL 2000 is one of cinema's best and creepiest. (Yes, I'm cheating a little given the genesis of the script/novel, but let that go.) If Willard was something of an anti-performance, HAL breaks the bank entirely. He's just a red Christmas light under a plastic bubble! And yet, the menace that is implied by that single, toneless eye. He's always polite, reads lips, and isn't a bad singer... that's big bad material right there.

That's my second 10List, but I have one more in me. Next week, we jump from the silver screen to the small screen! Just 10 more... who's it gonna hurt?


Austin Gorton said...

Great list. Inigo, Alfred, Jonah would definitely be considered for my list.

For whatever reason, I've never been as enamored of Jason Bourne as many other people. I've read the books, seen the movies, but...I'd still take Bond or Batman over Bourne any day.

I'm working on my own top ten list of "original" characters for my blog, and I'm surprised, when I'm mulling it over, how many characters I consider favorites are adapted from other works.

If I ever get around to do doing an "adapted" character list, I'll have too MANY to consider, it seems.

Looking forward to your TV list.


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