Gary Flockhart: Can this novel rise to the occasion?

Director Ben Wheatley

Director Ben Wheatley

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Novel-to-screen adaptations are notoriously hit-and-miss affairs, so it’s with lowered expectations that I head to the Cameo tonight for Ben Wheatley’s cinematic reworking of the classic JG Ballard novel High-Rise.The film has already screened in London, with critics divided as to its merits.

Some say Wheatley, pictured, has defied the odds to create the best Ballard adaptation to date – notable others being Steven Spielberg’s Oscars-guzzling prisoner-of-war drama Empire of the Sun and David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 adaptation of Crash. Others reckon it’s dull, drags in the second half, and is all style over substance.

Given that High-Rise would be one of my top ten Desert Island reads, I’m more than a little concerned it will be the latest in a long line of classic novels butchered by the big screen.

It doesn’t help that High-Rise is one of those books that’s long been considered unfilmable.

Jack Kerouac’s 1957 beat novel On The Road was another of those, and that was a barely coherent borefest of a movie. And don’t even get me started on the silver screen slayings of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, Alex Garland’s The Beach, and indeed any cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby (they’ll just keep making it until they get it right).

All that said, there have been occasions where the movie has ended up better than the book. I’m looking at you Fight Club, in particular.

A few years back, I interviewed Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, and he broke the first and second rules of Fight Club (“do not talk about Fight Club”) to tell me David Fincher’s interpretation of his 1996 novel almost made him embarrassed of the book. Chuck told me he was blown away by the way in which the movie had streamlined the plot and made connections he never thought to make.

We’ll never know what Ballard would have made of Wheatley’s High-Rise, but it will be a remarkable achievement if it even comes close the book.