May 28, 2013

The Book vs The Movie

We have a rule in our house. If you want to see a movie based on a book, you need to read the book first. Sure, it's somewhat unevenly applied to the kids but we think it's important that they read whatever they can, when they can.

We watched Silver Linings Playbook this weekend. It was fine, okay but not great. And I think it's because both Beth and I read and loved the novel. No spoilers but if you've read the book you know that there are some fundamental differences between the book and the movie. Those differences were critical to the story being powerful. Sure, the acting was good and might be worthy of the awards the actors won but the story itself was far less poignant than it could have been if the screenwriters stuck to the original.

That got me thinking about other book-to-movie translations and whether they'd succeeded or failed. It was a mixed bag.

Harry Potter. As dictated by our rule, Mia plowed through the first three Harry Potter novels and demanded to see the first movie. We gladly complied on a night when Owen stayed with his grandparents and Mia was delighted. While the language and personally-invested imagination can't be replicated in the movies, they do a great job capturing the magic of the novels.

Stephen King. Most Stephen King stories are better books than movies though I'll admit to consuming far more Stephen King movies than novels. That said, there is no more terrifying movie than The Shining and the film version, in my mind, is superior to the novel.

Jack Reacher. I refuse to see Jack Reacher. I love the Lee Child series of Reacher novels but Tom Cruise is and will always be the wrong choice for the title role and I'd prefer not to ruin the character as he exists in my head.

Fletch. I have a soft spot in my heart for Chevy Chase and I'll admit that I liked the Fletch movies just as much as I liked the corresponding series of novels. They had different senses of humor but both were fun.

John Grisham. Movies adapted from John Grisham novels are similar. They're fun in that legal thriller sense and easy to digest as beach books or escapist film.

Bond, James Bond. The James Bond novels are vastly overrated and I truly believe the movies - well, most of them - to be superior to the original material. The Bond novels are interesting as historical documents that describe the 50's idea of male-dominated macho awesomeness but they're also fundamentally boring. I've read most of them. I thought several of them were passable but a few were incredibly slow and space-time continuum defying given the extreme amount of time they took to complete in spite of their sub-200 page count.

Narnia. Speaking of slow books, the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. I've gone back to read them with my kids and I have to admit that my kids find them boring. Not so with the movies. Of the three made to date, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the best, adapting the original novel so faithfully that I realized just what it was about those original stories that was so great.

What's your take? And what are the best and worst book adaptations?

Posted by Chris at May 28, 2013 7:40 AM

I generally follow the same rule, reading before watching. It's kind of a mixed bag of which is better, but I always liked the movie version of "The Firm" better, merely because they get to keep the dog in the end. :)

Posted by: Heather at May 28, 2013 10:10 AM

I totally agree on that rule! That's our rule too, exception the Narnia movies...I barely made it through The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when I was a teen and I never read the rest of the series...Leda LOVES the movies. And I agree, the movies are much better than the books, the book just dragged!

Leda has begged to watch Harry Potter but I have told her the rule is, she needs to read it first. I think this summer is the summer...she's ready!

I am a Stephen King reader and yes, the books are much better than the movies. I (brace yourself) have NOT seen the Shining. I know, I'm depraved! I read the book though and it was terrifying!

I usually find that the book is always better than the movie/TV show, etc. I have found only two exceptions...Game of Thrones is a great series of books and the show is just as good in it's own right. And the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies are just as good, if not better, than the book series. Of course, my kid will not be reading or seeing either of these series any time soon! ;-)

Posted by: Cyndy at May 28, 2013 10:14 AM

I totally agree about the reacher books. I LOVE them (in fact I'm reading one right now) and was VERY disappointed when Tom Cruise was picked to play Reacher. He's not at ALL how the character should look. It's almost like the casting people didn't read any of the books!

Posted by: Kim K at May 28, 2013 10:38 AM

This post is so interesting! I completely disagree with your opinion on The Shining. The book scared me so bad I had to sleep with a nightlight for months(I was in my mid-twenties) but the movie came across as cheesy to me. I just couldn't take it seriously. I absolutely love the Narnia books but thought the movies were boring, although, my kids find the books boring as well. The only movie I've ever seen that I thought was better than the book was The Notebook. I think Nicolas Sparks is a crap writer who doesn't even remotely understand woman, though. :-)

Posted by: Holly at May 28, 2013 11:22 AM

I remember being pleasantly surprised at how well they adapted Snow Falling on Cedars to film. Both the book and the novel were excellent. I generally enjoy any book more that the movie version. I agree they did a fine job with the Harry Potter series as well.

Posted by: Annie at May 28, 2013 1:48 PM

slightly off-topic.

My mom made an observation once that seems to be true--your culture around you can really affect how much you can delve into a particular piece of art. Por ejemplo, my mom, a devout Catholic, has told me to NEVER see "The Exorcist" because it is so rooted in our beliefs. I think the Naria books have had to be adapted for a bunch of English-speaking kids who aren't as well-versed to allegories of Christianity. That wasn't really a possibility when they were written.

I think you and Beth had talked about teaching the kids about different religions at some point. I wonder a lot about how the educational system in the US will change as more and more kids are raised without Christianity as a fall-back to understand "classics". There's a lot of short-hand in there, and it's going to be tough for teachers to steer clear. And kind of sad that they have to be nervous about giving context for a novel in a purely academic setting. (For your readers, I still posit all religions should be taught from a respectful viewpoint to students so that we don't have people thinking that Sikhs=Muslims=terrorists and that all Christians are Creationists.)

Posted by: alektra at May 28, 2013 3:08 PM

I HATED P.S. I Love You with Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank. They took a lot of liberties and completely rewrote parts from the book.

Same with most of the Nicholas Sparks books. I think it helps that he is involved with the movies, but there are still things left out.

I was pleased for the most part (don't judge me) with the Hunger Games movie. I only saw 3 changes.

I have always been a book over movie person though.

Posted by: Angela at May 28, 2013 6:25 PM

I liked the film version of The Shining but did not like the slightly changed ending.

Most films do not stand up to the book but agree that most John Grisham books do.

I do like the Harry Potter movies but thought that the Prisoner of Azkhaban is the weakest one - there is no explanation of who Padfoot et al are and this is a major plot point for the rest of the series.

One film that was better than the book was The Horse Whisperer - They changed the total cop out ending of the book.

Posted by: AlisonC at May 29, 2013 8:02 AM

I hated the Silver Linings Playbook movie because the book was so brilliant. The changes they made to the movie story line, especially how DeNiro played the dad, were indeed fundamental to 'why' he was the way he was. It made it very hard to sit through seeing how badly they mucked it up.

Posted by: ewe_are_here at May 29, 2013 3:23 PM

Oh, and I agree with the poster who said Snow Falling on Cedars was brilliantly adapted. Stunning looking movie and true to the book.

Posted by: ewe_are_here at May 29, 2013 3:24 PM

I respectfully disagree. I much prefer the Bond novels to the movies. At least the Ian Fleming ones. But I do agree, they are vastly different in style from each other.

Posted by: Kaz at May 30, 2013 8:23 AM

I agree 100%. Movies from books usually do not measure up. I refuse to see the Reacher movie- Tom Cruise was the worst casting choice...and for the same reasons I will not ever go see The Great Gatsby. Seriously- Baz Luhrhmann? Its all so insulting to F. Scott

Posted by: Lisa at May 31, 2013 10:46 AM

I LOVE them (in fact I'm reading one right now) and was VERY disappointed when Tom Cruise was picked to play Reacher.[url=]titanium pipes[/url] He's not at ALL how the character should look. It's almost like the casting people didn't read any of the books!

Posted by: titanium supplier at May 31, 2013 11:55 PM

Oh my gosh - you perfectly expressed my thoughts on Silver Linings Playbook! I was so very disappointed in that film.

You mentioned the mis-casting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reecher, and all I could think of was Tom Hanks in the role of Robert Langdon. I read all of Dan Brown before seeing the movies, and Tom Hanks is no Professor Langdon. They couldn't have gone with a Harrison-Ford-as-Indian-Jones type? Let-down.

Posted by: kate at June 3, 2013 7:17 AM