Monday, February 23, 2009

Books on the Big Screen

Since I don't have one of those DVR thingies, I had to suffer through the Oscar telecast (well, actually I did a fair amount of channel surfing). Really, I just wanted to stare at Jennifer Aniston's face as Brangelina sat a few giant leaps and one good lunge away (I know, cheap shot). But anyways, as I was watching it occurred to me how many of the great cinematic films of our time are actually based on movies. This year, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire were both based on books by Bernard Schlick and Vikas Swarup, respectively. Another Best Picture nom, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's a time honored tradition that great books will find their way to the big screen. My question is which medium usually turns out better? The book or the movie?

Oftentimes, if I've seen the movie, I'm wary of reading the book and vice versa. There is something that always ends up lost in translation. Like some of my most beloved characters ending up lost and forgotten on the director's cutting room floor, or maybe a scene that is rendered unrecognizable on the big screen. Even the seemingly indomitable Harry Potter falls flat in the movie theater. I actually found myself drifting off in the middle of the last 5 hour Potter film...or was that 6 hours? Then there's the converse situation, a book totally lacks the impact and focus of the movie. My first bad movie/book experience happened years ago when at around 12 years old I decided to read the book version of my favorite movie, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Total and utter disappointment. But really, how can you go from the delightful Julie Andrews singing merrily about spoonfuls of sugar and dancing on rooftops to the paperback version? That's a hard act to follow. So what, if any, movie have you seen that was equally as good on paper as it was on the big screen?
Famous Books on the Big Screen:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
Ben-Hur - Lee Wallace
The Color Purple – Alice Walker (I have easily watched this movie a hundred times...the, not so much)
The Godfather - Mario Puzo
Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan (wait, I think I possibly loved both the book and the movie equally!)
Holes – Louis Sachar
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
Carrie – Stephen King (never read the book, but I just can't fathom it leaving me as enthralled as the prom scene with that bucket of pig blood...I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it)
Interview with a Vampire – Anne Rice (hmmm...since Brad Pitt was in it, I'm going to say the movie was much better ;))
The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks (never read the book, but this is definitely a 5-Kleenex movie)
Twilight – Stephanie Meyer (please don't shoot me Twilight folk, I've only read the book)
Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot
Confessions of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
*Insert the name of any John Grisham novel you could possibly think of*
Just for kicks...

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Anonymous Catherine said...

I'm actually very fond of the recent Atonement adaptation, with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. I admit I saw the movie first, but I loved it, bought the book and loved that too. Although some things were changed in the adaptation, the changes made sense, didn't ruin the story and kept to the heart of the tale.

The movie, however, gets that amazing Dunkirk continuous shot, unlike the book.

Monday, February 23, 2009 at 7:03:00 PM EST  
Blogger Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I think Lord of the Rings fared far better on screen than in print. Since most rabid fans of the books seemed to love the movies, even though they didn't find them better, I'd put that one at the top of any adaptation list. :)

Monday, February 23, 2009 at 8:04:00 PM EST  
Blogger whateverfor said...

I agree The Joy Luck Club was very good both as a book and a movie. Amy Tan has a gift.

I was very pleased with the Lord of the Rings movies, even though they weren't quite as good as the book (mostly because *so* much had to get cut out) but then again, it was much easier to sit through the movies than the books (time-wise anyway). I thought it was very faithful.

The Twilight movie captured the angst and sexual tension of the book, but there was quite a bit missing to my thinking.

I did not like the movie rendition of A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks.

I agree, it's something hard to do but as a novice writer, it would be amazing to not only be published but have my work optioned as a movie!

Oh! One more - I loved Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as a movie. (I've liked all the cinematic versions, actually.)

Monday, February 23, 2009 at 11:40:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading 'The Accidental Tourist' by Anne Tyler years ago and loving it, I was disappointed with the movie. But, because I love William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis, I revisited the movie a few years later and found I could like it as a different interpretation of the story. Ever since then, if I know a movie is coming out based on a book I haven't read, I watch the movie first. If I like the movie, I'll read the book to get a better understanding of the characters and get a more fleshed-out version of the story. Example: Jurassic Park. Loved the movie, then read the book and loved all the extra detail (and darker horrors) in the novel.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 11:40:00 AM EST  
Blogger LJCohen said...

The PBS production of Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven is as good as the novel, though slightly different. (There is a newer and *dreadful* commercial version--skip it!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 11:44:00 AM EST  
Blogger Jia Gayles said...

Thanks to everyone for chiming in with their favorite (or not so favorite) movie adaptations!

Catherine, you give Atonement such a great review (movie & book!) -- I'll have to check it out ;)

Natalie - ITA! Love those movies!

whateverfor - I am ALL ABOUT the Amy Tan. I *think* I can safely say I've read all of her books.

Anonymous - Maybe you've got the right approach. Perhaps I shouldn't be to hasty to dismiss one or the other.

LJCohen - Thanks for the warning!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 12:51:00 PM EST  
Blogger Elaina said...

I am a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and when the rumours started of movies...well, how could any movie possibly do justice? In the final analysis, however, the movies were fantastic, better than the written word. Note Peter Jackson used history from Silmarillion also...and it worked!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 7:37:00 AM EST  
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Friday, June 5, 2009 at 3:51:00 AM EDT  

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