Saturday, December 22, 2012

Face-Off: The Movie was Better! No, the Book Was!

Karen: Because you (OK, it was Richard really)  demanded it - make your case for which better tells the story: the movie or the book?? We're speaking generally here, but please cite some examples.It's entirely possible Richard and Edo have hashed this out, but let's give everyone a chance to air their point of view.


david_b said...

Movies are typically known for 'watering down' important points in books, and in most cases (as discussed here in the past..), have taken over as 'canon' at the expence of their original literary concept.

Certain concepts brought forward in Boulle's book such as the more technology-advanced ape society didn't materialize on screen until the animated show of the 70s, funny enough. In most cases, I'm inclined to just let the movie's creative team simply tell a story, regardless of how 'technically accurate' it is to the source material.

We discussed Logans Run at one point which streamlined many of the Nolan book for dramatic effect, which is what movies do. Love the book for some character insight or background, but generally, the creative team ignores it anyways.

One book I found better than the movie was the original Galactica novel Larson wrote with Robert Thurston. You really had a lot of insight into Adama's head and the ongoing Cylon War. As a novel, it read very well; obviously as a telemovie project, the main guts of the show were centered on 'being Star Wars on TV'. You didn't have to deal with that in the book.

I found the books for 'Alien' and 'Outland' very enjoyable in the same light, not just quickie movie script adaptations but providing some good depth.

Anonymous said...

I think some of the Bond films definitely improved over the books, at least until they starting getting too silly in the 70's. Bond didn't have much of a sense of humour in the books, and they really elaborated on the concept of gadgets in the films. Strangely enough, I thought that George Lazenby seemed closer to Bond as described in the novels, even though he couldn't hold a candle to Connery. Dalton was closer than any of them, and Daniel Craig seems like the closest yet. Another improvement: most of the novels were written in the 50's. Imagine trying to sit through a 20 a card game described in nauseating detail for 20 pages.

Rising Sun tee'ed me off like no other adaptation. Despite casting Wesley Snipes (in a role that was never actually specified as caucasion in the novel), it was a very faithful adaptation until the end...when they changed the identity of the killer! Apparently this was done to try and appease Japanese audiences. I'm sure they still hated it. I did.

The Maltese Falcon is one of the most faithful film adaptations of a book ever filmed. And it's great. Both versions still hold up beautifully. The Big Sleep was fairly faithful too, and both versions of that hold up as well.

Monkey Planet? Why didn't they use that? I love it.

James Chatterton

Anonymous said...

That should read "20 page card game"


Rip Jagger said...

For all the many attempts, I'm still waiting (and might be doing so quite some time) for a really solid adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend.

Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price gets the general tone of the book down pretty well, but it lacks the vigor and toughness of the book.

The Omega Man offers up a properly gritty Robert Neville, but becomes a bit too much of an actioner by the end. The scenes of the city quiet city are haunting.

The recent I Am Legend with Will Smith was also entertaining but the hyper-violent "zombies" really were contradictory to the tone of the story and made for a hash of an ending.

All three are decent movies, engaging even, but none do a really great job with the novel. I don't need movies to ape a book, usually they can't. But some books open themselves up to it, and I Am Legend is one. I just wish someone would make it the way Matheson saw it.

Some say George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is the best "unofficial" adaptation of it, and I can see the point.

Rip Off

Karen said...

Rip: glad you brought up "I Am Legend" because I was thinking of that when I posted the topic. I like both "Last Man on Earth" and "Omega Man" but would agree neither quite captures the book. I enjoyed the Smith vehicle until the creatures were shown and then I was completely taken out of it.

I think one of the worst book to movie travesties was "Starship Troopers." Ye Gods! (This is also my way of giving a heads-up that we'll be discussing Robert Heinlein in the coming week.)

Tony said...

Omega Man!! What a great movie. As for books being better than the movies, any Stephen King book that was made into a movie pretty much sucked. Although the original Carrie, The Shining, and the Green Mile are notable exceptions. The movie version of Christine, The Stand, It, and The Mist were horrible.

Anonymous said...

From its reputation, I expected "Last Man on Earth" to be a mess, down there with "Robot Monster" and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." It was not that bad, although it (and Omega Man) failed to capture the novel. Richard Matheson said in an interview in the late 1970s that, as far as he was concerned, "I Am Legend" had never been filmed. Maybe Heinlein would have said the same about Starship Troopers.

Anonymous said...

For me it depends...sometimes the book is better, sometimes the movie. Some great books just never seem to get great movies (Conan, John Carter). My personal pet peeve is that there's never been a really authentic, fully-realized Tarzan movie...and there probably never will be because it wouldn't do "big box office" numbers.

What I hate is when they substantially change the story when adapting a book, or worse when they add characters that weren't in the book (LOTR, Ghost World).

Mike W.

Edo Bosnar said...

Basically, as I sort alluded to in my previous comment in that other thread, I think the book, if original, is always better than the adaptation, while in the case of novelizations of films, the movie is usually going to be better (duh...)
That said, I'm glad James brought up the Bond movies/books, because that's one case where the movies (at least the older ones) are better than the novels - I'm really not a big fan of Fleming's writing. In fact, I sometimes wonder how the Bond novels got popular enough to spawn a movie franchise; as James noted, they're often quite tedious.
Interesting also that James mentioned Rising Sun - I didn't really like the movie or the book, but the thing about Michael Crichton was that he pretty much wrote every single one of this books with a view to having it adapted into a movie, so it's hard to say which is better. Even so, I still like "Andromeda Strain" the novel a bit better than the movie made in the late '60s, and much better than the more recent TV mini-series. Also liked "Eaters of the Dead" better than "13th Warrior", while I think I like movie adaptation of "The Great Train Robbery" a little better than the novel - maybe just because it had such a great cast.
Karen, I agree with you about "Starship Troopers". I'm actually not a big fan of the book, because I found some of the political-philosophical points rather questionable, but that movie - ouch! I kind of understand what Verhoeven was trying to do, but he should have tweaked it more to make it outright satire.

William said...

I thought the "Lord of the Rings" movies were actually better than the books. (My vote is still out on the Hobbit).

I felt that Peter Jackson improved all three chapters by reorganizing the story into a more cohesive narrative. He also took out some unnecessary elements, like the silly Tom Bombadil, and the anticlimactic epilogue involving Sauroman and the Shire.

He even added some elements, like the elves showing up at Helm's Deep, and other little details (especially in the extended versions) that enhanced the story quite well. Making The Lord of the Rings trilogy one of the few motion pictures that actually improved on the original source material.

Fred W. Hill said...

As an adolescent in the '70s, I read several popular novels that became blockbuster movies, including The Godfather, Jaws, and The Exorcist, and in each of those cases I enjoyed both books and movies, although in the case of The Godfather, I'd rate the movie as a masterpiece, a title the original novel doesn't quite rise up to. Of more recent fare, I saw The Hobbit last week, and while I enjoyed Tolkien's novel, which I last read sometime within the last 10 years, I found much of the movie tedious and rife with cliches, such as the tiny band taking on the evil hordes who can't shoot straight, enabling the good guys to take out their foes by the hundreds without suffering any causualties themselves. Something I might've overlooked 30 or so years ago but that doesn't sit right with my current 50 year old self.
Then there's the conversion of Alan Moore comics to movies. I'm a big fan of his comics, but while I'm not as hostile to the mere notion of making movies out of them as Moore is, the results have mostly been travesties thus far. I mostly liked the cinematic version of V for Vendetta; Watchmen had some good bits but missed the mark; From Hell had almost nothing to do with the work of Moore & Campbell except for sharing the name and being based on the same crimes; and I never bothered to see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, having been convinced by the general consensus of reviews that it was a travesty. An interesting development of the last decade is that many reviewers of movies based on comics is that many are familiar enough with the source material to know that the comics themselves are often far superior to the celluloid counterparts.

humanbelly said...

I think there's an inescapable level of apples-to-oranges comparison in play here, and it becomes even more complicated by what different genres emphasize in their storytelling. I'll probably always be reader-first, naturally, when it comes to looking for depth and, literally, amount of storytelling. I think that's why Stephen King's long ol' tales (even his weak ones) tend to be captivating in print. Now, I've lost my appreciation for him over the years, but the level of inside-the-character he's able to convey in print simply can't be conveyed in a 120 to 200 minute film. I've also yet to see any animated/film/television adaptation of Terry Pratchett that does justice at all to the brilliance and charm of his unparalleled way with words. GOING POSTAL kind of gets in the ballpark, and is quite enjoyable, but is still the lesser relative.

Coincidentally, I've just had this conversation w/ HBGirl, as her lit class just finished TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and then they watched the (outstanding) movie w/ Gregory Peck. And as good as it was, she couldn't get past the fact that characters and events that she considered vital to understanding the depth of the story were simply not there. And this was a film that Harper Lee herself was incredibly pleased with.

I also listen a goodly amount to XM's Radio Classics channel at my shop, and there's no question that there are stories that are most effective in that particular (think "storytelling") audio-only format. It's almost like stories exist as an independent entity, and then it's a matter of adapting them to whatever the format of choice is, y'know?


Anonymous said...

Haha it's amusing to me that my little throwaway line (Books are ALWAYS better than movies) - as well as Richard & Edo's responses - inspired this little forum!

In my opinion most movies which have a book as their source material generally do not live up to the book. LOTR was one exception, although comparing them is a little like apples and oranges. As any Hollywood producer will tell you, books and movies are two different mediums. If Peter Jackson made a literal translation of LOTR it would have been a very long musical! I loved both, but can't decide which one I liked better.

I made that little comment because (and I'm speaking broadly here again) when you read a book you are actively engaging your imagination, which is one of the most powerful tools Mankind has. When you watch a movie/TV/computer/cellphone screen you don't have that - it's more sensory stimulus. It's passive entertainment, although of course good movies can also fire your imagination and make you think.

- Mike 'all right SOME movies are better than the books' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Some notable cases where the film is better than the book:

Jaws -- The taunt thriller on screen hardly resembles Peter Benchley's overlong, meandering, and highly disgressive seriocomic satire(!) of a small town's reaction to a shark terrorizing its beach. And that's a good thing.

Devil In A Blue Dress -- The Denzel Washington film noir is far better than the hugely overrated book that spawned it because eliminates most of Walter Mosley's philosophizing about race matters and just focusing on the story.

The Shinning -- While it is not without its own flaws, Kubrick's version of Stephen King's ghost tale is far creepier than anything in the book...

Anonymous said...

Without re-hashing everything I said on the other post, special effects movies & films where spectacle is key will often out do the book.

I think the Nick Hornby adaptations have been better on film, esp. Fever Pitch and About A boy.

King: popular wisdom has it that the books are always better than the films. I say watch the Shining, Carrie, Needful Things, Misery, Storm of the Century, The Dead Zone, Stand By Me, Dolores Claibourne, 1408, The Green Mile & Shawshank and then get back to me.

Potter & Twilight, better on film.

Narnia – I wouldn’t say the recent films are better than the books, but they took a bloody good swing at it. None of them disappointed me.

I thought the Golden Compass was a terrific adaptation of Northern Lights, although Daniel Craig was weird casting. I was amazed at how places I’d seen in my head were so exactly put on screen, especially Svalbard. I had to actually go and check the book to see if there were illustrations....that is how well brought to life it was. And there weren’t, btw.

Bond – yes I agree. Some bits of the books are excellent, but actually the best written bits are often not the most exciting bits. Also Bond has some weird ideas in the books (homosexuals can’t whistle?). I actually think the best written Bond book is Colonel Sun, the one written by Amis in the style of Fleming.

Fred - good point about Moore. I thought the adaptations of Watchmen and V were good. From Hell, was, as you say irrelevant. I thought it was just a dark and atmospheric bit of Ripper nonsense. I read the book from cover to cover including all the copious appendixes and the only person who could have made a good movie and stuck close to the original of From Hell would have been David Fincher.

Also, we should consider that ‘better’ is pure relativisation. The book of Princess Bride, for example, is better than the film, but the film is still tremendous.

Edo – you make a good point about Crichton writing books as movie-fodder. Someone who is even more guilty of that is John Grisham. I remember seeing him interviewed and he literally referred throughout to ‘selling’ a book rather than writing one.


Anonymous said...

I tried to read Princess beats book!

Edo Bosnar said...

Anonymous, really? I found the book quite easy to read and rather fun. Like the movie very much as well. In fact, that's one where it's really tough to make a choice, although maybe I'd give a slight edge to the movie, just because I saw it (and then re-watched it countless times) long before I ever read the book, and because Wallace Shawn in particular was brilliant as the Sicilian criminal genius.

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