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Don't judge a book by its movie - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Don't judge a book by its movie
Gacked from godrics_h

Thoughts on books and movies:

I liked the movie better than the book

This is a rare, rare category for me. To the point of it almost never happening. It consists of two Stephen King projects, and an overrated book.

The Shawshank Redemption: I loved the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and when I first heard an ad involving the word "Shawshank" my heart did a little pitter-pat. But the movie, by scening out things that were just narrated and by having a stellar cast and brilliant direction as well as being faithful to the text made it surpass even a very good written story.

Silver Bullet over Cycle of the Werewolf: Both are in the mediocre category of story, but Cycle has a kind of disjointed, poorly paced feel, possibly because King was starting out to write a vignette-a-month calendar, and it just didn't work. When he turned his hand to the screenplay, he smoothed it out and fixed the pacing problems. Again, a strong cast, including Corey Haim before he stopped acting around the cameras, made for a movie that surpassed the book.

Gone With the Wind: This was a really gorgeous movie that ennobled a less-than-stellar book. I don't miss Scarlett's other two children, or the explicit statement that Frank Kennedy and Ashley Wilkes were members of the Ku Klux Klan (it was a Klan raid on a settlement the night that Frank died). And I don't care a whit about her parents' life history. The movie was definitely Scarlett's story, but it was about the damage the war did to her, and through her story, the damage it did to the country. The book, while still making Scarlett a cool heroine (or maybe anti-heroine), just never became larger than itself.

I liked both the book and the movie both, even though there were differences.

Stand By Me and The Body--Stephen King and Rob Reiner disagreed on the fundamental question of whose story it was, thus causing the final scene to have a different hero (in the book, it's Chris who pulls the gun on Ace, not Gordie). The reason this can be pulled off is that in the text, either really is plausible. King seemed to be writing Gordie's story quietly as he narrated the story of Chris, and it was Gordie who came through it all changed. The only thing I'd change in the movie is to have Vern and Teddy die as well, as they did in the book, because the creepy knowledge that Gordie's the only one left really made an impression.

Pretty much any fairy tale adaptation, including the dreaded Disney films: "Oh, but in the original, Cinderella's stepsisters chopped off their heels and toes!" Which original? There are roughly 600 versions of Cinderella floating around in the oral and literary traditions. I should object to version 601 just because it has singing mice? The same is true of most comic book adaptations, since the books seem to enjoy wiping the slate every now and then to come up with "Ultimate" or whatever versions. What's a movie version and a TV version added? Superman is as much a fairy tale character as Sleeping Beauty, and can absorb a lot of different tellings.

Lord of the Flies: I liked both movie versions I've seen, particularly the one with Balthazar Getty as Ralph. It's an iconic story, and one of the few that can take a lot of surface changes while retaining its distinctive identity.

I liked the book better than the movie:

Nearly any movie made from a book. Seriously. With the exception of the above two Kings, all Stephen King stories are better as books, even when the movies are reasonably good (like Carrie or Misery). Directors almost always miss the mark on both setting and character, and overemphasize the gore, which is really not the point of the books--it's just a catalyst to get people into the fight. The Dracula movies always miss the mark, as do most Frankensteins. I think the Harry Potter movies are all right, but tepid and uninspired next to the books. And Peter Jackson's version of Lord of the Rings sends me into a weeping, foot-stomping rage every time I think about it.
21 comments or Leave a comment
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: May 16th, 2005 02:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I should object to version 601 just because it has singing mice?

You have brightened my morning.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: May 16th, 2005 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mine, too! (Even though it's afternoon now...)
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: May 16th, 2005 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Dracula movies always miss the mark...

Which is so sad, because it's such a rich & wonderful story. Some folks have said that they probably can't get the movie right because of the way the book's story is told through letters and journal entries, but I think we've seen movies where that kind of character insight can help the movie rather than hinder it.

I completely agree with you on where you placed all the King adaptations, too.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2005 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Some folks have said that they probably can't get the movie right because of the way the book's story is told through letters and journal entries,

And if that were the problem with most of the movies, I'd almost get it. It's hard to do epistolary form, though possible in theory.

It's just that they always seem to miss the character dynamics. Lucy was seduced by Dracula, but Mina was raped. When Coppola's version translated that to her begging him to "Take me away from all this death" and them being truer loves than Jonathan and Mina, I wanted to scream.
marukka From: marukka Date: May 16th, 2005 03:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think all takes I've seen on Van Helsing's character are pretty strange too. I'd seen the various movies/comics and had the general pop-culture knowledge before I read the book, so it surprised me to read about this gentle, emotional and very devoted old man. Not the grim, monster-slaughtering stonefaced guy I expected.

I was surprised how interesting the book was despite not being at all what I thought it was. I think people are just too fascinated by the vampire himself to make the adaptions work (he's really not "on stage" that much in the book, after all). I'd personally like to see an attempt that made Mina Harker the main focus character and followed the dynamics of the book, which strikes me as a good idea to break with the expected Dracula takes.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mina's a good choice, though the strength of the book is the team formation. Of course, they form around Mina.

And you're right about Drac's off-stage nature... it's a neat trick to have him kind of hanging around in the background while the real focus is on the good guys. I like that a lot. I don't care what makes the Count tick; I want to know more about Van Helsing and Mina and Jonathan and Arthur and Seward and Quincy.

And yes... surprise, Van Helsing is very, very human, sometimes laughing in inappropriate places and doting on both Lucy and Mina during their illnesses. Why is Van Helsing generally portrayed as Mad-Eye Moody, except more single-minded?
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: May 16th, 2005 05:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
An excellent point about comic books being fairy tales. It's really why I'm not apprehensive about the new Batman movie, despite the not-so-faded images of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and sadly, George Clooney as Batman. This is just a new spin, a new telling. Works for me.

Definitely agree with you about Stephen King's books vs the movies made from them, it particular 'It' and 'The Stand.' I've never read 'The Body,' unfortunately.

And, I only just recently came to the same conclusion you have about GWTW. As a book, it's lacking (though, I think the problems are mostly structural, too much repetition and *telling* not showing, and of course I'm not overly fond of Wade Hamilton or Ella Kennedy). It does work as a good, solid Civil War narrative, very different from straight battle narratives like 'The Killer Angels.' The movie is spectacular, not just as an adaptation but as a film, and it sets the standard in a way that the book didn't.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2005 06:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, another Batman. Good--I actually like seeing loads of takes on the superheroes. (Val Kilmer was my favorite Bruce.)

It's interesting to see the different ways they get presented and interpreted. Superman's generational incarnations in particular are really neat. I mentioned in mamadeb's (?) journal, I think--you can trace what people think of as the ideal in the way Superman has been treated in successive generations in the media.

GI era, fifties: George Reeves, series. Square-jawed and resolute, a working fellow who donned a uniform to serve his country. His background explained why he had the powers he had, but he was mostly unconcerned with it.

1970s: Christopher Reeve, movies. Sensitive and gentle looking, with a little curl in his bangs. Much is made of his origin, and his discovery of his true identity. The costume he wears is ultimately a gift of his birth parents, worn to honor them. He escapes to his Fortress of Solitude, where the truth of his identity is revealed to him. He fights most often for the sake of love. He loves his foster parents dutifully, but he is definitely Kal-El.

1990s: Dean Cain, Lois and Clark. Bright and ambitious, a talented reporter who doesn't trip over his own feet. He knows exactly who he is and his parents joke with him about it, his mother making him the tight-fitting costume and quipping that "Well, no one will be looking at your face." In crazy-love with Lois, but oddly, doing less of his heroic behavior based on that, and more based on a sense that, because he has a power, he has some responsibility to act where he can and help people out (on a personal rather than communal level).

2000s: Tom Welling, Smallville. Youth oriented and strongly based in teamwork, where Clark's origin is frequently mirrored in other inhabitants of the town (due to the meteorite pieces). Clark has to learn to deal with personal issues related to his powers, and helps people because they're there.

Very different takes, and I find it interesting to track them when they get attached to the same iconic character.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: May 16th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I sometimes describe The Princess Bride by saying the movie is as good as the book, but the book is better than the movie. And I don't see those statements as inconsistent, because they have slightly different strengths and emphasis. [I was a fan of the book before the film, and purposely avoided the film and all its publicity for several years because I had been so badly burned by The Black Cauldron]

On the whole, though, movie adaptations of books remind me of a comment a language professor made about translations. Acknowledging it was horridly sexist, "Translations/adaptations are like women: when they're beautiful, they're rarely faithful, and when they're faithful they're seldom beautiful."
Horrid thing to say about women (I think the original quote was French) but it seems to hold true for adaptations.

I'm very down on film adaptations of novels. A novel generally has just too much *stuff* that can't be filmed. On the other hand, novellas and shorter works are much better suited. They're short enough to translate into a two-hour movie without much loss, and still leave room for cinematic flourishes that movies excel at.
Did you ever watch the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone? They did an amazing job of adapting SF short stories.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2005 05:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Horrid thing to say about women (I think the original quote was French) but it seems to hold true for adaptations.

Actually, I disagree with it categorically (well, with the above-noted exceptions). The problem with all of the adaptations that I like less than their parent books is specifically that they are unfaithful, while the adaptations I like tend to to be highly faithful (the gun thing in SBM is a difference in focus, but the dialogue, the characters, and so on are very faithful, and Shawshank is as close as you can get to literal word-for-word when you go from narrative to scenes). A faithful adaptation of Dracula would be great. The director or screenwriter "interpreting" it to make Drac be the love of Mina Murray's life is what makes the adaptation ugly.
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: May 16th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my goodness, The Black Cauldron. I almost forgot about that particular movie, and I refuse to call it an adaptaion, they murdered the plot. The only good thing I will say about is that since I saw it when I was so young, hadn't read the books, and loved it, it introduced me to them. Of course the fact that I later went back to watch it and found out how badly it was done. Well, I was saddened.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: May 16th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Word on the Jackson travesty. It's so unfair, because it could have been such a great film if they hadn't mucked up the story and characters. Look at all the sets and costumes, and the acting talent of the cast!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2005 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know! It had everything possible going for it... except for the scripts.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: May 16th, 2005 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Am very surprised you, of all people, watched a Werewolf movie called "Silver Bullet." ;)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I'm not particular about werewolf legends being consistent with one another. And the werewolf was the bad guy, so go silver bullet.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: May 18th, 2005 01:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Hehe, fair enough.
From: godrics_h Date: May 16th, 2005 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I cant beleive I forgot Shawshank Redemption and Stand by me! I liked the movies MUCH better. Thought the characters in Stand By Me were underdeveloped.
anna_fredricka From: anna_fredricka Date: May 17th, 2005 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, my condolences to you for your feelings on Jackson's LotR film. I must respectfully disagree. Having seen LotR's earlier incarnations and been utterly mortified by them (despite my low youthful expectations)I was in ecstasy over Jackson's incarnation. I adore it and have decided to forgive the liberties they took with the characters (Faramir in particular). So, you'll have to excuse me while I go revel in my DVD copies one more time. You may stomp and rage in the background if you do so in time to the marching or soundtrack. Love!
nenya_kanadka From: nenya_kanadka Date: May 24th, 2005 01:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Jackson movies definitely were far and away better than the previous tries (Bakshi *shudder*). Still, though, there are enough things wrong with the PJ version that I really, really like the books better.

Mostly, I just have to stay away from reviewers (like fernwithy *g*) that remind me of what I disliked, because I can get ravingly angry that this chance to make the movies had the problems it did (as it will likely not be re-made for ages, and thus the mistakes not be rectified, maybe never in my lifetime). I prefer to love what I can out of the movies, and go and reread the books when my soul is too battered by the screwups.

So, er...agreeing with both you and fernwithy, I guess. ;)
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nenya_kanadka From: nenya_kanadka Date: May 24th, 2005 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought the reverse, but then again it's not the sort of book I'll get in a flamewar with you over. :) Have you seen or read the sequel? (I haven't, yet, but mean to.)
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