Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The book was better.....

I read an article the other day in the LA Times about the recent success of turning novels into movies and it got me thinking - always a dangerous thing - about some of my favorite translations. Don’t we all know that Hollywood isn’t always successful turning our favorite works of prose into celluloid winners. But sometimes they get it right. Here are few books turned movie that stand out for me.

No Country for Old Men
I’m a big Cormac McCarthy fan and I think the Coen brothers captured the nihilistic, life-is-one-big-coin-flip theme just right.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?/Blade Runner
If I’m being honest, I’ve never read the book. But BR is one of my favorite movies and I think possibly Harrison Ford’s best work. “It's not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

A Simple Plan
Gee, finding a bundle of money in the woods shouldn’t cause so much trouble – but it does. Proves the power of a simple idea told powerfully.

These aren't in any kind of order - they are just ones that came readily to mind. I could go on but I’ll let you all throw in some of your favorites. And we can be equal opportunity critics here – throw out a few clunkers if you like. Lord knows Hollywood has butchered many a fine novel in their day.


paul lamb said...

Androids as a novel was a very different type of story from BR the movie. So was a Perfect Mind. Dances with Wolves was a screenplay first, then a novel, then a movie.

They really are two different media, so it's not fair to judge them by comparison. I always ask myself if the story in the movie worked. If I didn't know there was a novel, would the movie have been satisfactory?

Mark Terry said...

I've generally felt that "The World According to Garp" was a better film than book.

They made a John Sandford novel into a made-for-TV movie featuring Eric LaSalle as Lucas Davenport that would have been fine on its own two feet if it hadn't been so dramatically and oddly different from the book.

"The Green Mile" by Stephen King manages to be pretty damned amazing in either format.

How about some books i'd like to see made into movies? (Besides mine, which I think would make great movies).

"Utopia" by Lincoln Child

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

All of Eric Mayer and Mary Reeds "John the Eunuch" novels that take place in 5th century Byzantium.

I'd like them to take a stab at Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels again. "When the Bough Breaks" featuring Ted Danson years and years and years ago was actually very good.

Joe Moore said...

Back in college I read LORD OF THE RINGS -- twice. I had definite images in my head about Frodo, Sam, and all multitude of characters. And I always felt that any attempt to make the epic trilogy into a movie would result in failure. There were a few attempts, one as a cartoon, but it was awful. When the technology finally arrived and the task was giving to gifted director Peter Jackson, I think he pulled it off well. I enjoyed all three movies as much as the books, and believe that Mr. Tolkien would be satisfied with the results.

Other books that I think made the transition successfully were THE GODFATHER, JAWS, and THE EXORCIST.

But my favorite has to be THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Both book and movie kept me up at night.

Mark Terry said...

Duh! How could I forget The Lord of the Rings? I've read it twice (at least) and although I'm not convinced I'm a fan, I love the movies. I actually think the movies might be better than the books, although I know purists have problems with the movies--someone was complaining to me that Jackson left out Bill the Pony and Tom Bombadill and I'm thinking, "Yeah, but even by the standards of the books, those are digressions."

And THANK GOD! Jackson ditched the scouring of the shire. Yawn!

Mark Combes said...

I agree Paul that movies and books are quite different and to judge them against each other is unfair. My hope is that a film adaptation captures the essence of the film even though it might stray from the plot or mix characters. If the movie can translate the feeling of the book, then I'm happy. And to echo Joe, I think the LOTR movies do that well.

Nina Wright said...

Anybody read the novel SIDEWAYS? There's a rare case of the movie being much better than the book, but the story had to start somewhere.


G.M. Malliet said...

Gone with the Wind!

Keith Raffel said...

Maltese Falcon = my favorite mystery book.
Maltese Falcon = my favorite mystery movie.

Mark Combes said...

Keith, I'm not as enamored with Bogie as most - but the Maltese Falcon is the exception.

G.M., GWTW, like the Wizard of Oz (which coincidently includes one of my all time favorite songs - that's another blog) was groundbreaking for its time. The scope and grandeur - wow...

Keep 'em coming folks! It's a long cold winter and I need DVD rental suggestions!

Mark Combes said...

ps. And Nina, hated Sideways. No wait, loathed Sideways. I just wanted to push the guy down....

Different strokes eh?

Keith Raffel said...


If you're looking for things to watch this winter, I suggest you high-tail it out to Palo Alto and check out the Hitchcock festival at the Stanford Theatre.

We have a futon.

Mark Combes said...

Careful what you offer there Keith...I just might take you up on it. Plus I think I owe Maleeny a drink or two....

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm in an agreeable mood today. I agree totally about LOTR and Godfather, fabulous movies made from fabulous books, with just the right amount of editing.

Also agree with GWTW, except I was always disappointed that in the movie they cut out the fact that Scarlett O'Hara had 2 other children (1 by each husband before Rhett). Did she leave them abandoned in a basket somewhere?

Mark C. - I agree re Sideways, though I only saw the movie. It seemed just pointless and whiney to me.

Mark T. - While I loved both Garps, I preferred the book. There are portions of the book I still think about often - the "undertoad," for one, and I still come to near tears when I think about Walt's death - and I read the book decades ago.

Other fav books to movies - Devil in a Blue Dress, White Oleander.

Books I'd love to see made into movies: anything written by Sue Ann Jaffarian.

Felicia Donovan said...

Not a movie, but I clearly remember being absolutely glued to every episode of "Brideshead Revisited."

I'm now enjoying the entire Jane Austen series on Masterpiece Theatre as well. They do an outstanding job (for the most part) of translating stories to the not-so-big-screen.

G.M. Malliet said...

Brideshead - oh, yes.

I liked Sideways because the characters were so real. Whiney, childish, and deeply annoying, but real. I've met a dozen people like that in the "real world."

What am I saying? Good movies are always more real than real life.

paul lamb said...

Here's a link:

Twenty Books - Twenty Movies

Mark Terry said...

Those are great and sparked what for me tends to be an ax to grind re. Ron Howard's "The Grinch That Stole Christmas."

Now, we all as a family went to see this movie in the theater when it came out. The book is beloved; the Chuck Jones animated short is beloved and brilliant.

My wife and kids seem to like this film, even to the point of buying the DVD.


The whole damned thing creeps me out. The tone, the subtext, the quasi-sexualized "girlfriend" of the Grinch, the way Mary Lou Who's father is portrayed...


Before the movie came out I commented to my brother that I couldn't think of one single reason to turn that book into a feature film except for money. I know it's overly optimistic to think that there are other reasons for translating a book into a film, but sometimes film actually brings books to life in a way that books cannot--the Harry Potter novels I think do that well. Not better than the books, but different and good.

But in order to make The Grinch That Stole Christmas into a story long enough for a feature film they had to let some screenwriter come up with other things, and they're very often dark and creepy and unpleasant. The whole thing seems like a bad acid trip.

Mark Combes said...

Paul, thanks for the link. Off to my local video store where the carpet that never seems to dry out until sometime in June so it smells like a wet dog in there - but they've got everything!

And I'm with Mark #1 on the Grinch thing. I couldn't bring myself to see the movie because the trailers creeped me out so much. But then, I find clowns to be the scariest things on the planet.

But one Christmas book that translated perfectly is "A Christmas Story." It's on 24hrs a day during the Christmas season and I've seen it 1000 times - but somehow it's always a treat.