Thursday, March 5, 2009

When books are made into awesome movies ...

What writer doesn't envision their book being made into a movie one day? I know that every time I'm writing a scene I'm playing it like a movie in my head. A good writer creates a movie in each of his reader's minds so it makes utter sense for books to be a resource of ideas for Hollywood. So then why is it such a rare phenomenon to have good books translate into good movies? This has always bugged me enough that I now feel the need to blog about it. Okay, maybe I wasn't that bugged. Maybe I was feeling guilty that I hadn't blogged more than once this week and because what I really want to blog about I can't yet which leaves me thinking that all other blog posts are frivolous. Including this one.

Anyway ... frivolous or not, here're my favourite book to movie adaptations.

I saw the movie the other night and thought, "Wow. What a freaking awesome job of translating a very literary novel into a well-written, well-paced, beautifully acted movie." Those thoughts rarely enter my head when I see a movie adaptation. Usually what I end up thinking is, "Meh. The book was better." I can count on the fingers of one hand the movies I remember blowing me away enough to think, "Hmm. This might be better than the book." Very few. Atonement was definitely one of them. It was the first Ian McEwan book I'd read (I plan on reading more) and I have to admit, I struggled with not putting it down forever in the first fifty pages. It was a tad, um, SLOW. Beautiful writing. No question. But nothing was HAPPENING. A good writer friend urged me to keep going. That I wouldn't regret it. The plot picked up and picked up quickly soon after. Boy, am I glad I did. Fabulous book. Fabulous, frustrating ending. I plan on re-reading it again and, probably because of the beauty of the movie, I'm sure I'll appreciate the slow pace of the beginning much better than I did initially. When I saw the movie I kept thinking, "Oh. Yes. They picked the best parts of the book, enhanced them by casting them with the perfect actors (Hello? James McAvoy? Yum.) and created a heart-breaking, beautiful period piece that made me want to re-read the book again so I could visualize the actors as the characters this time. Kudos to all.

The Silence of the Lambs
A very commercial book which I quite enjoyed. Thomas Harris is another fine writer who can suck you into a nasty character's mind and make him interesting enough to keep you reading. Taut thriller, great plot, great characters. But the movie could have turned into a shlocky horror-fest in less capable hands. Jonathan Demme did an amazing directing job (that basement scene where Jodi Foster is trying to find the killer in the dark? OMG Terror you can feel) but, again, it was the superb casting that elevated this into an amazing adaptation. Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster played perfectly off each other. Everything was edited so tightly (I wonder if movie editors are like publishing editors where they suggest ways to improve the movie to the director? Hmm. Must pay more attention to the Best Editing Oscars and go see those movies)

Pride and Prejudice
Okay. I'm cheating here. I'm not referring to the movie but the BBC TV adaptation with Colin Firth. Sigh. I won't gush about how much I love Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Enough has been said about why it is such an amazing book. But I really, really loved the tv series. So much more so than the movie. Jane Austen's language should be appreciated through a leisurely, immerse-yourself-in-it viewing experience which only about a ten hour DVD compilation can do. My daughter was convinced that you couldn't improve on the Kiera Knightly movie. So I forced her to watch the DVD of the tv series. Ahem. Can I just say here that mother's are always right? The Brits are MASTERS at adapting their classic stories into visual art.

I could probably come up with a couple more but, honestly, I really haven't seen that many adaptations that have blown me away to think they're almost better than the book. The Harry Potter movies are just so faithful to the books that they don't really enhance the story, in my opinion (although I did like the Prisoner of Azkeban one the best of the lot). At the same time, I know I won't be utterly disappointed by their adaptation either because the producers know they have to keep the millions of Harry fans content. And when the movies don't include every little detail (which, come on, they CAN'T) I certainly hear about it from my Potter-obsessed daughter, let me tell you. And I do so love Alan Rickman as Snape that I'd see him in a commercial selling dental floss and think it was art.

So I obviously need some other book to movie adaptations to blow me away. Recommendations anyone? Next on my list is No Country for Old Men. I've heard the movie was way better than the book so maybe that one isn't going to surprise me. I haven't read the book yet but I've heard good things. Must get cracking. So many books and movies, so little time...


  1. This reminds me of how I always tell my husband the book is better than the movie...well one day he decided to test me on it by reading a book and watching the movie and afterward he said, "You're right - the book was so much better it completely ruined the movie for me - I'm never reading again." *Not* my intended outcome but oh well.

    I'm going to throw out Princess Bride - I loved both the book and the movie for different reasons.

  2. Hi Martha! Oooh, yes. I loved that movie. I haven't read the book in ages. I'll have to pick it up again and then watch the movie.

    Too funny what your husband said! Sounds very similar to mine. Only his pet peeve is that he absolutely does not want to know what will happen in the movie. If he's read the book he has no interest in seeing the movie!

  3. No country was awesome! But I gotta warn you - very very violent. There is a strangulation scene where they are both on the ground and afterwards you are left with this incredible image of shoe scuff marks all over the floor - very stark. So effective and that is why the movie is better.

    I loved all your choices and agreed they are all amazing. Atonement was amazing and Colin Firth in the BBC of P&P, so drool worthy...

  4. Hey, Ello! Thanks for visiting! And I'm really looking forward to seeing No Country. Totally prepared for the blood and guts (I made it through Pulp Fiction and it was pretty weird and violent -still get the heeby jeebies when I think of John Travolta sticking the needle in Uma Thurman's chest) There aren't too many movies I walk away from - only two I came close to for different reasons. Hmmm, that may be the subject of my next blog post...
    I will, however, keep my P&P close by for a nice, calming dose of Colin to make me forget the horrors and bloodshed.