In a recent post, I wrote how much better “Dexter” the TV show is, compared to the books that inspired it. As I mentioned, I feel like a real Philistine for saying a TV show or movie is better than the book. But there’s no getting around it. Sometimes it just is.
I’m sure if I really researched it, I’d find some more examples. But here are four off the top of my head.
- “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest”: Ken Kesey’s novel took place entirely from the perspective of Chief, who’s considerably more deranged in the book than in the movie. Kesey reportedly got pissed over Milos Forman’s decision to change that for his 1975 film adaptation. Much as I hate to contradict a cool guy like Ken Kesey, that was a good call on Forman’s part. Chief’s meandering head trips probably seemed a lot more neo-postmodern or something back in the ’60s. But I thought they just got in the way of the plot. The movie was more succinct, and more powerful.
- “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”/”Blade Runner”: OK, I’m about to make a horrible, horrible confession. I don’t get Philip K. Dick. I mean, I’ve given him a shot. I’ve read “VALIS” and “The Man in the High Castle,” and just found them kind of incoherent and weird. Ditto “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” But “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s 1982 film adaptation? Arguably the best film of the 1980s, in my opinion. Compelling insights about human identity, AND kick-ass action sequences. Hard to ask for more out of a movie. (If you’ve never seen the movie, by the way, be sure you get the director’s cut. I can’t really say more without spoilers, but the director’s cut has a few nuances that make it way more intense.)
- “Frankenstein”: Yeah, it’s really impressive that Mary Shelley came up with this highly influential story when she was just 18. But — How to express this and not sound like an asshole? — it READS like a book that a bright, romantically-minded and naive teenager would write. Full of florid content that bears little resemblance to how the world works or how people act. I mean, yeah, it’s a fantasy novel about ideas, and she wasn’t exactly shooting for gritty social realism. But about the time Felix De Lacey brought home his beautiful Turkish beloved Safie to the family cottage, I thought: “OK, Mary. You’re kinda losing it here.” The 1931 James Whale movie was way better.
- “A Clockwork Orange”: I first read the version of Anthony Burgess’ novel that was released in America when I was a kid. While the book impressed me, I still gave the edge to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation, just because the movie was SO freakin’ mind-blowing. Years later, I read the version of the novel that was released in England, including a final chapter that American publishers excised and that Kubrick didn’t include in the movie. So the American publishers cut out a final chapter of Burgess’ novel? One that Burgess himself considered vital to the novel’s meaning? Those blasphemous thugs! What the hell were they thinking? Except … well … the final chapter kind of sucked. I don’t want to give it away. Read it and decide for yourself. But I found it jarringly inconsistent with the rest of the book, and it just reinforced my preference for the movie.
Here’s an interesting insight on the complicated relationship between writers and movies from Scott Pruden, author of the science fiction thriller “Immaculate Deception.” (By the way, the opinions expressed in the preceding post are entirely my own. Don’t blame Scott for the fact that I’m a illiterate oaf who doesn’t understand Philip K. Dick.)