Some movie versions better than the classic books

Posted: November 25, 2011 in Books, Movies

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.)

  1. Novel Girl says:

    Honestly, I think that The Green Mile was much better as a movie. The casting, acting and directing was done so well that as good as Stephen King can write, the movie makes me cry time and time again.

    And when I mean the movie is better I’m only talking, mm, 50% better. I liked the book heaps too.

  2. Bookish Hobbit says:

    Shoeless Joe/Field of Dreams is an example where I feel that the movie is superior to the book.

  3. Never read the book “Shoeless Joe.” I might have to do that now just for the comparison. (And because I like the movie so much.) And I’ve never seen or read “The Green Mile.” But I had pretty much the same reaction to Stephen King’s other big prison story — “The Shawshank Redemption.” I liked both the movie and the book, but the movie a little bit more.
    And don’t get me wrong. It’s fun comparing movies with books. But I’ve never seen the point in complaining when a movie is different from the book. The way I see it, when you’re talking about a movie based on a book, the two key words are “based on.” They may have similarities, but they’re two different works of art. Maybe the filmmaker wants to make an exact replica of the book, or maybe he or she wants to explore a different direction with the story, characters and theme. Much as writers or fans of the book may complain, that’s really the filmmaker’s prerogative as an artist.
    Prime example — “The Witches of Eastwick.” I’d be hard-pressed to say whether I liked the book or the movie better. They kind of defy comparison because they’re so different. Two very dissimilar riffs on a common theme.
    Writers do it too. Like the way John Clinch adapted characters from Mark Twain for his novel “Finn.” I guess that’s just part of being a writer. For better or for worse — once you release your story out into the world, it’s never exclusively yours again.

    • Bookish Hobbit says:

      It’s kind of like in the case of “Howl’s Moving Castle” where you have to look at the book and the movie as separate entities. I like both but I’m not sure whether I could say that I like one more than the other, but it’s unfair to really until I read the book a few more times since the book has had one reading and the movie countless viewings.

      I don’t mind the changes that film adaptations make – if – it ends up making the movie a superior product in the end. I know that a lot of people were complaining about “The Lovely Bones” but I for one loved the movie, which I seen after reading the novel a few times. I agreed with Peter Jackson concerning his decision to do certain things that I think were part of the reason that people were complaining. I still enjoy the book a great deal, but I was pleased as well with its transfer to film.

  4. José Román says:

    Frank Darabont’s adaptations of Stephen King’s works (Shawshank, The Mist, The Green Mile) were great. So was his work with The Walking Dead. Kubrick’s film versions of “2001”, “The Shining”, “A Clockwork Orange” are awesome.

  5. Interesting case you make, Bookish Hobbit, for situations where you’ve got a movie and a source book, both of which are very different but about equally as good. Jose’s mention of “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a perfect example. The book was prime Arthur C. Clarke — a hard science fiction story with a hint of cosmic trippiness at the periphery. Kubrick started with blatantly trippy science fiction and led up to full-blown psychedelia. Since the approaches were so different, it’s difficult to compare them. And yet they were, ostensibly, the same story.

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