Monday, February 06, 2006

Books to Movies

I was thinking about the poor transition usually made from books to movies. Everyone knows that "the book is much better" than the film in most instances. I have friends who insist on reading the book first and then coming away disappointed with the film. I find it more satisfying to see the film first, then read the book. That way I can't complain how they changed this and that and I can at least enjoy the film.

But in rare instances I've found the movie to equal or surpass the book. I thought I'd mention a few of those:

"Out of Africa." I've only read the first half of the book, and so far it doesn't even resemble the film--other than the fact there's a woman running a tea plantation in Africa. The book is a collection of stories of Isak Dinesen's life on the farm. They're entertaining and extremely well written, but I've yet to come across a linear plot. The movie is wholly engrossing and emotional and beautifully filmed. Maybe something resembling the film will emerge in the second half of the novel, but I've yet to find it. So far I've enjoyed the film more so than the book, though it's unfair to compare the two.

"The English Patient." Okay, so I didn't actually read this one. Sera read it and struggled. She didn't enjoy it. We both enjoyed the film. But I've met others who didn't enjoy the novel as well.

"Out of Sight." Okay, another one Sera read and did not like. And though I pretty much despise JLo, I really enjoyed this film. In fact, it usually gets four stars from reviewers(Siskel and Ebert said it was the best film of the year that no one watched.) It's a great flick--non-linear, great score and very entertaining. George Clooney, Ving Rhames and Steve Zahn are excellent. Sera felt the book was flat and didn't enjoy the characters as much as she did in the film.

"Summer of '42." I love the book and the movie just as much. This is one of my all time favorite films. Memorable and funny coming of age story set to an emotional score. I read the book several years later and found it well written, hilarious and just as emotional. It even goes a bit further by explaining what happened to all the characters later in life.

"The 25th Hour." No surprise that the book and film are similar since the author, David Benioff, also wrote the film script. He pretty much kept it the same and it works.

There are certain films I love that are based on books I've never read, namely "The Graduate" and "Midnight Cowboy." "The Graduate" has been my favorite film for so long that I doubt I'll ever read the novel. I feel I'll only be disappointed. I need that Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack and the exceptional cinematography. That's why I doubt I'll ever see the stage version. As for "Midnight Cowboy," I've always wanted to read the book but it's out of print and I've never been able to find it.

Sometimes I see a truly awful film and am surprised to learn it was based on a novel. In those instances I'll read the novel thinking, "it must be good if they put forth the effort to make a movie out of this." I'm usually rewarded in these instances. Such was the case with "The Beach," the Leonardo DiCaprio film. I found the movie to be silly, pretentious and devoid of any form of intelligence. The book by Alex Garland is one of the best I've ever read.

There are also cases where the book and movie are good though they don't even resemble one another. I found this to be the case with "Midnight Express" and "Girl, Interrupted."

"Midnight Express" is the true story of American Billy Hayes' five years in a Turkish prison for drug smuggling. It's a good Oliver Stone film starring the late, great Brad Davis. But the movie is mostly fiction. Even Hayes has said that he couldn't see a resemblance to his story in the film, but still enjoyed it. The book is far more exciting and is a real page turner. Hayes' escape from prison is dramatic and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The moral of the movie seems to be, "don't go to Turkey." The moral of the book is "don't be stupid and smuggle drugs." Turkey is a beautiful and friendly country. Just don't commit a crime. I don't know why the film is so different, considering it's a true story, but it's still enjoyable.

"Girl, Interrupted" is a collection of stories from Susanna Kaysen's two years in a mental hospital in the 1960's. That is about the only resemblance there is to the film. I enjoyed the movie, but am not sure if I would have had I read the book first. In fact, while reading the book I couldn't understand how they even made a movie out of it. Perhaps that's why the movie is mostly fiction. In both these cases I enjoyed the book and the film. And in both cases both the book and the film are almost completely different stories.

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