Yes, I’m really going to go there.
The Broke and the Bookish asked us to pick from all the Top-Ten Tuesday topics we’ve missed out on over the years. Since I just started doing this last week, I had a lot of topics to choose from. The one that caught me eye was The Top Ten Best/Words Movie Adaptations. Since I think going after the worst ones is basically shooting fish in a barrel, I decided to come up with ten times the movie was better.
I know we all say, and many of us believe that the book is always better. For good reason, too, since it usually is. But there are times when if pushed to wall many of us would have to admit that as much as we may love the book, the movie really is better.
A word about criteria. I do not expect a movie to be like the book, at all. A book is a book and a movie is a movie; they do not work in the same way. The first tries to summon visual images in the reader’s mind while the second uses visual images to summon emotions in the viewer. One does it’s work with words alone, the other uses primarily images along with words and music.
So to choose which is better I consider how good the book is as a book versus how good the movie is as a movie. It’s like picking best in show when one dog is a Scotty and the other is a Great Dane. Both may be black and have four legs and a tail, but how can you measure which is the best dog?
With that said, here are some movies that were better than the book, in no particular order.
The Godfather. Mario Puzo’s book was a bestseller for good reason. Strong characters, a shocking plot, quality writing. But how many people are reading it today, let alone using it as a text in academic settings? The movie, on the other hand, is still considered a landmark achievement in American film, still watched by many, still taught in film schools. Are we quoting the movie or the book when we say “Leave the gun; take the cannoli”? I’m quoting the movie.
The Children of Men. P.D. James’s science fiction classic is a strong contender against Alfonso Cauron’s film adaptation. It’s a very good novel, but I’m voting for the movie here for two reasons. First the fact that the entire movie is made up of 12 or so continuous takes amazes me every time I watch it. The final sequence is astounding. I’m also impressed that I didn’t even notice this the first time I saw the movie I was so involved in the story. Second, the concluding images, the ones with the new baby, moved me so much more than anything in the book did. It’s a good book, mind you, but not nearly as good a book as the movie is a movie.
Shane. George Stevens adaptation rides high in my mind. Jack Schaefer’s novel is excellent, one everyone should read even if you don’t like westerns. Then watch the movie. There’s something about it that just works so well. “Come back, Shane. Come back.” The hero rides off over the mountains to face the end alone. It’s a marvelous movie.
Ordinary People. Robert Redford directed this, his first movie, back in the 1980’s. I expect few people will know it these days. I confess that I haven’t seen it since I saw it in the theatre but I still recall Mary Tyler Moore, the mother, unable to return her son’s unexpected hug. That was a profoundly moving scene, one that disturbed us more than a 100 zombie deaths ever could. The book was so-so. I remember thinking the changes Mr. Redford made in the story improved it.
True Grit. Charles Portis’s novel is wonderful, another one that everyone should just get over their anti-western genre bias and read ’cause it’s fantastic and not what you think at all. But any movie with John Wayne calling out “Fill your hand, you son-of-a-bitch” then charging into a gun fight on horseback a rifle in one hand a six-shooter in the other….well…could any movie have a more audience pleasing ending? I didn’t like the more recent version all that much though it was truer to the novel. Being true to the novel is not necessarily a good thing in a movie. Let John Wayne be John Wayne.
The Planet of the Apes. Pierre Boulle’s novel was a struggle for me, as I recall. One of those science fiction novels where it’s a little hard to tell what all is going on. It’s been a while since I’ve read it so forgive me if I have it confused with something else. But that’s part of the reason why the movie is so much better. I’m speaking of the 1968 Charlton Heston vehicle, of course. “Take your hands off me, you damned, dirty ape!” And the final scene, which came as a surprise to me when I first saw it. It’s cheesy, it’s corny, it’s a bit silly, but it’s much more fun than the book was.
Double Indemnity. James M. Cain is no slouch by any means, but take a look at this scene from the movie starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurry. How could any book complete with that? Sorry I couldn’t get it to embed, but do take a look. Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Raymond Chandler. Edward G. Robinson in a supporting role. How could it not be great.
Walkabout. While I found much to admire in James Vance Marshall’s novel, which I recommend strongly by the way, it did not have the same magic Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 movie did. The book is a good story, has some interesting things to say, but it doesn’t take the reader out of this world and into another the way the movie did. Strange as it was, disturbing as some of it’s imagery could be, I think it did a much better job making the audience long for a simpler world than the book did. It forced me to look at modern civilization critically in ways the book did not.
Okay, that’s only eight, but the people behind the counter are starting to give me the eye. Fair enough–all the other tables are taken and I have been here a while. So my time is up for today. I can honestly say that all eight of these movies are very good, as are all eight of these books. If you’ve not seen or read any of them, you might give one or both a go to see if you think I’m right.
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments in written or in visual form.