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The book was better

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Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 10:35 am | Updated: 10:18 am, Mon Jul 23, 2012.

With "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" releasing next week I have been thinking about movies based on books.

Generally speaking, movies rarely live up to the books they are based on, mostly due to time constraints. I've never written a screenplay, but I imagine it must be pretty difficult to condense a 1,200 page book that takes days, or even weeks to read into a 120-minute film.

That means there are changes to the story that can affect the movie, whether it be a modification to the plot, altering characters, or variations on how certain events play out. Many times the changes can be minor, a little revamp to push the plot along a little faster. But sometimes they are changes that undermine the dynamics of the story completely — I'm looking at you "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince".

Stephen King's "The Stand" was made into a television mini-series (now one long movie on DVD) and even with the benefit of several episodes, they butchered parts of the story by combining multiple characters into one person and cutting out large chunks of the story.

However, there are a few movies that manage to capture the book relatively successfully. In rare occasions, the film is better than the book.

"Let the Right One In" for example. I loved this movie. I recommended it to everyone I knew after I watched it the first time, and the second time…and the third time. I bought and read the book the week after I watched the movie. It was an awful book. Had I read it first, I probably wouldn't have watched the movie. The film adaptation took all the best parts of the story and cut the bits that were repulsive.

"1984" is another good example. The movie isn't as good as the book, but it manages to capture the story well while cutting scenes for time and without changing the plot in any significant way.

So what about the future of movies based on books? What would I like to see and not see?

It has long been rumored that Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," my favorite book, is in the works. This will never work as a movie. The story is far too complicated and expansive to ever capture on film.

On the other side of the road, it was recently revealed that Ron Howard is working on a trilogy based on Stephen King's seven book epic "The Dark Tower." I'm sure the plots of a couple books will be merged into each of the three movies, but I have faith in Howard. He is one of a handful of directors who consistently puts out quality films.

So what are some of your favorite films based on books? Which films do you think were complete failures in comparison to the books they are based on?

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  • Julie Govette posted at 3:54 pm on Fri, Nov 12, 2010.

    Julie Govette Posts: 46 Staff

    Two that come to mind: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" — Milos Forman did a good job with Ken Kesey's masterpiece.
    And Spielberg did a good job with Alice Walker's "The Color Purple." The imagery was very true to the feeling of the book.

  • posted at 8:16 am on Thu, Nov 11, 2010.


    One of the best adaptations I've ever watched was Stephen King's "The Green Mile." It stayed so true to the source material, that when I read the original serial (in novel form), I felt like I was watching the movie. That is one case where I can't say whether I prefer the book or the movie. "Big Fish" is another that was adapted quite well. Burton did an excellent job in that case. However, I will still prefer the book, as it explained more about the connection between father and son.
    And though "The Shipping News" is a fantastic film, it doesn't even come close to touching the magic of the book by E. Annie Proulx.


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