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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Which movies are better than the books they’re based upon?

It’s official: Daniel Craig has been cast as Mikael Blomkvist in the Hollywood English-language production of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I still kinda don’t see the point of remaking the movie so soon — the Swedish-language version is fantastic — but there’s no escaping it now.

But it got me thinking about movies based on books in general. The vast majority of them cannot hope to match the excellence of the books they’re based on. Even when a film adaptation is really really really really really great: As amazing as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, can you imagine anyone saying they’re better than J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels? I can’t.
However: I’m in the middle of reading Stieg Larsson’s Man som hatar kvinnor — in the English translation, of course [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]; my Swedish is terrible — and It. Is. A. Slog. It’s a genuine chore to read, though I will carry on and finish. It’s not just a matter of translation, which would be forgivable, unless this is the shoddiest and most unfair translation ever, one that radically rewrites Larsson’s prose. For Larsson commits the cardinal sin of fiction: He shows rather than tells. Instead of dramatizing a scene for us — letting us eavesdrop on characters’ dialogue and actions — he describes too many things secondhand. (For example, in many instances, instead of letting a character speak their own words, he paraphrases for us what he or she said, which is particularly unforgivable when he’s telling us that someone told a joke but won’t tell us what the joke is!) The plotting wanders all over the place, and is sometimes ridiculous: in one bit, Lisbeth is hit hard enough by a car to damage the laptop in her bag but doesn’t even notice being hit!

The damaged laptop is a key point the plot turns on, and the movie handles it much better, and in a way that also contributes to the overall theme of story (about women and violence). Everything about the movie, up to and including the fact that the story is dramatized for us, is much, much smarter and sharper onscreen.

My favorite the-movie-is-better-than-the-book example used to be Contact, but now it’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I hope I’ll be able to say the same about the Hollywood version, too.

Your turn: Which movies are better than the books they’re based upon?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Rosalind

    Forrest Gump -really terrible book.

  • doa766

    The Shinning, Stand by me, Carrie and most of Stephen King adaptations

  • Brian

    James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans is mostly a snooze. I slogged through that and several of the other “Leatherstocking Tales” novels in college, thinking I could find some of what was so thrilling about the 1992 Michael Mann film in them. That’s one of my very favorite films, and I’m sure I’ll watch it dozens of times more in my lifetime, but I won’t be trying to read the novels again anytime soon.

  • Kate

    For Larsson commits the cardinal sin of fiction: He shows rather than tells.

    Isn’t it the opposite way around? Writers are supposed to show rather than tell. (For instance, show the reader that a room is beautiful by describing it, rather than just telling the reader that the room is beautiful.)

    My answer is Gone with the Wind. The book is very good, but it is a bit of a plodder at times. The movie, while long, still managed to condense it, snip out the uneccessary bits (Scarlett’s other children), and present a lean, gorgeous masterpiece.

  • Daniel

    The Player is better than the book. That might have something to do with the fact that it’s a movie about movies, with movie stars played by movie stars, and the book can’t replicate the hall-of-mirrors effect. But, really, it’s just better–funnier, faster-paced, and with more emotional weight.

    I could probably make an argument for Coraline, but there were too many passages from the book that I missed when they didn’t show up in the movie.

  • Isobel

    I agree re: The Last of the Mohicans, I got a copy of the book to read after watching the Daniel Day Lewis film, and I don’t think I’ve ever finished it (and I’m a fan of 18th and 19th century novels).

    I also prefer the film Fight Club to the book.

  • Philip

    “Lisbeth is hit hard enough by a car to damage the laptop in her bag but doesn’t even notice being hit!”

    No she isn’t. Setting the story straight: She puts the laptop bag on the ground to unlock her bike. That’s when a car goes in reverse over the bag.

    She’s never hit by a car, and it’s clearly written that the cars driver never notices turning her laptop into a pile of electrojunk.

  • Alli

    Am I a horrible person if I admit to liking the LotR movies more than the books? The first 50 pages are about which hobbits live in what part of the shire. It was a chore for me to get through the first part, and I really, really wanted to like it. No, I wanted to LOVE it, and instead I felt like ripping my hair out. Maybe I should try reading it again.

    I like the Fight Club film more than the book, and I actually enjoy some of Palahniuk’s earlier books (Survivor especially).

    I agree with you MAJ about the Dragon Tattoo book. It will eventually pick up the pace, but the beginning is a struggle. The third and second books are even worse at this, which is why I never finished Hornest Nest.

  • Nina

    Atonement….. hated the book; thought the movie was much more enjoyable.

    And I agree about Last of the Mohicans; DDL with long flowing hair! Hey, MaryAnn, how about some female gazing at Daniel Day Lewis, surely the thinking woman’s sex symbol.

  • beccity98

    The ending to the The Planet of the Apes sucked in the book. It didn’t make any sense. It ended pretty much the way the new version did, with no reason as to why there were apes when he went back home. The original movie’s ending twist was much better.

  • MaSch

    I disagree that Contact the movie is better than the book (or even close to it, quality wise); I think most of the changes made for the movie were for the worse (although the space travel did look fantastic).

    I’d say David Lean’s Oliver Twist is better than the book; I remember the movie’s grim atmosphere but hardly remember the books atmosphere at all (only remembering I was disappointed by the lack of it).

  • beccity98

    And Forrest Gump? i agree-totally better movie. In the book, most of the time he’s doing stupid things on purpose!

  • New Waster

    Yeah, the cardinal sin is telling instead of showing, although the metaphor is messier with works of prose.

    Addressing your earlier question, though. I can imagine someone suggesting Jackson’s film trilogy is better than Tolkien’s book; Me, right now. That thing is a nightmare of unnecessary botanical description, self indulgent “songs” hat twirling creeps and eagles ex machina. The films have Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Sir Ian Mckellen and a donkey.

  • markyd

    No, Alli, you are not horrible. I actually agree. I originally read the LOTR books in high school and loved them to death. Then I saw, and loved, the movies. I tried to go back and read them again, and it was terribly difficult. I just couldn’t get past all the nothingness going on. My wife tried to read them(for the first time) and gave up pretty quick.
    I imagine it’s pretty common to have a hard time reading a book you loved after seeing the movie. Especially if the movie was good.

  • markyd

    OH! I forgot something! (We seriously need an edit button around here). I am presently reading the third book in the Temeraire series. I have not enjoyed them at all, but keep reading in a (vain) hope that they will eventually live up to the premise.
    I imagine someone could make some really kick ass movies out of them, though. Didn’t PJ buy the rights? If he makes them, they are bound to be better than the poorly written books. Too bad he’s got so much going on.

  • The film of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy jettisons an awkward sequence involving the death of Kurt Cobain and replaces it with a feelgood Hollywood ending that, strangely enough, really works for me. It also boasts the ever-wonderful Toni Collette and the best performance Hugh Grant has ever given.

  • NickT

    I loved the Bourne films, but I couldn’t get more than halfway through the first book before I gave up.
    I think they diverge pretty wildly though, so I’m not sure if they count.

    If we can include comic books/graphic novels, I like them both, but the film of V for Vendetta worked better for me.

  • Justanothernerd

    Being There is an interesting case, in that, while the book works, the movie is a much grander achievement and probably more culturally significant, as far as one can tell these things. Part of the issue is that the book merely tells us “Chance watched TV” without describing what it is he watches, while the movie gives us clips from real shows and movies. Though this works for the book, as it allows Chance to seem vacant and detached, the film’s treatment is more effective. But there are also sequences specific to the film that not only tighten the overall plot but give us some of the most enduring moments in American cinema, especially in the ending.

  • Brian

    I’m a bit baffled about the reaction of some folks to The Lord of the Rings, but then, I had read the book half a dozen times before seeing the films, in addition to The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc., so I can’t quite put my mind in a place of unfamiliarity with the books.

    The relentless kinetic thrust of Jackson’s films is mostly pretty good for a movie adaptation, but misses a great deal of subtlety that the quieter moments of the books provide. The Weta team largely replaced those with a great deal of depth and detail in the visuals, but the books provide a much fuller and more nuanced exploration of Middle-Earth. Even Jackson has suggested that the films are sort of a highlight reel of the events of the books, and he implies that the books should be consulted to see what happens “off-camera.”

    But this is supposed to be a thread about superior film adaptations, so I’ll cease my hijack in defense of my favorite fantasist.

  • Shaun

    I would have to say I am Legend was a better movie, I know of one other, but i can’t think. Personally, i feel if you like the LofR trilogy movies’ better it’s because you’re lazy…I don’t mean to be offensive to people, but i feel like nowadays people are lazy and have no attention to detail. they need to shown rather than imagined. I remember being sad when i was done, same with the Harry Potter books. Oh by the way, I’m not old and biased towards young people, i’m actually only 25…1 last thing 1 example of a great, epic movie, but an even better book…the Godfather

  • Shaun

    Brian, hopefully you’re still around, what Tolkien tale should i read next? I’ve read the Hobbit and LotR

  • Brian

    @Shaun: The Silmarillion is a logical next step, about the much deeper history and cosmology of Middle Earth. Be prepared, though: it reads much more like the Bible or an ancient saga than a contemporary novel. It’s not for everybody.

    On another note, Shaun, I think it’s a little unfair to accuse those who don’t appreciate LotR, or any other novel, of laziness. I’m sure I could fairly be criticized for failing to appreciate the sedate narrative style of James Fenimore Cooper. Even Tom Shippey, a notable Tolkien scholar, concedes that the narrative in LotR is sloppy and slow in places, and shouldn’t work as well as it does by most conventional notions of narrative fiction. If someone prefers the narrative style of the film, that’s more or less a matter of taste.

  • Chris

    Even though I think both the book and movie a great, I must say that I actually enjoyed The Green Mile movie more than the book.

  • Sandy

    Jaws. Forgettable book. Epic movie.

  • Draken

    I think the reasons given so far for preferring the LOTR films to the book show a certain missing of the point. The novel is REALLY about Middle Earth. By the time Tolkien wrote it, it had been evolving in his head for over 20 years. He had invented languages, history, characters, flora and fauna that built up into a mythology that spanned thousands of years. LOTR uses the plot of pretty much the final act in this mythology to let us into this world. The book is as much about the feeling of watching the rain sheet down over the Old Forest, say, as it is about chucking jinxed jewellery into lava.

    I loved the films but of necessity Middle Earth was the backdrop for the plot in them, while in the book the plot was the device to explore Middle Earth.

    I suppose that’s the difference between a novel and a film. An author invites you to collaborate with him in imagining his vision – a film maker can only ask you to sit back and watch his vision unfold.

    So yes, I’m sure some films have improved on the book but in general I’d hazard that a good book is more engaging on more levels than even the best of films.

    Agree that Tolkien wrote rubbish song lyrics, mind.

  • History of Bubbles

    Whoah, sorry, MaryAnn, but I could not disagree more strongly about [i]Contact[/i]. Now, I don’t mean that as a strike against the film. The movie was a fine, fine film in its own right, and pretty unique among Hollywood films for its intelligence and the depth of ideas presented. And it does add a couple of really lovely original sequences. But the book is just . . . more. It’s dense with chewy and thrilling ideas on every page, and is still a crackling story. And the film’s “18 hours of static” twist is cute, but it’s got nothing on the book’s doozy of a twist ending.

  • History of Bubbles

    Whoops, forgot to address the question of the day. Only one I can think of is [i]Ghost World[/i]. I think the movie gave the characters more of an arc, whereas in the graphic novel there WAS a bit of an arc, hard to discern, but it was mostly a couple of really jaded teenage girls savaging everything and everyone around them, which got a bit wearing after a while.

  • Ryder

    Well if people can criticize the LOTR book trilogy then I suppose its okay for me to say the Twilight movies, which actually aren’t terrific, are better than the books. At least there is a hint of action in the movies and not simply two people constantly describing how beautiful the other is but simultaneously moaning about being with them as occurs in the books for page upon page. Then again, I’m a guy. Apocalypse Now was much better than Heart of Darkness upon which the movie was based.

  • Mark

    @Ryder – re Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now: are we allowing films that were altered out of all recognition from the original inspiration? In that case I’ll say Forbidden Planet is better than The Tempest cos Shakespeare’s version didn’t have a cool robot.

  • Tony

    Angels and Demons
    Clear and Present Danger (I didn’t think the movie was very good but it was easier to follow than the book)

  • Alli

    Personally, i feel if you like the LofR trilogy movies’ better it’s because you’re lazy…I don’t mean to be offensive to people, but i feel like nowadays people are lazy and have no attention to detail. they need to shown rather than imagined. I remember being sad when i was done, same with the Harry Potter books.

    I know what you’re trying to say, but I think your generalizing people. I have a minor in English Literature, so I don’t have a problem with imagination. I also love the Harry Potter books. Plain and simple, I think people enjoy books, including fantasy books, for different reasons (see below).

    Draken, I like your interpretation of the LOTR. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy it? I prefer being pulled into a world because of the characters and the struggles they go through. I found it difficult to relate to the characters, and most of Tolkien’s dialogue was irritating. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the world the man created. He’s a genius. You have to be to create an entirely new world. But I just couldn’t fall in love with it. I wanted a story. I wanted a journey. That’s how I become lost in a new world. For the same reason, I think this is why I’m not a fan of MMO video games either.

    I don’t know. Maybe I just have bad taste.

  • Tony

    Almost forgot, any movie adaptation will be better than The Brothers Karamazov. That is a tough read…and by tough I mean dry, over-done London Broil tough.

  • stickler for details

    @ proper Dave: I think that if you take out all the references to NIrvana and Kurt cobain, then the title should go also. “About a Boy” is a nod to the songtitle “About a Girl”
    I agree on Toni and Hugh, though. And the film is good, really good.

  • Liz

    Jurassic Park. Good action/horror movie, but one of the worst books I’ve ever attempted to read.

  • I would give a vote to Fantastic Mr. Fox, but, in all fairness, I only just read the book as an adult.

  • Anne

    The Da Vinci code, terrible movie but at least shorter than the book and it didn’t have all the whiny pages at the end.

    And I prefer Jesus Christ Superstar to the New Testament.

  • [MAJ wrote] Instead of dramatizing a scene for us — letting us eavesdrop on characters’ dialogue and actions — he describes too many things secondhand. (For example, in many instances, instead of letting a character speak their own words, he paraphrases for us what he or she said

    I was recently surprised to realize that Jane Austen also occasionally does this. I love the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but it turns out that some great lines of dialogue in the screenplay were attempts to flesh out secondhand descriptions in the novel. For instance, I love Elizabeth’s awkward and restrained admission of love for Darcy at the end (“My feelings are… I am ashamed to remember what I said then. My feelings are so different. In fact, they are quite the opposite”); but Austen tells it this way:

    “Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.”

    I think paraphrasing one of the most pivotal exchanges in the story was a strange authorial decision. I’m not prepared to say that the BBC adaptation is better than the novel, but it certainly enhances and breathes life into it.

    [Shaun wrote] 1 example of a great, epic movie, but an even better book…the Godfather

    I’ll have to disagree with you there, Shaun. Coppola’s direction, Nino Rota’s music, and the performances of Brando, Pacino, and the rest elevated Mario Puzo’s material to greatness.

  • nyjm

    While this QotD is an interesting inversion of the all too common idea of “The book was way better than the movie,” I still feel like it’s comparing apples to oranges. Since movies and novels are both popular modes of narrative fiction, there are many similarities – and the common practice of adapting novels to the silver screen (and vice versa) helps to render these two art forms all that more similar in our minds.

    But what makes a good movie and what makes a good book are often very different things. While they both have elements of plot and characterization that can appeal to us (or repel us), movies are more about the visual and the kinesthetic. Books are more about the verbal. The movie experience is simultaneous; books are more linear. Watching a movie is more often a collective activity; books tend to be singular ventures.

    This does not make one art-form any better than the other: they each have their unique capacities to move us and make us think. But I believe the comparison is either unfounded or at least a dead-end, other than to highlight their differences and similarities. We don’t ask “Which is better, Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliette’ or Tchaikovsky’s ballet?” or pit Michelangelo’s “The Last Supper” against “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

    A better question for me would be – Compare and contrast: what makes a good movie for you and what makes a good novel?

  • I used to not like it when adapted films change the source material, but I recently realized that you can’t really compare them because once you change something you’re automatically telling a different story. As a result, it depends on the individual viewer’s taste for stories; you’re not going to to get widespread consensus on any one film vs. book situation. I thought the film Children of Men was fantastic; then I read the book. Two completely different stories, but I liked both of them. Conversely, the Coen Brothers (whom I love) made No Country for Old Men exactly the same as the book. They tell the same story beat for beat, but one does it visually as opposed to contemplatively as a book does. Just depends on how you like your stories.

    As far as LOTR is concerned, I like the books better than the films. Jackson had to cut things and switch around dialogue to Hollywoodize them, and I didn’t like that. We see the story only from the point of view from Men as if they’re the only people suffering so the audience can identify. For example, during The Council of Elrond in the book, Gloin told the story of one of the Nine going to the Dwarves and threatening war. (I sound like such a nerd, I know.) That shows that the whole of Middle Earth was threatened by Sauron, but Jackson ignores it and makes it seem like Men are the only ones in danger. Also, one of the themes of LOTR – the books – is storytelling itself, which is why a lot of characters describe events instead of Tolkien describing through narration (e.g. the sacking of Isengard). Jackson had to drop that because having an actor tell a story for 5 minutes on screen was never going to happen. It’s like I said: depends on how you like your stories.

  • Lady Tenar

    The 1992 adapatation of “The Secret Garden” is a dark, beautiful, and subtle film that explored subtexts and relationships that the book never did. I know it’s a classic of children’s literature but, honestly, I always found it mannered and Precious. The film, on the other hand, is one of my favorites of all time.

    I enjoyed the film version of “The African Queen” a lot more than the C.S. Forster novel. Maybe that makes me middlebrow but the book was just way too much of a downer. Very post-World War I, whereas the movie was very post-World War II.

    I see the LOTR books as just very difficult. Although I sympathize with the people who can’t get through the long slog at the beginning (and they do reoccur a couple times throughout the trilogy…), I thought there were some characters in the books that were just much more well-realized than they were in the movies. (Faramir comes to mind.) I love the movies as much as the books, I just see them as two very different things.

  • Jester

    The Right Stuff. Not that the book is bad — it certainly is not. But the movie takes the semi-rambling book and tightens it to a laser-like focus with incredible story-telling results.

    And yeah, as I said in your Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review, the book’s writing is god-awful. It’s like Larsson took a Creative Writing 101 class, saw a list of things labeled “DON’T DO THESE” on the first day, and resolved to write a book in which he does every single one of them.

  • Jim Mann

    OH! I forgot something! (We seriously need an edit button around here). I am presently reading the third book in the Temeraire series. I have not enjoyed them at all, but keep reading in a (vain) hope that they will eventually live up to the premise.

    If that’s your feeling about the first few novels in the series, you should give up. The first three are the best in the series. Later books are still fun, but they don’t get better.


  • Jim Mann

    Jaws — Spielberg got rid of the dumb subplot and turned a so so book into a very good movie.

    The Godfather — likewise, Coppola got rid of the the fat and kept the brilliant essence of the novel

    Frankenstein — yes, the original is a classic, but it’s also rather dull in parts. James Whale’s movie (as well as The Bride of Frankenstein) are better.

  • mortadella

    L.A. Confidential….the novel’s sub-plots are overwrought. There’s also a group suicide near the end of book that’s a bit excessive.

  • I_Sell_Books

    The Shining is a much better movie than the book (not that the book is bad, per se).

    And TGWPWFire is also a better movie. I understand that translator ‘prettied it up’ a bit, which makes me wonder what Larsson was like as a journalist. Because, as you say, Tattoo is not the most well written book.

  • JT

    I preferred the film version of Fight Club, although that may just be because Brad Pitt is so much fun to watch.

    Angels and Demons was also improved by it’s movie adaptation, mostly because they cut the preposterous scene with Langdon in the helicopter.

    And, though it may be sacrilege, I’m going to add Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’ve always found it to be the weakest of the books, but David Yates’ adaptation was just beautiful.

  • Boingo

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s-“The Curious Case of Benjamin
    Button,” really became something else made into a
    movie. The transformation from short story to movie
    in this case leaves a hard comparison, since the
    movie morphed drastically into something else, and
    the charm of the original short story still holds its

  • I_Sell_Books

    Wow, comment-making-sense fail. What I meant was: I understand the translator prettied up the English version of the books a bit, which makes me wonder what Larsson’s journalism was like, for the books are very ‘newspaper-y’.

    I’d love to see Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind made into a movie, because gods know I can’t get through the book. Again, maybe that’s down to the translator, as I’ve come across a couple of passages with nearly dictionary perfect translations, whereas it seems to me a good tranlator would have done exactly that, made it appropriate for English (but not rewriting the book, if that makes any sense).

  • bronxbee

    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil… loved the movie, could not understand what was so great about the book.

  • Has anyone mentioned The Bridges of Madison County? I was dragged to the film by a friend in town for a rare visit who wanted to see it. The book is so bad that I could only read a paragraph or so before the book dropped from my paralyzed fingers back onto the display table in the department store. That bad. The movie, to my surprise, is quite bearable, thanks to the skillful and unglamourized performances of Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. There’s still a couple of irritating anachronisms, and occasionally Robert James Waller’s turgid prose makes an unwelcome intrusion, but the movie tells a reasonably touching story.

  • RyanT

    Whoever said Secret Garden above deserves kudos. I mean I loved the book, but the movie was just something else.

  • Orazio Amaddio

    Although I loved “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip k. Dick, I prefer the movie version “BladeRunner”. It managed to keep most of the books concepts and themes of identity and memory, but had the added advantage of being so visually arresting and beautiful to look at.

  • Funwithheadlines

    Bridget Jones’ Diary was absolutely rubbish as literature, but made for a very fun movie.

    LoTR is a great book, but if you don’t want to read about Tolkien’s world, you won’t like reading the books. Those boring bits are actually fascinating to me for that is where Tolkien separates himself from all other fantasy by truly creating an entire fictional world in all its parts. It’s like reading a travel guide to Middle Earth, and I absolutely love it. The movies don’t even come close to matching it, and never could.

    I’m sorry some of you don’t see the intense beauty of those parts. It doesn’t mean you don’t get it, or aren’t smart enough or anything silly like that. It just means you look for other types of input when it comes to fiction. To each her own.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, compared to “Who Censored Roger Rabbit”.

    “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is definitely one of those films that builds something spectacular on a solid platform.

    I’m _almost_ tempted to say “Secret of NIMH” compared to the Newberry award-winning book it’s based off of, but with serious qualifications. On the plus side, the movie shifts the theme from “education” to “courage” very well, added a lot of great and appropriate dramatic moments where none existed in the book, gives richer characterization and personality to all the characters, and makes Jeremy the Crow more relevant to the storyline.

    On the downside, it shifted the science fiction to fantasy, completely eliminated the education theme which earned the book the Newberry award in the first place, and led up to a deus ex machina ending that was totally unnecessary.

  • Angel

    Ben Hur! Not that the movie is terrific, but the book is totally unreadable.

  • Mel

    On LOTR: For me, Fellowship was better than the books, but TT and ROTK were better books. I slogged through the fist book, but tore through the second two, because they have less of the description and song that was so hard about the first book.
    Agree also on Forest Gump

    For me it often has to do with which you experience and love first. I love ‘The Princess Bride’ as a film but have no interest, and have never been able to get through the books. While there are plently of books that i read and love first and hence see the movie in a terrible light.

  • Matt C

    I would give a vote to Fantastic Mr. Fox, but, in all fairness, I only just read the book as an adult.

    I staunchly disagree. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” would’ve been perfectly adapted as a delightful 30-45 minute short. Wes Anderson completely missed the point of the story for me, and just made it into another quirky indie film. The additions (like Coach skip) and the too-recognizable name cast just took me out of the movie completely.

  • The Godfather – not that the books is bad but the way the movie brings it to life is spot on.

  • RogerBW

    A Swedish friend who’s also very fluent in English (and who prefers to read fiction in English) tells me that the translations of Larssen are very poor indeed.

    I shall now raise my heretic flag: I thought the film of The Running Man, disposable self-indulgent eighties action as it was, was vastly better than Stephen King’s book, which is disposable self-indulgent seventies cynicism. At least the film was enjoyable.

  • Cosmin

    Without a doubt in my mind Great Expectations (1946) by David Lean is at the same time the best book adaptation to a film medium and better than the book itself.

  • VT

    @Brian, totally agree about Last of the Mohicans. I was totally smitten by the movie (and Daniel Day-Lewis barechested didn’t hurt either), so I thought I’d try the book. Awful. Badly written, racist, and boring. I didn’t manage to finish it. That’s the example I always give, along with Children of Men, which was a fine book, but an absolutely incredible film.

    As for one where the book is different from but equally good as the movie, I always say The Princess Bride.

  • Brian

    @Orazio: I thought of Electric Sheep vs. Blade Runner as well, but they’re such vastly different entities that I don’t know that a one-to-one comparison is even possible. It’s a damn sight better than any of the other PK Dick adaptations I’ve seen, though. (I have not seen A Scanner Darkly, but I’ve caught most of the others.)

    Let me throw a bit of absolute heresy out there: I think Stanley Kubrick’s version of Lolita actually tells the story of the book better than Nabokov’s book. I’m not saying it’s better overall, but extracting what’s going on from Humbert Humbert’s layers of self-absorption and florid prose can sometimes be maddeningly difficult. Kubrick detatched the story from Humbert’s POV, and in doing so boiled it down into an especially acerbic little satire.

  • bronxbee

    oh, here’s another one i thought of: The Thirty-Nine Steps. hitchcock’s movie is a brilliant romance/comedy/adventure… the book is rather like a “Boy’s Own Adventure” — written by a 12 year old boy.

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