Our last Five by Scribe took a look at 5 Books that are Better than Their Movies. Now the tables have turned in 5 Movies that are Better than Their Books.
A movie outshining its source book is not as common as the opposite, but whether it’s because the film cuts out a lot of needless waffle from the novels, adds in new and exciting scenes, or just casts someone really good looking in a lead role (Tyler Durden anyone?), it still does happen. Here’s proof.
Ok, Palahniuk’s original Fight Club was still a pretty cool book. It did however tend to blether on getting bogged down in its own philosophies. While both share the same basic premise – a nervous wreck office worker and a nihilistic soap salesman start an underground fighting club to help vent male aggression which turns into an organisation bent on destroying the corporate world. There are differences in plot with the book ending on a note of nihilism that the film doesn’t go near. Ordinarily I would gag at a Hollywood saccharine ending, but here I’m not really sure the happily ever after will be entirely that for our heroes, and I’m a little amused by that.
The film is great. When you consider how much of the convoluted plot is intact, and how many ideas and surprises are presented in such a short time, it’s staggering. In the same way I love to use non-fiction forms within fiction, Fincher uses so many brilliant non-entertainment visual forms such as the furniture catalogue, the security camera, the television news, to tell the story. He’s the master of computer animation, using it in short powerful sequences that never outlast their impact. Norton and Pitt were their characters incarnate. Bonham Carter broke my heart. Everybody involved brought so much more to tell the story, I felt a little ashamed of the book. ” Chuck Palahniuk
Novel by Nick Hornby. 1995.
Film Directed by Stephen Frears starring John Cusack, Jack Black, Iben Hjejle
Another case of, yes the book was still darn good. In fact there’s not a great deal that sets the two apart besides the film being set in the US and the book the UK.
Both have the same basic stories – gutted by the ruin of his relationship and teetering on the brink of midlife crisis, indie record shop owner and music nerd Rob starts picking apart all of his former relationships in order to finally figure out why his love life is doomed to misery.
The book explores the happy ending just a little bit more, shows Rob growing up just a little bit the film leaves it as an implication, which I prefer. The major, hands down winning factor of why the film is better than the book comes not through the film itself, but the soundtrack (which rates a mention in our 5 by Scribe Soundtracks Feature). High Fidelity the book has so much musical reference, songs and artists that are so important to the development of the characters and the nuances of the stories that if you find yourself not picking up on a particular reference, the book fails. While not all of the music from the book was transcribed to film (the book pays a special attention to The Cowboy Junkies, for instance), and the film sometimes adds its own, being able to actually experience the music alongside the story either diegetically or non-diegetically, provides an appeal that the book cannot equal.
The film and book of The Prestige are considerably different things. The characters names are shared, and thematically the stories are similar but the texts are overall quiet distinct with even the characters being different types of people. The book uses a shifting timeframe narrative in a contemporary setting from the point of view of a descendant of one of the magicians, who is reading the story of the rivalling magicians through his diary. In the book, the Tesla device is not a clone machine, but rather a teleportation device that creates a lasting residue of the transported, the prestige material, that can turn into a ghost like entity if the transportation is not operated correctly. Which is what happens. The idea of a clone has a creepiness that a ghost doesn’t, perhaps due to its scientific plausibility (yes a long shot in these particular circumstances, but my point remains). The book’s use of the diary as a narrative device works to distance the reader from the main plot, dragging it out slowly whereas in the film the story is far more immediate and action packed. Plus the film, in a perfect piece of casting has David Bowie as Nikola Tesla and you just can’t argue against anything with David Bowie.
Where the Wild Things Are
I’m going to duck for cover while I wait for the rotten tomatoes to stop being hurled in my direction after making this claim.
While Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are book continues to be a remarkable and utterly charming work of children’s literature, the film made it better.
Jonze’s film not only brought the wild things to life in glorious puppetry and animation, but also imbued them with unique personalities completely befitting the charm of the book. The anthropomorphization of the wild things could not have been done better. Jonze’s ability to bring complex internal struggles into the light of day in his trademark peculiar, almost surreal way layers the wild things with pathos. At the same time Where the Wild Things Are the film is saturated with Jonze’s understated style of humour. Arguably, I shouldn’t really be comparing the film to the book as better because the book, in its 48 pages lacks the capacity to characterise the wild things or to provide Max with that background story. I do agree there, but for the very fact that the film does expand the book into completely new and fresh territory makes, for me, the book all the better.
Is it cheating because Dexter is a TV series, not a movie? If we can overlook that for a minute though….
The Dexter TV series is arguably the most refreshing serialised crime drama to hit the small screen since…. ever. There have certainly been other TV crime series before and since that have taken the perspective of the villain, but few that have made that villain so darn likeable. On a regular basis, Dexter plunges him knife into the bellies of his victims, chops them up and goes about his daily life in the charade of a normal, happy-go-lucky guy. We like Dexter, we root for him, we understand why he does what he does and why he needs to keep doing it. Yes, Dexter only kills the bad guys giving us a buffer zone between noble vigilante and serial killer in which to voice our approval of him, but even when he slips up from time to time, killing the wrong person or being involved in a death only to protect his true murderousness, we’re still able to forgive him.
I admit to only having read the first Darkly Dreaming Dexter on which the premise of the series was based, but still the book did not come anywhere close to the amount of careful and balanced characterisation needed to render a serial killer into a nice, likeable guy. That, and Jeff Lindsay’s writing is simply abhorrent.
And a few that were even, or at least both good for different reasons:
The Lord of the Rings – Novel by JRR Tolkien. Film directed by Peter Jackson.
Interview With the Vampire - Novel by Anne Rice. Film directed By Neil Jordan.
The Princess Bride - Novel by William Goldman. Film directed by Rob Reiner.
The Watchmen - Novel by Alan Moore. Film directed by Zach Snyder.
Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) - novel by Phillip K Dick. Film directed by Ridley Scott
A Clockwork Orange - Novel by Anthony Burgess. Film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - novel by Hunter S Thompson. Film directed by Terry Gilliam.
What’s on your list?
by Kate Krake
© 2011, Kate Krake