Monday, June 30, 2014

Book, Movie, Both

by Holly West

I am, above all things, a lover of stories. The reason I write isn't because I enjoy the act of writing, it's because I love a good yarn, told well, and I aspire to entertain and touch people the way I've been over the years.

As a story lover, I'm also enamored of movies. They entertain and inspire me differently, but no less so than books. I have a bachelor's degree in screenwriting, which was the first serious writing I ever did and I still use a three-act screenwriting structure to outline my novels. The tidiness of the format appeals to me, and while these days I'd much rather write books than screenplays, old habits, as they say, die hard.

I think most will agree that in general, the books that inspire movies are better than the movies themselves. But today, I'm here to discuss the movies that are as good as, or better, than the books that inspired them. Welcome to a little game I call "Book, Movie, or Both."

The Player
Novel by Michael Tolkin
Movie directed by Robert Altman
Verdict: BOTH (but especially the movie)

I was tempted to say "movie" on this one, because frankly, the movie is better. But the novel is definitely worth a read--in fact, I think the story itself is so good that it's fun to compare the two, almost as if reading the book and watching the movie are a complete package.

Gone with the Wind
Novel by Margaret Mitchell
Movie directed by Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood
Verdict: BOTH

There's really no question here. In order to get the full "Gone with the Wind" experience, you must both watch the film and read the novel. The movie is a near perfect adaptation, but even at three hours, it can't touch the exquisite detail of the book.

The Godfather
Novel by Mario Puzzo
Movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Verdict: MOVIE

Aside from the fact that the book inspired one of the greatest films of all time, actually reading it is not all that essential. It's not particularly well-written, and doesn't reveal anything too interesting character-wise (apart from Sonny's apparently huge schlong) or plot-wise that enhances The Godfather experience. In my estimation, you can skip it.

The Shining
Novel by Stephen King
Movie directed by Stanley Kubrick
Verdict: MOVIE

While I think it could be successfully argued that the answer to this question is BOTH, my personal preference is for the movie. The horror aspect of the story is enhanced by the film's condensing of it, or, to put it another way, spreading the story out over hundreds of pages waters down the fear-factor. To me, it's a near-perfect example of the horror movie genre. To be fair though, I'm not a big fan of the supernatural--my favorite King novels are those that don't include supernatural elements, like DOLORES CLAIBORNE and MISERY (and you should read both, then see both movies).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Novel by Stiig Larsson
Movies directed by Neils Arden Oplev (Swedish) and David Fincher (American)
Verdict: MOVIE

I'm still somewhat puzzled by the international sensation Larsson's Millennium Trilogy became. I could only make it through two of them; I still haven't brought myself to read the third. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE suffered from such lax editing you could've cut 100 pages from the middle of both (especially TGWPWF) and not missed anything. I've only seen the Swedish version of the movie, which has resulted in a massive girl-crush on Noomi Repace, but I've been assured that the Fincher version is indeed worth a look-see.

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Novella by Truman Capote
Movie directed by
Verdict: BOOK

You might think, since I was named after Holly Golightly, that I'd choose the film. But having read the novella, I simply can't. I love the movie (c'mon, who doesn't?) but the book is better--it pulled at my heartstrings much harder than the movie did, mainly because you understand Holly's character and what motivates her far more intimately. Plus, it's a novella, and thus, a quick read. You have no excuse not to read it.

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Novel by Patricia Highsmith
Movie directed by Anthony Minghella
Verdict: MOVIE (but maybe both)

This was a tough one for me. You really can't go wrong with either the book or the movie. But if I had to choose, I'd pick the movie, without question. It's beautifully filmed and acted, and I think Damon's version of Tom Ripley is a stronger, darker character than the one created by Highsmith in the book, especially if you consider his character in the subsequent Ripley novels.

Novel by Ira Levin
Movie directed by Roman Polanski
Verdict: EITHER

I'd choose the movie, but that's me. Either way, you're going to get a damned good story.

The Color Purple
Novel by Alice Walker
Movie directed by
Verdict: BOOK

The only reason I didn't say both for this one is that I want to make sure you read the book, if you haven't yet. It's one of my all time favorites, and while the movie is great, it doesn't come close to reaching the emotional depths that the novel does (despite the example scene I've posted above). Not even close. So if you only have time for one, read the book.

Silence of the Lambs
Novel by Thomas Harris
Movie directed by Jonathan Demme
Verdict: BOTH

While the film version of "Silence of the Lambs" is about as perfect an adaptation as you can get, it doesn't quite inspire the terror that the book does. I've seen the film numerous times but have only had the courage to read the novel once--this is making me think I need to break it out and re-read it. But both versions are so good I can't argue for one over the other. This is a solid BOTH.

Now it's your turn: Did I get these right or would you choose differently? Did I miss any obvious ones? What would you include in "Book, Movie, Both?"

Holly West is a crime fiction writer based in Los Angeles. She’s the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. The first in the series, Mistress of Fortune, was published by Harlequin’s Carina Press in February 2014 and its sequel, Mistress of Lies, is forthcoming in Fall 2014.


Sue Coletta said...

Along Came A Spider by James Patterson-- BOTH. Equally a great movie and a great read, IMO.

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

I'll add a new one to the list--The Fault In Our Stars. I saw the movie last week. It was quite good. Finished the book yesterday. It was even better. Interesting blog, Holly. Thanks.

Dana King said...

I agree about The Godfather. JAWS also come to mind as a better movie than book. The book laid there like a dead fish during moist of the land-based scenes, though everything on--or under--the water was compelling. Spileberg was smart to ditch most of the land-based stuff, especially the affair between Brody's wife and the marine biologist.

Lauren said...

You nailed the book v. movie argument re Jaws. The book was so tedious when not under water.

Lauren said...

I would add Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone as a definite Both. One of my favorite book to movie adaptations of all time. As a Woodrell fan for 20+ years, I was concerned, but it was superbly done.

Holly West said...

I couldn't add Jaws because I haven't read the book, but many people are saying this about Jaws, so perhaps I haven't missed anything by not reading it.

Holly West said...

Winter's Bone was on my list but I left it off to keep it brief. I loved both the book and the movie, but I think the book is more emotionally charged so I would've said Book on that one. It's one I think everyone should read.

Unknown said...

Dana and Lauren - re: Jaws. Absolutely!

Eliza Cross said...

Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It" - the book wins, for me, but I thought the movie was beautifully filmed and acted. "The Accidental Tourist" by Anne Tyler was a great book and I loved the characters in the movie, too - so it's a "both." What a fun post, Holly!