Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sometimes the Movie Is Better Than the Book

We book lovers can be very vocal in our defense of beloved books and downright scornful of any attempt at reinterpreting an author's work. In this post I won't go into the irritated befuddlement I feel over a really bad interpretation, in which they (meaning Hollywood) ruin a delightful story (Ella Enchanted - 2004) or change the story so much that the book seems to have been used only for its title and a few very basic story elements (Cheaper By the Dozen - 2003, Mr. Popper's Penguin's - 2011.)
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the movie maestros make a movie that is as good as the book, even when they change a few elements of the original story. (I'm thinking of Lord of the Rings and the BBC's Wives and Daughters.)
On a rare occasion, the movie is better than the book, although admittedly this might not be the same for everyone. Here are a few movies that in my subjective opinion surpassed the books on which they were based:

BBC's North and South1. BBC's North and South (2004) - based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel of the same title.

While I like the book, the TV serial is so much better, and the characters much more realistic, less wooden, and it gives the main characters a worthy, swoon-inducing reconciliation, while the novel's scene of reconciliation is incredibly anti-climactical and boring.

The Magic of Ordinary Days2. The Magic of Ordinary Days - based on Ann Howard Creel's novel of the same title.

I just couldn't like this book. I wanted to and fully expected to because I loved the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. It just didn't happen. The main character was annoying, snobby, whiny, selfish, uncompassionate and she didn't improve. And the man she marries has the personality of a wet dishrag. I think the book suffers from want of some serious editing, and too often the author goes into annoying, long history lessons. The movie, on the other hand, has a marvelous screenplay, having removed the junk from the book and cut it down to the basic story: a pregnant, cultured, smart, standoffish young woman makes a marriage of convenience with a Colorado farmer during World War II. His simple ways and quiet devotion to their marriage and the coming baby (which is not his) teach her some much-needed lessons in compassion and unconditional love.

The Princess Bride3. The Princess Bride - based on William Goldman's novel of the same title.

The movie is much more charming, swashbuckling, adventurous, interesting, and humorous than the book, and it gave us fabulous quotes to spout: "When I was your age, television was called books." "Inconceivable!" "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." "They're kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?" "My way's not very sportsman-like." I didn't dislike the book, I just felt that the movie made the story better; it cut out all the superfluous.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)4. The Last of the Mohicans - the 1992 film based on James Fennimore Cooper's book.

This lush production is very different -more intense, exciting, romantic - than the 1826 novel, thank goodness. I've tried to read this book for years and each time I give up out of intense boredom. I'm content with just enjoying this movie version.


What movies are on your better-than-the-book list?

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