Monday, September 22, 2014

Books Into Films: The Ones That Worked

"Man, this would make an incredible movie!"

Not pictured: snake girl dying like a butterfly in the snow
Movies made from books almost always disappoint. There is an inevitable loss of the sensibility and richness of a well-written book when it is transformed into film, and almost always some of the story is left out either due to the impossibility to translate to a new media or problems with length. Often when you see a movie made from a book, it is just awful. More rarely, it is tolerable because of something the movie brings to add to the story, usually visuals, that a book cannot.

Sometimes, however, movies will result in something as good or even better than the original writing. Sometimes the translation to motion pictures lifts a written work to a new, better level and captures something the words could not, or translates a story into something superior. So here's my list of books that actually resulted in good movies (based on movies I've actually seen and books I've read).

First, movies that ended up better than the books, and why I think so:
Blade Runner - While Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was an interesting book, it was very long and aimless with a very strange main plot, while the movie was powerful, on target, and incredible. The original release, not the weaker director's cut.
Bridge on the River Kwai - Good book, better movie because it was easier to visualize what was being done, and the element of the British commander trying to save the bridge was more powerful than how the book ended.
Guns of Navarone - Again, good book, but the movie was actually superior by trimming out some of the extra material.
Out of Sight - Took the great Elmore story and made it even more compelling and interesting. The attraction between the two characters made more sense in the movie than the book.
Get Shorty - This was the Elmore story most closely following the book than any other (and they've made a lot), and it ended up funnier and the sequence where Ray Bones gets caught made more sense in the movie than the book.
2001: A Space Odyssey - This book is confusing and bizarre, as was the movie, but at least the movie made a little more sense and the visuals helped a bit.
Last of the Mohicans - I know Cooper is a classic writer, but I can't stand his incredibly overwrought prose, he's very difficult to read.
These are movies that, although often different, were the equal of the books they tried to adapt and turn into film:
To Kill a Mockingbird
Where Eagles Dare
Maltese Falcon
Fellowship of the Rings
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Hunt for the Red October
The Fly (original)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Sin City
Andromeda Strain
The Name of the Rose
And for good measure, here are a few failures that people think are great, movies that are beloved yet weren't as good as the books, and why:
The Big Sleep - The added sub plot of a love story between the two main characters was well written but did not fit the book.  They were great scenes, just not great for that story.
Wizard of Oz - Great movie, but it left out so much and missed so much of the original book's intent and message to children that it ends up lacking.
The Two Towers - Don't even get me started. This was so wretched I have a hard time even watching The Fellowship of the Rings now, which I loved. So many ghastly, needless, and hateful violations of Tolkien's story it was unwatchable trash.  Return of the King worked better, but was still heavily flawed.  Just not as much as The Two Towers. 
Jurassic Park - "I know this, it's Unix!" The little girl was actually more annoying and useless in the book, but the movie just blew off some of the best ideas and scenes in the book. Also too heavily stamped with Spielberg's manipulative directorial tricks.
Harry Potter movies after the first - the books got too long, so they had to leave more and more out and ultimately lost much of the charm and wonder although they are still entertaining movies on their own
There are a lot of other movies from books that have been made, such as Die Hard, Shawshank Redemption, Mambo Kings, and The Color of Money that I haven't read so I can't put on a list like this.