Sunday, March 25, 2012

Does the movie ever do the book justice?

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Happy Hunger Games everyone. I will admit that today is an exciting day for me. Due to my strange schedule of writer/mom/voice teacher/wife/whatever I have not walked into a movie theater in over a year. The last was for Harry Potter 7 part 1. Today, I’m going to see another film based on a book—The Hunger Games.

While I’m thrilled to be seeing the movie, I admit I’m a bit nervous since the majority of books I’ve read and loved and were eventually turned into movies…well….sucked. Take Absolute Power by David Baldacci. What a great thriller. The book grabbed me by the throat and pulled me along for a fast-paced, powerful ride. The movie…not so much. By the halfway point, the movie took a sharp left turn from the book and never recovered. While the casting was good (especially Gene Hackman’s brilliant portrayal of the murdering President), the movie left me longing to throttle the folks behind butchering the book. Sigh.

And that isn’t the only example of poor book adaptations. The Lost World (Jurassic Park #2) by Michael Crichton wasn’t my favorite book ever. In fact, I thought it came up far short of the excitement of the first novel. But the movie??? Yikes! I guess it bore a loose resemblance to the bound text since there were dinosaurs in the film. The rest was unrecognizable. Other bad adaptations (in my humble opinion) One for the Money, The Firm, Under The Tuscan Sun, Pet Cemetery, Contact, The Scarlet Letter (Demi Moore version), Flowers in the Attic –the list goes on and on.

Not to say there aren’t good if not excellent movies made from books. Misery is a wonderful movie. Seabiscuit was fabulous. The first three Harry Potter films captured the book and created the world that lived in our imaginations. The Bone Collector was strong. The Green Mile blew me away.

So I guess today, I am hoping that the odds are in my favor and that The Hunger Games belongs on the “good adaptation” list. In a couple of hours, I’ll find out. In the meantime, I’m curious. What are you favorite movie adaptations of books? Which ones left you cold?

12 comments:

eviljwinter said...

I generally go into a book-based movie knowing that being faithful to the book will actually make for a bad movie.

However, by the time my wife and I went to see The Hunger Games, we already knew that some fans weren't happy with what was cut. Since neither of us have read the books, we actually saw it for what it was, a really great movie. (Of course, Woody Harrelson got an added bump for us after watching Game Change the day before.)

That said, sometimes an adaptation doesn't work even without reading the book. Jurassic Park 2 was a 2 1/2 mess that I only hope covered Jeff Goldblum's expenses nicely. He looked embarrassed. So did the dinosaurs.

On the other hand, I actually liked The Firm better than the book because of how Tom Cruise tricks Paul Sorvino into throwing the law firm under the bus. "Because it's my job. As your lawyer." I also liked Casino Royale on the screen better than the book, but then CR had to bow to 50 years of movie mythology on top of the original.

Basically, if you know that there's no way you can get the entire book into a 2-3 hour movie without confusing the audience and alienating all but the most hardcore readers (I swear I'm taking hostages the next time someone whines about Arwen being to butch in LOTR.), then it's easier to watch.

As long as they don't do something stupid like strip the title and characters and slap them onto a script someone couldn't sell without them.

eviljwinter said...

I generally go into a book-based movie knowing that being faithful to the book will actually make for a bad movie.

However, by the time my wife and I went to see The Hunger Games, we already knew that some fans weren't happy with what was cut. Since neither of us have read the books, we actually saw it for what it was, a really great movie. (Of course, Woody Harrelson got an added bump for us after watching Game Change the day before.)

That said, sometimes an adaptation doesn't work even without reading the book. Jurassic Park 2 was a 2 1/2 mess that I only hope covered Jeff Goldblum's expenses nicely. He looked embarrassed. So did the dinosaurs.

On the other hand, I actually liked The Firm better than the book because of how Tom Cruise tricks Paul Sorvino into throwing the law firm under the bus. "Because it's my job. As your lawyer." I also liked Casino Royale on the screen better than the book, but then CR had to bow to 50 years of movie mythology on top of the original.

Basically, if you know that there's no way you can get the entire book into a 2-3 hour movie without confusing the audience and alienating all but the most hardcore readers (I swear I'm taking hostages the next time someone whines about Arwen being to butch in LOTR.), then it's easier to watch.

As long as they don't do something stupid like strip the title and characters and slap them onto a script someone couldn't sell without them.

Jay Stringer said...

There are good examples, though not as many as bad ones.

DIE HARD, JAWS and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 are better (in my opinion) than the books they're based on.

I think L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is equal to the book, they're very different but they complement each other well.

Erica said...

So often I feel like the movie never does the book complete justice. The one that really did so I feel like was Lord of the Rings. Those movies, especially the extended editions, are pure brilliance.

More often than not I am so disappointed, such as with the Eragon movie, which was laughable.

I thought Hunger Games fell up there along with Harry Potter where it was a good adaption, but I still wasn't completely satisfied.

Gabi said...

One movie that was just as good as the book was, "The house of the Spirits" by Isabelle Allende. The movie is in my top 5, and the book is in my top 20 (but only because I've read way more books than I've seen movies). I'm really looking forward to seeing THG. I read the books and can't wait!

Chris said...

I preferred the movie version of No Country For Old Men to the book. I had my doubts about The Road, but, while different, the movie holds up as well.

Rus Wornom said...

Among a few other films that I think are better than the books--because they either distill their essences or shed new light on the texts: The Exorcist, All the President's Men, Godfather I & II, Jaws, and Lord of the Rings.

Dana King said...

Movies better than the books: THE GODFATHER, JAWS.

Worst movie adaptations I can think of of the top of my head(It's a much longer list): THE LONG GOOD-BYE, WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN, BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES

Steve Weddle said...

Speaking as someone who talks daily to a child reading the Hunger Games, I can't imagine how the movie can compare. Sounds like an intense read for the youngsters. I'm sure there are older folks reading it and enjoying it. I've heard of high schools completely taken over by the book. Maybe the most fun children's book since Catcher in the Rye.

As for books turned into stinky movies -- Hitchhiker's Guide comes to mind.

Mandarific said...

I really liked the Hunger Games movie - I generally go in with an open mind to book-to-movie-movies because I've never expected them to be perfect, but I thought they did a fantastic job.

For me, the moment a movie succeeds as a book-to-movie translation is when I walk out of the theater and realize that the stuff they left out didn't leave a "hole" in the movie for me.

As far as favorites, The Lorax comes to mind despite the obvious embellishments, and...well, The Hunger Games. I loved it.

I just can't compare books to movies. I can't. I can try to see what I would have done differently, but for me their two totally different mediums to be enjoyed in two totally different ways.

Dale T. Phillips said...

I was blown away by the movie version of "To Live and Die in L.A." and read the book, which disappointed after such a good movie.
Great gritty noir for those with a taste for such.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

Books and movies are different media, so it's often not possible to be faithful to the book and make a decent film. And some movies are so much better than the book. "Bladerunner" is one of my favorites films but I thought "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," on which it was based, was pretty clumsy and dull.

If Hollywood wants to take a crack at my little opus, they can do whatever they want to it -- turn the protagonist into a medieval magician from Moravia for all I care.