Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Can a movie be better than the book?
There's an old adage amongst book lovers(and some film fans subscribe to this as well)that is used whenever they're disappointed by the latest Hollywood adaptation of one of their favorite novels-"Well,you know,the book is always better than the movie."
But is it really the case,every single time? I boldly have to raise my hand and say"no". This may not seem like a big deal to some folks,but to many,this notion would be considered literary blasphemy. Nevertheless,I offer up three examples of well known novels that were more enjoyable to me on the silver screen than the printed page:
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK
The only John Updike novel that I've ever read,mainly due to having loved the 1987 film version starring Cher,Susan Sarandon,Michelle Pfeiffer and of course,Jack Nicholson. It turned out to be the last Updike as well.
The major change from script to screen was that in the book,the trio of small town ladies were well aware of their magical powers and used them willingly for petty vengeance.
I didn't mind that,but Updike's rendering of these gals was colder than a witch's teat and not as thrilling as the vivid characters from the movie. Also,the book is drier than an overcooked Thanksgiving turkey.
The movie's not perfect,either(it gets way too special effects happy towards the end)but if I had my choice,I'd see that again before picking up another Updike novel:
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
One of those books that many people turned into a fad and then woke up later to say "What was I thinking?!" The only good thing about reading this book for me was that I didn't have to pay for it;a cousin of mine let me have his copy and I should've known something was up when he and his wife didn't want it back.
Not that I blame them;ten to one,someone stuck them with this dreck and like any other cursed object,it had to be passed on to an unsuspecting soul to break the evil spell this tripe held over their personal library.
I later saw Oprah tote both the book and movie,claiming how she and others"cried and cried and cried" about it. I would buy that(in the case of the book) if it was followed up by "that this pretentious crap cost me so much wasted time and money!"
The book is so bad that Meryl Streep flat out refused to be in the movie,but Clint Eastwood won her over. Eastwood showed his true talents as a film maker here,not only in starring and directing but by having a screenwriter(Richard LaGravenese)add in some much needed realism and even expand the story by having the adult children of Streep's character discover her long ago affair and coping with that newly enhanced image of their mother.
The improvements to the story were so good that you wish the source material had been written with as much care and thought to emotional details,instead of going straight for the sap:
To be fair,I have tried to read this book but never gotten very far into it. Bret Easton Ellis is one of those trendy writers from the 1980s that never impressed me much-the kind of author that once you have read their signature novel,you're pretty much done with them.
Ellis got alot of flack over this book and horror genre/pop culture historian David J. Skal has an interesting theory about that. In his book,The Monster Show,Skal points out that there were many other novels out around the same time that showcased even more nasty bits of violence towards women that American Psycho.
However,those books were mass market,middle class paperback rack horror books while Ellis' book took place in the upper class,high society world that shunned the very notion that someone from their elite set would ever entertain such gruesome ideas.
I think Skal was right about that to some degree and to the credit of director and co-screenwriter Mary Harron,a good portion of the film adaptation focused more on the social satire elements of the story rather than the gore. It's rather ironic that a book so fervently decried by feminists was made into such a memorably smart and sinister film by women:
While I'm in a confessional mood,I also have to admit that sometimes,I don't mind some of the changes made to a book once it becomes a movie. My favorite one is the ending of Interview With The Vampire,a film that stuck pretty close to the novel,despite a bit of tweaking here and there. That final scene was quite the surprise and much to my surprise,a real delight.
Not everyone liked it(particularly devoted Anne Rice fans)but I think it worked and it's a real shame that Tom Cruise didn't play Lestat in another movie. Cruise showed a real flair for villainy that he doesn't indulge in much on film.
Well,guess one old adage is true;you can please some of the people some of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time. Life would be incredibly dull otherwise(this clip is the last scene from IWTV;spoiler alert and you have been warned!):
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