Friday, August 08, 2008

Is the book always better than the movie?

I’m about to make a sweeping generalization...but I hope someone out there can prove me wrong.

Have you ever noticed that when you read a book and see the movie of the same story, the book is always better than the movie?

There are a couple of simple explanations... A book allows you to get into the character’s head better, because their thoughts are on the page. And when you look at how much shorter a screenplay is than a book, you realize the screenwriters have to lose a lot of material from the book in order to fit it into a movie.

But on the other hand... A movie can be so much more visual, and can bring a book to life in an almost tangible way. So why is the book always better? Or am I wrong about this?

There are some movies I’ve enjoyed without ever reading the original novel. You’ve Got Mail, based on the book The Shop Around The Corner. Heartburn, from the book of the same title. I can’t comment on the book v. movie question there.

And I have to say, The Sound of Music (my favorite movie) was better than the book The Von Trapp Family Singers. But it doesn’t really count, as the movie was only very loosely based on the book. It wasn’t an adaptation of the book for the big screen.

Some great books have been transformed into terrible movies. The Bonfire of the Vanities (horribly miscast, IMHO). Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. And my kids tell me they didn’t enjoy the Eragon movie (they loved the book). Reportedly, The Other Boleyn Girl was a poor reflection of the book, but I haven’t seen that one.

There have, of course, been some excellent adaptations—the Harry Potter movies, a couple of John Grisham stories, Stephen King’s Misery—but I wouldn’t say they were better than the original books.

I haven’t read The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, nor read the book. Apparently they're both great - I don’t know which to do first. Any recommendations?

When I hear that a book I love is being made into a movie, I’m cast into nail-biting anticipation about how good the movie will end up. Can Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic heroine Becky Bloomwood be as brilliant on screen as she is in the books?

I wonder what the secret is to turning a great book into an even better movie...if that’s possible. I’ll bet Blake Snyder knows—he’s a Hollywood screenwriter who gave a brilliant talk about story structure at the Romance Writers of America convention last weekend.

What do you think about the book v. movie question? Give me your recommendations for “a great movie from a book,” and I’ll go rent the DVD.