Movie better than the book . . .

Anonymous's picture

I realize that the standard conversation is running the other way, such as, "My god, that book is so incredible, and I just can't stand Brad Pitt." And usually running quite quickly. But there are those films that supersede the accomplishment of the text upon which they were based.

As an example I would offer the novel "Sueurs froides: d'entre les morts (Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead)," a 1954 French crime novel by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud, aka Thomas Narcejac, writing as Boileau-Narcejac. Oddly interesting in the fact that two mystery writers partnered together in writing it under a shared pseudonym it was the basis of Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and the film is far more well regarded and 'read' than the book upon which it was based.

Any other examples? Perhaps "There will be blood"?

casper goodwood's picture

A friend of mine and I saw

A friend of mine and I saw "Atonement" a while ago. She argued that, while the book is great, she thought the movie was equally good but in a different way because of its unique ability to handle time (naturally), which is a crucial part of the narrative. I haven't read the book yet (but will soon!), but the question may be not when is the movie better than the book but rather when is the adaptation surprisingly different (in a good way) from the book? That is, when does it tell us something different than the text? I think "The Hours" is a good example of that, too. And, it is definitely worth reading the short story of "Brokeback Mountain" and seeing the movie-- very different in interesting ways.

Zibbie's picture

One example that springs to

One example that springs to mind for me is Little Children by Tom Perrotta. I heard a lot of buzz about this novel when it was being adapted into a movie, by Perrotta himself along with the director Todd Field, I believe.

Usually I can appreciate a book and a movie for different reasons, but this was truly an instance of when I really didn't like the book but was engaged by the film. A little trimming of sub-plots that hadn't engaged me, a tweak of a major plotline, some fine characterizations by the actors, and voila, an engaging film! This was really a case where I felt the author had improved upon their work for the screenplay.

Dan's picture

This kind of comparison is

This kind of comparison is less apples and oranges, in most cases, than raisins and watermelons, or, maybe closer, bluejays and bobcats--because inert black marks on paper are so qualitatively and experientially different from visual images in motion. Still, the question of whether one *enjoyed* the book or the movie more is perfectly sensible, so long as the one bears a reasonable narrative resemblance to the other. Of course, no one could ever have cinematically reproduced the sheer brilliance and pace of Daniel Menaker's novel "The Treatment," but the movie version did a pretty good job. (Seriously, I admired and appreciated many things about the film version of my own book but never felt very close to it. It was strange--almost an out-of-body experience--to see the movie, whose plot differed quite a bit from the book's. But most sophisticated readers/moviegoers forgive such liberties so long as the results are more worthy than cheesy.)
"Atonement": like Mr. Goodwood's friend above, I found it in some ways better than the book, especially in its chronological clarity. Should have won Best Picture over "No Country"--another truly brilliant adaptation but without a thought in its head. Well, maybe half a thought--about the endurance and inevitability of evil. "The Devil Wears Prada" also seemed to me very good, in its way, as a movie and a book. I think the best modern novel adaptation to screen was "The English Patient," which produced, for me, the same powerful insights and emotions in both media. And the recent film version of Alice Munro's story "Away from Her" was very strong--maybe "better" than the written version.
Other possible b-t-bs: "Thank you for Smoking," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "The War of the Worlds" (Spielberg). No question far better than the book: "The Last of the Mohicans"--a seriously underrated movie. Surprisingly good and somewhat underrated: "Catch-22." Two best TV adaptations of novels ever: "The Glittering Prizes" (much better than the book) and "Brideshead Revisited"--remarkably close to the novel in feeling and subtlety.
Movies and books are always fairly safe topics of conversation, though too many disagreements about books and movies--and books-into-movies--can place a real strain on friendship, I've founf.

Kevin Longrie's picture

I'd say that The Diving Bell

I'd say that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Dan, is a perfect choice for this (as you said). I read the book in a sitting, a beautiful memoir, but it didn't have the emotional resonance of the film. Both are amazing achievements, but Schnabel's best picture to date trumps Bauby's blinked-out memoir.

NessaH's picture

To the above lists of

To the above lists of successful "b-t-bs": Gone With The Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Strangers On A Train," and "Godfather I and II." I think "A Passage To India" is a terrific transfer from page to screen. As was "The French Lieutenant's Woman."

A really, truly lousy book to movie is "Portnoy's Complaint." I worked on it and even cast my father as the psychiatrist! We were desperate. And imagine trying to get an actor to play "the voice in Portnoy's pants!" The film was a project best left in it's most divine book form.

dbblock's picture

It's easy to find countless

It's easy to find countless examples of books that were better than the movies made from them, and vice versa. What's not so easy is to name cases when the movie was not necessarily a faithful adaptation, yet was successful on its own terms. "The French Lieutenant's Woman," with its movie-within-a-movie structure, is actually a perfect example.

Any others that leap to mind?

NessaH's picture

I would suggest From Russia

I would suggest From Russia With Love. The filmmakers took the book and reinvented it, yet retained its spirit.

I believe that adapting a book to film requires the leap of invention. Very often then, the film must not be too faithful to the book or it will fail. Cold Mountain is a good example of this failure, in my opinion.

dbblock's picture

What I meant to ask for are

What I meant to ask for are cases where a great movie is made from a great book, but not necessarily as a straightforward adaptation.

NessaH's picture

Do you have another example?

Do you have another example? Nothing comes immediately to mind. Perhaps I'm stuck on the word "great."

dbblock's picture

One of the reasons it's hard

One of the reasons it's hard to find many examples, Nessa, is because there probably aren't many. But how about Altman's version of "The Long Goodbye"? Very different from the Raymond Chandler novel but both, well, great.

NessaH's picture

Finally I understand what

Finally I understand what you mean. I think. I don't remember Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." I read it ages and ages ago. But would that be an example or is the film exactly like the book? Is "All The President's Men" too literal an adaptation? Probably.

You've got me stumped.

NessaH's picture

I wouldn't have thought "The

I wouldn't have thought "The Long Goodbye" a great movie. I do agree it is very difficult to come up with "great." Especially in the movie department. Am I wrong to suggest "All The President's Men?" Or "Frankenstein?"

NessaH's picture

Oops. I didn't think my

Oops. I didn't think my comments were coming up on screen. Who knew about a Page 2???? Forgive my repetition.