Saturday, August 7, 2010

Based on the novel...

I was an English major in college, and while I try to avoid the cliches that tag along with being "well-read" [aka being a pompous know-it-all douche that everyone sucks up to in person, but talkz shit about behind their back], I must admit that there is one collegiate prick instinct of mine that I can't seem to shed, and that's an automatic hatred for any movies based on books that I have previously read.

I get it...adaptations are supposed to bring the book "to life" and open it up to a wide audience of dumboz that don't like to read. And sometimes, it's successful [see: To Kill a Mockingbird, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest & PRECIOUS], but most of the time, silver screen manipulations turn out to be either terribly disjointed (A Home At the End of the World), bizarrely adapted (James and the Giant Peach), utterly pointless (He's Just Not That Into You) or simply unable to handle the girth of its material (Les Miserables).

The chorus of people shouting "the book was better" upon leaving such a film is deafening but not surprising. And I was all prepared to vomit out the same phrase upon finishing Running With Scissors. For those who are illiterate and/or hatez fun, Running With Scissors is a memoir written by Augusten Burroughs that catalogs his effed-up childhood [feat. nomadic lifestyle, underage drinkerz, sexxx, constant bitchery & a mentally unstable mother]. Everyone who readz the book lurrrvez it and it's honest and touching, but still mad hilarz and clever. All & all, great read and thus why my shingles shook when I got the movie adaptation in the mail last week.

Conclusion?! The movie was decent. Annette Bening is perfect @ playing distraught mother figurez (American Beauty much?) and the lead guy kid seems talented enough, though I only know him as that guy that Emile Hirsch gave a beej to in Milk.

Also, the guy that played Augusten's pedophile lover boyfriend in the movie is some hot piece named Joseph Fiennes who made the deranged and obsessed character of Bookman just as intriguing and oddly sexxxy as I thought he was in the book. Weird that I find a pedo [feat. terrible facial hair] attractive?

But the movie left out some of mah favorite scenes [aka when Augusten and Natalie eat lobsters barefoot!] and I felt that the book was way too lengthy with way too many dynamic characters to effectively do it justice via big screen exploitation. Well, not unless they made it a TV miniseries (do peepz actually watch those, though?) or strung it out over several movies (that shit only works for Lord Of the Rings).

What a transition or not? Hmmm...I'ma stick with Mr. Salinger on this and opt for the idea that most books should remain only books. Although, I would give an arm & a leg a pinkie toe to see a The Truth About Diamonds movie. LOVEZ DAT IDEA!


What about you folkz? Ever have one of your libros favoritos murdered by movie producers? Ever been enlightened to a book via it's big screen success? Do you not give a h00t either way? Are you illiterate?


Laura said...

Gold Compass is a wonderful book. Thank Gawd the second book is not being made into a movie.

Tam said...

I don't mind seeing a book made into a movie if a) I didn't read it so have no frame of reference or b) I didn't really like it or was ambivalent. Maybe the movie will be better.

But if I loved a book, usually on principle I refuse to see the movie because I just sit there going "He didn't say that." "They didn't do that." "Her hair was brown not blond." and generally turn into a whiny bitch.

I've not read Running with Scissors so can't say but that facial hair, gives me the heebie jeebies and if David starts wearing that style I'll drive back to Brooklyn and smack you both, I don't care how smexy you think it is. *shudder*

hoteltuesday said...

"Are you illiterate?" = LOL!!

I thought Ryan Murphy did a decent job with the movie. Evan Rachel Whore should have been replaced with a fatter actress though!!!

I liked Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory better than the book it was based on (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I also think the Harry Potter movies have been pretty good!

I'm nervous about the upcoming Life of Pi film!!! I hope it's good!

Mel said...

I don't usually care for adaptations, but I also tend to have lower expectations if it's from a book, since I know they always change stuff. It's probably better if I see the movie before reading the book, though. Like with "The Princess Bride", which has provided me with a couple decades of movie quotes. The book's really a different beast altogether, but I like both of them on their own merits.

tornwordo said...

Lovely Bones was such a shit movie yet the book was such a great read. Just like White Oleander. Ditto Amityville Horror. Though I have to admit that several Stephen King books have been great on the screen. Misery, Dolores Claiborne, The Shining. Even the miniseries based on The Stand was pretty good.

john said...

Dolores Claiborne was really good. I thought it got short shrift.

Like Mel, I usually have very low expectations of movies made from books, but there are some that are good. I actually thought Precious was better than Push.

One of the worst offenders is David Lynch's adaptation of Dune. Terrible.

David said...

Peter S. Beagle wrote a beautiful fantasy novel that was also really intelligent (feat. no sparkly vampires) called The Last Unicorn and they made a truly godawful animated film from it that broke my heart into a million little pieces.

Justin said...

Yeah if I loved a book, a movie adaptation usually really upsets me. I agree that the Stephen King adaptations have mostly been pretty good. I'm surprised you liked Running with Scissors because it got almost UNIVERSALLY panned. I haven't read the book yet (though I own it).

I am also a terrible pedant -- I like things to be "just right" and I usually do notice everything they changed. Some changes I can tolerate -- especially cuts (e.g., nobody missed Tom Bombadill from the LotR). But if something is added that (to me) doesn't feel like it fits with what the author would have wanted, or if something is changed in a way that doesn't seem (to me) to be justified by making the story easier (for someone who hasn't read the book) to understand, then I get pissed off.

Though sometimes a perfectly faithful adaptation isn't that great either. For example, I felt that the first Harry Potter movie was about as faithful as humanly possible for a 2-hour movie but I didn't "feel" anything. I had loved the book, and I could kind of see them making the movie faithfully with a kind of "ok now we have do do this scene; now this scene" mentality. It was faithful, but it felt flat to me.

The next few Harry Potter movies felt like they had the right balance of faithfulness vs. changes necessary to make a movie flow. Until the 5th, by which time the books IMHO had become too adult and complex to be satisfyingly adapted. This last one (Half-Blood Prince) I was particularly disappointed by on that score.

In general, I think that the best way to adapt a good piece of literature is with a miniseries. Compare the dreadful and forgettable 1940 Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with the 1995 version with Colin Firth. (And don't get me started on the pointless Hollywoodized Kiera Knightly version.) A good miniseries is often the only way to capture a good book.

ON THE OTHER HAND, sometimes an adaptation is MUCH BETTER than the book. The Shining is a good example in my opinion. Stephen King hated the Kubrick version because of its unfaithfulness and he had a new version made with Steven Weber and Rebecca DeMornay. The "unfaithful" version is far superior in my opinion.

The best example of this to me is True Blood. That show is a work of genius, but the books that it's based on are (IMHO) barely readable tripe that is probably at the level of Harlequin Romance levels of writing. I don't know how that dross was turned into the gold which is the show, but they did it.

Justin said...

BTW I *loved* this topic!!! :D <3

Melody, Destroyer of Dreams said...

for me it just depends. Its a case by case thing. Atonement was done VERY well, for example.

A good amount of King's stories have translated well but it usually depends on the actors. Shawshank Redemption is easily one of the best movies ever made, and while I enjoy King's short story thoroughly, the movie really did bring it to a new level.

Lora said...

I don't love the movie Forrest Gump, but the book was the worst thing I ever read.

Vice versa I'm not sure. I hate how the face I give people when I read doesn't match the actor, but other than that I'm usually pretty okay with it all.

And I hope you're feeling better. I worry about you when you're not happy. I'm weird (creepy) like that.

Love to you.

Justin said...

Melody I agree with you completely on Shawshank Redemption. The short story is amazing, but the movie improved on it. That's one thing I failed to mention when I talked about how the best way to adapt a good novel is via a miniseries -- and that is that short stories often make the best movies.

I can't really comment on how Atonement the film compared to the book because I never read the book. The film, however, I felt was almost unbearably overrated. It was one of those movies that I liked -- and was moved by -- while watching it, but the more I thought about it, the more and more intensely I grew to dislike it and the more I felt it was full of itself and -- as I like to put it -- "thought of itself as something that was better than it was". The people I went to see it with all came away with the same impression, with the exception of the (straight male) date of one of our friends, a thoroughly misogynistic jerk whose only comment when the movie was over was "so this is why I don't like chick flicks: they're too hard to follow" (and this guy has an MD and a PhD, so precisely how he could have found the jumping-around-in-time aspects of the film THAT hard to follow is beyond me: of course it's not that they were too hard for him to follow, it's that he is such a misogynistic and narcissistic jerk that he couldn't be bothered to try; alas, our friend is engaged to him now: but as they say, love is blind).

One book I *really* want to read -- after having seen the PHENOMENAL adaptation -- is A Single Man. One of Colin Firth's finest performances IMHO.

Craig said...

Sphere was the best book ever, but the movie was just a disaster!

I actually enjoyed The Golden Compass movie. But I didn't read the book till afterwards.

Anonymous said...

With Harry Potter films, I too was a tad disappointed with The Half Blood Prince...especially since it's one of my favs out of the whole series. It's the darker story that gives the scoop on everything, and beautifully enriches each of the characters lives. Excluding the dark aspect, the movie failed to show this.

Atonement, haven't read the book yeeeet, but loved the movie...thanks Melody! By the way can I borrow your copy while on the subject? :-)

Mel: Princess Bride! Yes, I too was delighted to hear that one of my favorite movies of all time was based on a book. And then I felt really dumb when I found out it was written by a classic author and there are actually college courses about his work. Oh well. I came to appreciate Morgenstern's humor which I thought the movie captured. However, I read the more reader friendly William Goldman version.

Dream Destroyer: Another King short story that was made into a fantastic movie is The Body... movie version Stand By Me. I agree that short stories are perfect to base movies on. Movies if done correctly can flesh them out nicely. While The Shining was a great movie, a classic really, when I actually read the book I was surprised how much the movie didn't follow the book. There was a miniseries (yes, some people do watch them!) that did a much better job. All I can say is that I have never been able to appreciate hedge animals since!

The DaVinci Code movie I was really disappointed in. The book was a wonderful, intricate puzzle...I found myself obsessed with all things symbolic after reading it. The movie did try its very best, and even with Tom Hanks playing the lead it fell flat.

Good topic Josh!


Anonymous said...

I almost always like the books better than the movies. I find that there are often details that I feel are important to the story line that are left out in the film. That really annoys me. I agree that most of the Stephen King movies are good, but a book like "It" has so much relevent detail, that to make a movie from it somehow cheapens it.
Way to go my Melody about Shawshank Redemption, I totally agree. Also Josh, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a fantastic movie.
It's one of my altime favorite movies taken from a book. I also agree that the acting makes a big difference. The reason the movies "Misery" and "Delores Claiborne" are so good is because Kathy Bates is excellent, and brings those charecters to life. Sometimes I've done the reverse, and seen the movie before I read the book. The result is usually the same... I like the book better.
Great post Josh!
Love, mom

Melody, Destroyer of Dreams said...

Justin-to each their own, but I didn't find Atonement to be too full of itself. I actually foudn it to be refreshingly understated. I enjoyed the visuals and lack of dialogue. The score was fantastic as well and I found the acting to be pretty dead on.

Cindy-you know how i feel about The Princess Bride haha. Yes-Stand By Me is fantastic. Of course I forgot to mention one of my favorites-Gone With the Wind!!! The movie is amazing, I need not say more. The book is a classic, but to me, the movie brought it to a new level.

Also-The Exorcist and Jaws. Two movies that I think did their literary parts justice.

Justin said...

Melody, I agree about the Exorcist. I didn't even know Jaws was based on a book. If we're reaching all the way back to the 1970s, the miniseries / movie for Sybil was a great adaptation of the book (though that's not exactly a novel per se).

I agree that Atonement was beautiful to look at and listen to, and the girl who played Briony was phenomenal.

Dolores Claiborne is one of my favorite movies. The filter they used on the camera captured a Maine sky in an astonishingly beautiful and moody way. And of course Kathy Bates and Judy Parfitt ("sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has left") were *AWE-SOME* not to mention David Strathairn is one fine actor. I read the book after seeing the movie and thought they were both great. Misery I think was slightly improved in the movie from the book.

It's true that the miniseries version of the Shining was more faithful but it just wasn't as good. I still say that the Stanley Kubrick version is vastly superior even though it is unfaithful.

The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies and still makes me cry at the end when his grandfather says "As You Wish" and you know it means "I Love You". I haven't read the book.

It's like shooting fish in a barrel to criticize the film adaptation of the Da Vinci Code. What a waste of celluloid.

Naughty said...


Inspired topic, really. In the last 72 hours, I've had my mitts on Running with Scissors and A Single Man, neither of which I purchased b/c I'm hip deep in reading right now. But the synchronicity of your topic and my book store meanderings is crazies. I looked at those two things before I tuned in to your post.

I adored the film A Single Man. I've had a huge crush on Colin Firth ever since P&P. Also loved him in BJ's Diary movies, although I haven't read the books.

I didn't know A Home at the End of the World was a book; thus, I did love the movie because I am a huge advocate of intentional family and had nothing to compare it to. It did make me cry, though.

What I find interesting in this book-to-movie dynamic is the reaction of the author. For example, Anne Rice was apparently terribly upset about the casting decisions made for Interview with the Vampire, and who the hell wouldn't have been? This was one of my favorite 80s reads, and I was aghast at the Tom Cruise Brad Pitt casting. Although the movie was not as horrid as I thought it would be, it was still pretty fucking horrid; I can't stand that smarmy TC, and BP acted like he had a mouth full of marbles the whole time. Upon seeing the adaptation of her book to film, however, Anne Rice stated it was amazing and retracted her earlier, vitriolic comments about the casting decisions. Maybe it just made her so much money she couldn't reasonably keep her former position without being a total hypocrite. And then there's Under the Tuscan Sun, a movie that was totally hijacked into paltry romantica. Naughty loved this Frances Mayes book because, despite having intense issues with the cult of domesticity, Naughty is a domestic goddess. Mayes responded to criticism of the screenplay by saying the movie captured "the spirit" of the book. Uh, bullshit. The movie and film were parallel events that will never cross paths.

And then there's Dream Boy, a Jim Grimsley novel that has been made into a film that we here in America didn't get to see in distribution. Probably the Christianists kept it in the can. Dream Boy was one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read. It reminded me of Bastard Out of Carolina in a lot of ways. I cried and cried and cried and cried . . . the fan vids on Youtube kind of make it look like the film is quite faithful to the book. Grimsley has said he's okay with the film's ending, which is, I guess, less ambiguous than the book's ending.

I just looked it up on Amazon, and it's available for purchase now! I'm so excited!


Anonymous said...

Yay Melody, how could we forget Gone With the Wind?! A great book, and a supurb movie! I think the movie is far more recognized than the book. Another case like that is The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical version is very well known of course, and there were 4 different movies based on the book, but not many have actually read the book. The original book was written in 1911 by Gaston Leroux, and is filled with much more information than any of the movies. Any Phantom fan should read it. Love, momgra

Anonymous said...

Melody: Of course Gone With the Wind! Haven't read the book....but the movie...well I can't even comment, it's such a classic. Where are all the Rhett Butler's in the world??!

Naughty: Totally forgot Interview With a Vampire. I saw the movie before I read any of the books, and then quickly became a huge Rice fan. I still love the movie; however, I do see your point and agree...alas it's the only movie in which I can tolerate Tom Cruise. Antonio, even though he was sexy as hell, shouldn't have been cast as the boyish, devilish, curly haired cherub Armand! There is so much that goes into her books that it is very difficult to capture on film and even though I love the movie, there really is no comparison between the book. Need I mention what they did to Queen of the Damned! Horrible, the only good thing was Aaliyah playing Akasha.

Justin: Of course, there is no comparison between the two Shinings, the movie is far better than the miniseries. Was just commenting on which one was more accurate. :-) And one more point about The Da Vinci Code, just because it received so much hype and attention....SNOOOOOOOOORE, compared to the book that I literally couldn't put down and turn the pages fast enough.

Mom: Yes Phantom! Double sigh! Don't remember too much about any of the movies, I'm too in love with the musical and always will be. Remember that fantastic and delicious surprise The Mask, about the Phantom's life? Melody too? Wouldn't mind seeing that in a miniseries!


Melody, Destroyer of Dreams said...


And I totally forgot to mention two great books turned into great movies: