Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books to Movies

Wow, how time flies during the holidays!  I just noticed that I haven't posted since just before Thanksgiving, and it only seems like yesterday.  I have to admit that, over the Winter Break, I watched more movies than read books.  However, I noticed that many of the movies were adaptations of popular books, which brings me to the topic of today's Blog!

When it comes to choosing whether or not to read the book before seeing the movie, people seem to be solidly in one of two camps.  Since the book always comes out first, most people will see the movie afterwards.  However, I'm in the other camp.  I'd rather see the movie, then read the book because, invariably, the book enriches the story and usually fills in the blanks that can't be covered in an average 2-hour film.  In my opinion, there's nothing worse than reading a fantastic book, then seeing how some screenwriter totally destroyed it to meet Hollywood's (sub?)standards.  If I've already read the book and liked it, I'll usually skip the movie rather than waste my hard-earned money to be disappointed.

For instance, one of my favorite books as a teen was Colleen McCullough's The Thornbirds.  At 700+ pages, it was a long read, but I enjoyed it so much that I read it three times.  (Ahh, to have that much free time today!)  Six years later, it was made into a television mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain (the actor I envisioned in the role) and Rachel Ward (a lousy actress who couldn't handle the task of playing Meggie, in my opinion).  I was glad that they employed the mini-series format because there was no way this story could be told in a single movie.  The story was left pretty much intact, but there were a few major plot points that were entirely changed (to the detriment of the film).  You wouldn't paint over the Mona Lisa, so why mess with a literary masterpiece?

However, there are times when books are so convoluted, surreal, or philosophical that committing them to film and giving us poor readers visuals is the only way to really make sense of them, albeit with one person's vision.  The book/film that instantly comes to mind is John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.  Since the author himself offers up three separate endings to the story, no harm is done if the movie maker picks only one.  This book, by the way, was chosen by TIME Magazine as "one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present."

So, what did I watch over vacation?  One was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.  I didn't care for it as much as I had hoped, and I definitely felt that there were pieces of the puzzle missing.  I'll be reading the novel soon since just about every woman on the planet has by now, and I figure there must be more to the story than the screenwriter/director Ryan Murphy was telling us.

The other movie was a piece of light-hearted fare on Lifetime called Sunday at Tiffany's.  Surprisingly, it's written by James Patterson (the writer better known for his thrillers and, to kids, for his Maximum Ride series).  I say "surprisingly" because this one is a romantic fantasy!  For this adaptation, I may not read the book because I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (yes, romances are my guilty pleasure) and, after reading a plot summary of the novel, it sounds much darker and sadder than the film.  However, I just took time to look at reader comments online, and it sounds as if the book, although vastly different than the movie, is an excellent read.  What I don't get is why they used James Patterson's name if it was so loosely adapted by someone else (as if "inspired" by his novel).  Generally, other readers who watched the movie first also liked the book but those in the other camp (who read the book first) were very disappointed and were asking for a better, truer adaptation in the future.

So, what can students take from this discussion?  A lot of things!  One, if you're going to cheat and watch the movie instead of reading the assigned book, you're taking a big risk!  LOL!  Two, if you watch a movie you really like, see if it's an adapted rather than an original screenplay and then read the book from which the story is taken.  There may even be a written sequel (or two or three).  Three, if you read a book (like the Twilight or Harry Potter series), you'll either love the movies no matter what or may be very disappointed by the director's vision.  Remember: the beauty of a well-written book is in its ability to let the reader imagine the scene, to invoke our emotions, and to leave our lives enriched...and perhaps wanting more! 

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