Tag Archives: book to film adaptation

Sometimes the Movie IS Better

Фильм (film). Концепция изменения выбора

It’s a truism that the book is better than the movie. And like all truisms, it’s not entirely true. In a few, rare cases, the movie is actually better than the book it is based on. Some films don’t just adequately portray a book. There are times when the film outshines the book.

Let me start by saying that The Hobbit was not improved by being made into a movie. It might have been okay if they had made it into one movie, but three movies? No. I have written about this before. (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-1n) Sleigh-bunnies. ::shudder::

That said, as I see it, there are two factors that can make a movie better than a book: length and depth.

Length. Most books are simply too long to translate exactly into movies. Most of the time this means that excellent – even necessary – material will be left out of the movie. The Lord of the Rings, for example, required three movies and still left out significant parts of the three books. I know there are people who still regret the loss of the Tom Bombadil and Goldberry scenes and I think that the Scouring of the Shire should certainly have been included.

Other books, however, have long stretches of text that do not translate well into evocative visuals or scintillating dialogue. Leaving them out can be a good thing. For example, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, is a long and complex book with lots to say about race, sociology, and economics. The movie (1968) trims out much of that content and focuses on the tender, evolving relationship between the two deaf-mutes and the young girl. The challenging intellectual and political content would pull attention away from the emotional center of the movie.

Gorky Park (1983) is another wonderful movie that has advantages over the book. Martin Cruz Smith’s novel has a long section in which Arkady languishes in a sanatorium, and it drags a bit. While this episode may be relevant to developing Arkady’s character, using it in the film would not improve the tempo of the movie, which after all is a murder mystery/thriller.

Depth. Occasionally a book, although it may have sold well, is emotionally flat. This could happen when a writer is inexperienced, or even too experienced –when he or she simply “phones it in.” The film version – if it has a good director, screenwriter, and/or outstanding actors – can take the story to a much higher level.

Twice I have had the experience of seeing a movie that I liked very much, then getting the book it was based on, only to be profoundly disappointed. One of these was the little-known spy-comedy Hopscotch (1980) which, although it sank without a trace, is a fun little film that has long been a favorite in our household. The novel was nothing special. The writing was uninspired, and the characters not well developed. All it really had was a plot. The movie, on the other hand, was vastly improved by the addition of Glenda Jackson’s character – who did not even appear in the book – and by the comedic range of Walter Matthau’s portrayal of the lead character. Or, as Rotten Tomatoes put it,

As written by Brian Garfield, Hopscotch was a conventionally serious espionage novel. As adapted for the big screen by Garfield and Bryan Forbes, Hopscotch is a lively exercise in cloak-and-dagger comedy, even when the pursuit of Matthau turns deadly towards the end.

The movie dialogue was wittier, the characters far more interesting, and the resolution more satisfying. I wish I had never read the book.

I had the same reaction with the movie and book of Three Days of the Condor (1975). (Actually, the book, written by James Grady, was Six Days of the Condor. That was part of the problem.) The movie compressed the action to heighten the tension and make the chase elements more compelling. At the same time, Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway’s characters had more complex personalities and revealing interactions than the stick figures in the book. I would never recommend the book, but heartily recommend the movie. Sydney Pollack’s efforts as director are certainly a major contributing factor to the film’s superiority.

Admittedly, most of the time it is a mistake to try to translate good literature –or even simply entertaining stories – to film. Even now that CGI makes possible depictions of events and characters that would formerly have been disappointing at best or even impossible, some things are simply better left to the imagination.

Usually books are one of those things.

But not always.

The Worst Sex-Ed Book. Ever.

Dr. Seuss is my all-time favorite author of children’s rhyming books. He did not write a sex education book.(1)

Shel Silverstein took over from Seuss as my favorite children’s poet. He did not write a sex-ed book either.(2)

IMHO, no one has equaled those two in writing rhyming books for children, though many have tried. Lord, how they’ve tried. And for the most part, failed miserably.

I once edited a magazine called Early Childhood News, which was intended for an audience of child care center owners, directors, and possibly staff. It was occasionally entertaining.(3) I got a lot of children’s books to review.(4)

Which is where the sex-ed and the poetry come in.(5)

One day an amazing book came across my desk. It was titled How Dad and Mother Made Your Brother, which should have been my first clue.

The book was obviously self-published. To say that it lacked the services of a professional editor and a professional illustrator would be a charming understatement.

The text was written (and illustrated) by a real medical doctor, so I guess that was one up on Dr. Seuss, but it didn’t help. The main characters were – I’m not kidding – Stanley Sperm and Essie Egg.

One memorable illustration(6) showed Stanley and Essie sitting on a bench, courting, I suppose. As I recall Essie had long eyelashes and Stanley had either a top hat or a bow tie. Maybe both. Behind them was the gate to a park, with a sign identifying the location as “Cervix.”

You can probably tell from the bow tie and the park bench that scientific accuracy was not the author’s primary concern. Also, Essie and Stanley were the same size.(7)

And now we get to the poetry. Here’s a sample. The author was attempting to tell where Stanley Sperm had lived, before he met the coy and comely Miss Essie. Somewhat confusingly, it seemed that Stanley had come from one or the other of two towns:

The towns are both named “Testicle”
and they look like two round eggs.
They’re not located on a map,
but between your Daddy’s legs.(8)

Do I have to say I did not review the book? (I thought not.)

I kept it for a time, though, to show disbelieving friends. And possibly as the basis for a party game, with each person reading aloud from it until exploding with laughter, when it would be passed on to the next reader.(9)

Of course, given the sex-ed books currently used in schools, there may be other texts out there that are just as bad, or at least as inaccurate. But for sheer unintentional awfulness, How Dad and Mother Made Your Brother has won its place in the annals of scary books that will make kids never want to have sex. Ever. That being the point of most sex education in schools anyway, as far as I can tell.

(1) That we know of. He did write advertising, so who really knows where he drew the line?
(2) Though he certainly could have. He’s the author/artist of Different Dances and the songwriter of “Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most.”
(3) The ad sales department once insisted I add a column about food, as they desperately wanted to attract Lunchables as a client. Yeah, right. Lunchables. For child care centers. I had no choice in the matter, except for the title of the column, which I made as repulsive as possible – “Food Digest.” Well, it amused me, anyway, even if no one else noticed.
(4) Also, sometimes companies sent me samples of toys they hoped I would promote in the magazine. Not sex toys, though. I also received, for some reason, an anti-circumcision newsletter. I used to count the number of times the word “foreskin” appeared in it, just to look busy.
(5) You were starting to wonder, weren’t you? Go on, admit it.
(6) I’ve been told that only shock treatment will erase it from my memory.
(7) Reminder: The author went to medical school and, presumably, graduated.
(8) I hope that’s enough of a sample, since it is the only verse I memorized. I do recall that the conception scene would have been a real production number, had the book ever made the transition to film.
(9) With bonus points awarded for imitating the voice of Bullwinkle the Moose or possibly Daffy Duck.

New Features Coming!

What are the new features?

Books, etc. and Cats, etc.

Where do I find them?

Right here on this blog, Et Cetera, etc.

When will they appear?

Whenever I feel like it or have something to say on either topic.

Can you describe them?


Okay, smart-ass, describe them.

Books, etc., will contain book reviews, books I’m reading now or have loved in the past, musings on trends in fiction and nonfiction, the writing life. Etc.

Cats, etc., will contain true tales about my life with cats, plus occasional posts on cat care, health, behavior, and cats in the news. And cat pictures. Yours, too, if you want to send them.

Why are you qualified to write these features?

I read a lot, write some, and edit more. I have a B.A. in English from Cornell and an M.A. in English from University of Dayton.

I have been owned by at least a dozen cats (no, not all at once) and lived with more. They have all been shelter cats or ones that found us. No purebreds, so you’ll have to go somewhere else if that’s what you want.

But what about the posts, stories, and general crankiness we’ve grown to know and love?

They’ll still be here. Books and Cats will be post titles, followed by subtitles.

Can you give us examples?

Well, sure! Blog: Et Cetera, etc. (same old address); Books, etc.: Why Haven’t I Heard of Melanie Benjamin before?; Cats, etc.: Stupid Cat Tricks.

Can we suggest topics?

Absolutely. Go right ahead. I might even write about them.

When will these new features start?

See above, where I said, “Whenever I feel like it or have something to say.”

How often will they appear?

See above, where I said, see above, where I said, “Whenever I feel like it or have something to say.”

When do you…?

Don’t make me say it again.

Why I Won’t See the Hobbit Movies

People who have known me since I was a teenager would be shocked to hear me say that. I was/have been/still am one of the most devoted Tolkien fans ever – since back in the 1970s when the first wave of Hobbit hysteria hit.

I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. I sat in the theater reciting my favorite lines along with the actors. I curled up in my seat in a fetal position and sobbed when the characters left to sail West. These were my friends and they were leaving.

I knew that Peter Jackson had to make some choices in order to film three books. He could not possibly put in everything. Indeed, some fans were upset that favorite scenes didn’t make it in (Tom Bombadil, for example). I was upset by what they put in that wasn’t in the books (the whole Arwen-is-dying nonsense).

Which brings me back to The Hobbit. At first I fully expected to see it. Then I started hearing things that made me doubtful.

It was going to another trilogy. You make a trilogy of films from a trilogy of books; that’s fine. You make a trilogy of films out of a single book and a short one at that, no good can come of it. You will have to add and pad and then Gad! Stuff that Tolkien never wrote – lots of stuff.

It was another dramatic epic struggle between Supreme Good and Primal Evil. The Hobbit was a children’s story, for crying out loud, that Tolkien wrote for his young son. A simple quest story – There and Back Again.  The Lord of the Rings came later, featured more complex and grown-up themes, including sweeping battle scenes with thousands of extras. The Hobbit was not a “prequel.” It was a stand-alone book. But The Lord of the Rings, which was and needed to be a sweeping dramatic epic struggle between powerful, apocalyptic forces, made money and lots of it. So let’s do it again, whether that’s what the first book was about or not.

The characterizations and tone had been changed to make the films more dramatic and serious. My husband was watching it in another room, and I asked him what was up with all the screaming and yelling and battles. He said, “I was watching The Hobbit.” My jaw dropped.

Conflict, sure. Danger, sure. But so much yelling and screaming that I thought it had to be a war film (or Robocop without the guns)? Much of the book was sweetly comic, with just enough threat, suspense, and fighting to keep its intended readers – children – interested. Millions of us as teens and young adults loved the book as it was. We recognized the value of children’s literature, and still do. The Harry Potter books and films had a massive following that included me and my friends in our 40s and 50s and beyond. We don’t need the works revised for “mature audiences.”

The last straw for me, though, was Radagast the Brown, a brother wizard of Gandalf’s. He was mentioned ONE TIME in The Hobbit and had only a tiny role in The Lord of the Rings. He was essential to no plot, subplot, or theme. He was, as they say in opera, a spear-carrier. Or in this case a staff-carrier.

At first I shrugged. More padding. So what? Then I heard what they did with the character.


There is no excuse for that sort of thing and I am not paying money to see it. I’ll stay home and re-re-re-re-re-re-re-read the book.

Sleigh-bunnies. Feh.