Thursday, September 13, 2007

The movie was way better than the book...

For some reason, it always annoys me when, discussing a movie that was based on a book, you almost inevitably hear, no matter what the quality of the movie, "the book was better." It seems incredibly assinine to me to even compare the two mediums in that way. How can you even compare the two? A better what?

A book is a book and a movie is a movie. If the movie sucks, say so. But don't say it sucks because "the book was better." We're not talking about a freaking book, we're talking about a movie. Two different mediums. Two different experiences. Pretend there was no book, or if there was, that you never read it. Then judge the movie on its own merits. Sure, if both you and the other person have read the book, you can have an interesting discussion on what parts were the same and what was different and the relative merits of what was left in or out, but half the time when this comes up it is when I ask someone about a movie based on a book I have NEVER READ so I really don't care what was in the book, I just want to know how good the movie was as a movie.

I mean, come on, there are lots of things you can do in a book that you simply can't do in a movie, the main thing being the length. Many novels, if made into a movie "faithfully" would make movies that were six or ten hours long (or longer). That is simply too long to make a movie out of. Now, if the subject matter really is such that it could not be shortened, maybe you should not make it into a movie, or if you do, you should not expect them to be very similar. (There is also the possibility of a mini-series or multiple movies - look at Band of Brothers or The Lord of the Rings which I'll get to in a moment.)

So recognize that fact and you'll be fine. And as for Lord of the Rings - AWESOME trilogy - probably the best fantasy films ever made. But the books - in places they were DREADFULL - long, boring, repetitive stuff that doesn't really go anywhere. And so that was cut out of the films, and good riddance. But still, I don't really compare the two - because it is silly to compare two things from two different mediums. It is like comparing a poem to a painting. Better to compare a poem to other poems and a painting to other paintings. Don't go look at a painting and say "the poem was better."

I have more to say about movie reviews, but that will have to wait for another time.


Fabio said...

I think I agree with everything you've written, except for The Lord of the Rings, the book trilogy, being dreadful in certain parts :P Damn, I still remember the first time I read the books, I devoured them! ^^

DBB said...

Don't get me wrong - I like the books - I just think there are certain portions of them that drag or could have used some editing. But for the most part, they were great.

cornucrapia said...

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fight club are two of the most faithful interpretations of a book into movie form I've ever seen, both are spectacular in either form. Contrast that with I robot, why did they even bother naming it after Asmiovs book?

DBB said...

True, but I, Robot was an anthology, not a single story. You really could not do that as a movie - it would really be a series of film shorts - at least a dozen of them. Which would be interesting to see, I'm sure.

I think the title was more of a way to let an audience know that it was set in an Asimov world with Asimov-rules robots, which it was. In a sense, it could have been another story included with the anthology.

There were a few moments in it that actually alluded to some of the short stories - like where the robot hides with a bunch of non-programmed identical robots, and there is talk of taking them all and interviewing them to determine which is the hiding one. Something similar happened in one of the stories - though there, they actually did the interviews, and that was the bulk of the story.

I'd love to see more Asimov robot stories made into movies - Foundation would be cool too.

Anonymous said...

If one is going to make a movie based on a book but that movie is not a reflection of the book, CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE!

Robert said...

I don't know, in the end, both the movie and the book are trying to tell a story. One of them invariably tells the story better (at least to a certain person) so I don't think its entirely dishonest to say the book was better.

That said, too often people say the book was better as a way of being intellectually snobbish.

And for the record, while the LOTRs books were very good, I actually did like the movies better. And yes, I read them when I was young, and reread them before the movies. Let me say, leaving out Tom Bombabadil was the best thing they ever did. Losing the scouring of the shire was a crime though.

Replicant said...

When I hear "The book was better", I take it to mean the movie wasn't faithful to the film.

As for LotR, I felt Jackson took some liberties and changed things just for the sake of changing them, such as the motivation of the Ents, that was the most egregious in my opinion. Other things were just silly.

I don't agree leaving out Tom Bombadil was a good thing. It showed that the ring wasn't all powerful.

Another of the worst moments was, when Gandalf was almost pulled off the broken bridge by the Balrog, and was hanging there. one would thing if he had done a few more pull-ups he could have got back up. In the book he was pulled completely off.

Anyway, I tend to agree with you DBB, it's like people saying they "believe in UFOs", it's a non-statement.

Alex said...

I think sometimes for imaginative book readers, it can be annoying to have a film made that isn't our own vision of how things should be.

That said, it must be extremely hard to create a screenplay from a novel, especially the longer ones, and fit it into our 1.5hour-3hour attention span. Of course, no matter what the screenwriter does, someone is going to complain. It's just how it is, it seems. "It's too long", "it left out this super important detail".

Also: I skipped pages, sometimes sections, of the final LotR when damned Frodo etc. were going through Mordor. Can you get any more boring? And, on top of that, there's nothing you miss when you actually do skip them. That definitely was not missed in the movies.

Maya's Granny said...

I find that when I see the movie first, and then read the book, I enjoy them both more. Reading the book then gives me a deeper texture to the story. Of course, this seldom happens because I read a lot of books and often decades before the movie is made. I read Pride and Prejudice in the 50s and LOTRs in the 60s -- I would have hated to have to wait to read them until recently.

As far as titles -- I thought that changing the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" to "Blade Runner" was a problem, since there was a book called Blade Runner, by a different author, and completely different plot. It was sort of like calling fudge pineapple.

hedera said...

I have a strange example on this. A year or so ago I saw Howl's Moving Castle, by Hayao Myazaki; brilliant anime film, I loved it and saw it three times. I even bought the DVD. Being a devoted reader, I looked up the book and also bought it, and I like it enough to have read it several times.

Here is the weird thing: the movie and the book have the same main characters. They have the same major plot elements. They end more or less the same way. But - they tell entirely different stories! Myazaki took Diana Wynne Jones' charming fantasy novel and made a charming fantasy movie out of it that wasn't the same story at all. I don't think I've ever seen a book-to-movie transition that worked quite like that.

Since I like them both, I don't really care.

hedera said...

Oops, make that "Miyazaki" ...

Andrew said...

Personally, I read books as often as I watch films, and if there's a clearly-superior paper 'version' of a film available, then that's useful information to me: I can then read the book and find another film to watch, thus increasing the total enjoyment I derive from the story. If a reviewer failed to mention that, that would annoy me.

I agree that it falls slightly outside the strict remit of "movie review" but for the sake of a line or two of copy, I'd like to see that information. The idea of reading reviews, to me, is so I can derive as much enjoyment as possible from my limited intake of books and films, so any information that helps me do that is a good thing.

(For the record, I thought the main character's motivation was far better explained in the film version of Showshank Redemption than in the book version.)