Thursday, February 26, 2009

But The Book Was Better

The unlikely-ly named Willing Davis has penned a screed for Slate which boils down to "the book is better". In fairness, the author notes the triteness of the very premise, but he endeavors to explain the reasons in terms of plot versus story.

Well, hell, Joe Bob Briggs has been saying that for years: "Too much plot gettin' in the way of the story!"

It's usually true that the book is "better" than the movie, for some definition of "better", but I like to point out the mystery that is Silence of the Lambs. The book is almost identical to the movie, yet it's one of the greatest movies of all time, where the book is ... not. (Not that it's a bad book or anything of the sort.)

But you can smell the sentiment coming. You may know which one I'm talking about if you're a regular reader:

It was released in 1985, and the great run of 1970s American film culture was just coming to an end.

You just knew it had to be one of those guys who loved nihilism and avocado green, didn't you? (I did!) It makes me completely suspicious of his recommendation of Schrader's Mishima, the virtues of which he is extolling. (Though one should always be wary of Schrader films.)

David follows up with:

Ironically, it was partly Lucas' Star Wars franchise that proved how lucrative giving the people what they want, repeatedly, could be.

That's not ironic: Spielberg and Lucas are movie lovers. That means they don't just love arty flicks or popcorn flicks. It means they love movies. How could it be otherwise?

If not for L&S's popcorn fare--or something similar in its place--moviemaking would be a complete niche that few cared about.

(H/T Instapundit, the Himbo.)


  1. Offhand there have been two books/movies that I thought were equally well-done, though quite different:

    Gone With The Wind and Hunt For Red October.

    I've seen the movies several times and read the books several time, enjoying each.

    Oh, and OT - I tried to email a response to the question you asked me, but got the Mailer-Daemon response - could you let me know your correct email address?

    The answer was basically yes, but of course I had more to say than that!

  2. My name is "blake", and I'm at kingdomrpg.

    That's a dot-com, there.


  3. Sometimes the movie is better. Willing Davidson (on the left, with Cressida Leyshon, another New Yorker editor) (it's a good thing he's a guy — you wouldn't want to have to say, "Here's my daughter, she's Willing") mentions The DaVinci Code, a movie which was OK as something to occupy the attention while eating popcorn, but which was made from a book that I could not read, just because Dan Brown's prose clanked worse than my old '53 Chevy.

    Books give the imagination more room to play: an author can describe a woman as transcendently beautiful, and the reader can imagine what she looks like; might be Cate Blanchett, but more likely, the reader might imagine a different face. And then there's the, what's the term, interior monologue? The way that Philip Marlowe talks to himself all the time, that gives Chandler such flavor. It doesn't come across on film, even the Bogart films.

    But a badly written book with a good story can be tranformed on the screen into something decent. Still — two different art forms. Maybe the comic-book movies we have been seeing so many of are as successful as they are because they have a visual element right from the source. I'm looking forward to Watchmen with mixed feelings, wondering in what ways it will surpass the book, in what ways it will fail.

  4. That's what I think would be the real triteness of the concept: Movies and books ARE different art forms, and they're only related because they're narrative forms.

    Just as you can't internally monologue worth a damn in a movie, you also can't capture the precise expression in Jodie Foster's face as Hannibal Lecter describes to Clarisse her life and motivations.

    I thought that was pretty well settled. You know, that there was an artistic consensus or somesuch.

  5. I think one of the most complimentary pair of film and book is The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The book is very intellectual, it's very much all in the head, but also stimulating. The film, covers the same material but does so in a far more visceral and sensual manner (Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche really help in that regard).

    Neither is better than the other, just different, and one aims at the mind and succeeds, while the other aims at the heart (and other regions, too) and quickens the beat.

    If Willing was really paying attention, he'd question why movies based on video games almost always end up being not just bad, but god awfully, mind numbingly, Uwe Bollingly bad.

  6. The answer to your last question is Uweous. (I actually covered video game movies here, and suggested some that might not be horrid here.

    I thought Lena Olin kicking out the back window of the car in Romeo is Bleeding was the only wortwhile second-and-a-half of that movie.

  7. As you said about the Silence of the Lambs, the problem is that the book can have some much more detail and texture than the movie. They are two seperate things. I once heard an interview by one of my favorite writers Elmore Leonard. He was really happy that the movie "Get Shorty" was so close to the book. But he said he never worries about that because the book will always be there. It doesn't change. The writer should just look at it as a payday. The fans should try and seperate the two.

  8. One thing that computers have done is made special effects that allow epics like the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia to be filmed. The casts of thousands would be impossible without those special effects. It is a great time for the creation of epic movies, if only some great movie makers would come along to make them.

  9. It'd like to see Martian Chronicles done the way it appears in my head when I read it.

    I have that problem with most interpretations of Bradbury. What I see in my head is way better than what gets put on film.

    I am looking forward to Darabont's Fahrenheit 451, though.

    And who wouldn't like to see some of these epics done up? A little HPL done right, maybe?


Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.