For all my raving about how much a movie can improve the visual aspect of a novel's story better than mere words penned by a single author (rather than characters shaped by actors interacting with one another)—really, when it gets down to it, the movie adaptation cannot exist without the book. In this "Which came first?" We don't have to wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg—the book necessarily came first.
Also, the thing we can realize most about books is that because books are not regulated in length the way movies are (could you imagine the horror?), one can absolutely pack as much extra detail as possible into the narrative, since one is relying totally on the reader's imagination to conjure ideas of what things look like, instead of giving them something to watch.
That being said, here is a list of my Top 10 Books That Were So Full Of Awesome Their Adaptations Cannot Compare.
1. The Princess Bride--William Goldman
The first example that came to mind is, of course, Princess Bride. This fandom is divided into several camps: 1) Those, like me, who realize that the story is not all about Buttercup and Westley—it's actually about a grandfather telling his grandson the Greatest Fantasy Tale Of Them All; 2) Those who had no idea a book even existed, but they grew up watching the movie; 3) Those who saw the movie, knew about the book, but were unamused with the edits and the running commentary in the "Good Parts Version" and would please like to know where they can find the original, unabridged work by S. Morgenstern—and then there's everybody else.
To Group 2, I would say: The book exists, and it's by the same guy who wrote the screenplay for the movie. And it is brilliant. You know the parts in the movie where Fred Savage interrupts Peter Falk and is all like, "What even IS this story??" Or like when reading the boring, stuffy "classics," how sometimes you wish that they had commentary and summaries like a CliffsNotes version, but snarkier... Well, this is kind of that. It's patterned after a fantasy novel pretending to be a historical adventure... But Goldman adds snarky comments and informs us when he's "removed" whole sections (Chapter 4 is my favorite... News flash for Group 3: THERE IS NO UNABRIDGED VERSION; S. Morgenstern doesn't exist; the book in its entirety is solely the work of William Goldman; so stop asking) and some people might not like it, but I absolutely loved it. It's essentially the same story as the film... But so much more.
2. I Am Number Four--Pittacus Lore
I was intrigued by the movie trailer so I started reading the book. I had only gotten halfway through it when I actually watched the movie—and yet I still knew more about what was going on than the movie let on. With the choppy storytelling and the mediocre acting, one might not think much of the film—but it is a series, and I swear the writing is just fantastic. I am desperately hooked on the series. The movie doesn't explain things very well, and it sort of rides the high points... But not enough so that you actually care about the characters you should care about. The books, however, are intricate and well-developed. If you were even remotely interested in the idea presented by the movie, just skip it and go right for the books. It is totally worth it.
3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians--Rick Riordan
|(nearly) Everything I know about mythology I learned from Rick Riordan...|
This is another one where the concept and the premise were very intriguing—but the execution of the film left much to be desired. I came out of the film significantly less intrigued, but I decided to give the book a go.
Guys, I never looked back. Rick Riordan is a fascinating and highly entertaining writer, I have now read all of his mythological series (except the Egyptian one) and each seems better than the last. The movies do not even compare to the books. Poor casting (not to mention the casting/costuming changes that showed up in the second movie with no explanation—like they were just trying to pretend nobody would notice) had a lot to do with it, plus the fact that Riordan is very skilled at making his writing very clever and entertaining, and a lot of that stuff doesn't really translate to film very well... Apparently...
4. Voyage of the Dawn Treader--C. S. Lewis
After the rousing success of the first film, and the passable treatment of the second (rendered more acceptable just because it's my favorite book in the series, and they got all my favorite parts into it), I really had high hopes for this one. I mean, for crying out loud, they cast Will Poulter as Eustace! What could be more perfect? It does have its challenges, since a) it's at sea, not really a lot on land, and b) all of the strange and wonderful magic effects that happen in pretty much every scene--as I've stated before, the lower-budget BBC series left much to be desired, and I had every confidence that modern technology had really advanced to be able to do the film justice.
Not even close. Out of the three adaptations, the plot of the film deviated the most from its source. The resulting movie is so hopped up on pointless peril and overblown special effects that the story is basically unrecognizable as an adaptation, or even a continuation of the films already in existence. I can understand leaving stuff out because there isn't time to fit it into 100 minutes... but the stuff the filmmakers added to the story in an effort to bulk it out basically guaranteed it's placement on a list like this.
5. Eragon--Christopher Paolini
I was excited (at first!) to discover this book, because a) DRAGONS and b) it was the first fantasy book recommended to me by an adult, who positively raved about this book published by a homeschooler with an affinity for high fantasy--I read the book till I fell asleep, and then I finished it the next morning when I woke up. It was definitely cool, and I could forgive the distinct impression of a Lord of the Rings rip-off (without the whole big quest thing... and basically with the Fellowship reduced to a young dragon rider, his love interest, his mentor, and the Potential Traitor Who May or May Not Be Working Against Him). Unfortunately, the series basically died from there... I have read a sequel and a half of the 4-book series and got both bored of the fact that the protagonist seems fond of isolation and whole chapters of contemplative soliloquy, and angry that so much potential should be so wasted. But that's not what this list is for. The film adaptation of Eragon was only just slightly worse than the quality of the book, for just the reasons you would expect: there was just so much stuff that happened in the book that they couldn't possibly fit it all into film, so they did the best they could with what they had, and ended up with a lackluster adaptation of a mediocre fantasy novel. So the book was better, but only just barely!
6. The Inkheart Trilogy--Cornelia Funke
When I first heard of the movie, I had no idea it was a book, or even a series. All I knew was that it was a story about a guy who could bring book characters to life by reading out loud and I thought that was totally the coolest thing ever. I watched the film and really I did enjoy it--so I went ahead and placed holds on the entire trilogy from the library. Of course, as it so often happens, I got the second book before the first, but I figured that was okay, because I had seen the movie, so I basically knew the story, right?
NOT. EVEN. I started reading Inkspell and got completely lost from page one... and I knew exactly why: they'd changed the ending. There were characters I didn't know, in situations I wasn't aware of ahead of time--because the movie had changed the ending so that it could be a standalone and they were never intending to do the whole trilogy. [Cue sad violin music] Hence the reason I added this one to the list--not because the movie was bad, per se, but because the books were better for the fact that it was a series and really went in-depth in exploring the worlds and the characters. Cornelia Funke is an absolute wizard at crafting a convincing and enchanting world for her novels. I loved it so much I was really disappointed that it would have to all be in my imagination, instead of on a screen. I did have the added comfort of being able to attach the movie characters to the book characters, so that worked out okay.
7. The Alex Rider series--Anthony Horowitz
Picking out a movie for kid's night, we see one called "Alex Rider: Stormbreaker" and it looks like a cutesy kind of "teenage James Bond" type movie, so we pick it up. It was cheesy, and very clear that those involved were clearly expecting more from the film than what they got--
but at least the existence of the film alerted us to this cool new series we didn't know we needed. The movie adaptation wasn't all that great, but the books are just totally awesome. Anthony Horowitz is a very excellent writer (there are a few other books he's written that... not so much; but I can definitely vouch for this series) and the Alex Rider series definitely packs a bigger adrenaline punch than the movie ever did.
8. The Book Thief--Markus Zusak
I asked a friend once for book recommendations, and this was one of the ones she told me about. It has since become one of the "Books-That-Blew-My-Mind." First of all, Death is the narrator; second, the observations and musings of Death are as poignant as they are breathtaking. I seriously loved what this book did to my imagination. So naturally, when I heard they were doing a movie adaptation, I was beyond excited. I had been so taken up with Death's prose that I hadn't really taken the chance to get actually acquainted with the characters--and with Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush playing the old couple, I knew it was going to be good.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was REALLY GOOD. The emotion, the timing, the colors, the acting--everything was fantastic. In fact, the only thing that was missing... Yep, you guessed it: the full effect of Death's narration. With the visual aspect of the film, there wasn't that much need for narration, so a lot of it was spliced out, truncated, omitted entirely--and there are some "text visuals" in the novel that didn't translate at all onto the film, but I thought they were brilliant to read--so the book is better. Read the book. Then watch the movie. You will die happy.
9. The City of Ember series--Jeanne DuPrau
I discovered the movie because Saoirse Ronan was in it. I toyed with watching it--frankly, I was intrigued with the story: the world's population living underground for so long, they'd forgotten what life on the surface was like, till one day the resources run out, then a young boy and a young girl must work together to escape the underground and find the surface again. I actually think I did read the book first, though, so that way when I got around to watching the movie, I would actually know what was going on. But there, I ran into the same trouble as with "I Am Number Four"--the bits they kept versus the bits they took out ended up not explaining things very well, and jumping around instead of straight-up telling a story. Also, it was the same problem as "Inkheart"--somewhere along the line, somebody decided that they would just take the first book of the series and make it a standalone so they wouldn't have to do the others, so the ending was changed. Frankly, I thought the movie ending of "City of Ember" to be significantly weaker than the movie ending of "Inkheart." There was still the same lack of closure as if the series might continue--while it was obvious that they wouldn't. So in the end, the movie had no closure. *Note: The series is quite good--if one ignores the third book, "Prophet of Yonwood"; it is the only one that first of all tries "retroactive continuity" (or, going back and trying to fill in "prequel details" in the middle of a series) and it just didn't fit as well; the other three books, City of Ember, People of Sparks, and Diamond of Darkhold are all directly continuous, and they are fascinating!
10. Timeline--Michael Crichton
Big disappointment; the scripting was far more campy than the book would have let on. Nobody took themselves or their circumstances very seriously--and I'm pretty sure Butler's character was actually supposed to be Norwegian (or at least Swedish... or something...) The movie came across with none of the intensity of the peril in the book. Rather blah.
How about you? What movies have you seen, that were so interesting/disappointing, it motivated you to read the book to see what the "real" story was?
Is there a movie you've seen based on a book you've read that you can point to and say, "The book was so much better!"
Share in the comments!