Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hit List: Top 10 Film Adaptations That Were Better Than The Books They Came From

A good while ago, movies were original things, and you'd only see occasional adaptations of literary classics nobody read much anymore, most often done by the BBC. Nowadays, it seems like all the popular young adult novels are getting adapted... And sometimes, whether by fault of the director, or the lucky happenstance of great casting, the movie ends up actually telling a better story than the book did. 
So here are ten film adaptations I have seen, which I think ended up better than the books that inspired them.

1. Stardust
This movie is a prime example of how the limits of film as well as fortunate choices in casting will do wonders for an adaptation. Stardust has long been among my top favorite fantasy films, and with Neil Gaiman long heralded as foremost in fantasy literature, I eagerly turned to the book, expecting at least similar enjoyment.

How did it compare? Not even close. My favorite character in the movie was one by the name of Captain Shakespeare, portrayed with much heart and vigor by Robert DeNiro. In the book, Captain Shakespeare is little more than a set piece, a side character with few lines and even less character development. Then there was also the graphic nudity—nearly none in the film, so I wasn't expecting it, and got quite a shock when I started reading! Would definitely recommend the film, but I cannot say as much for the book.

2. The Spiderwick Chronicles

I discovered this movie because Freddie Highmore is in it, and he is one of my favorite young actors. He is really brilliant in this film, not just for his impeccable American accent—but he also managed to pull off the best dual role I have ever seen. I enjoyed the inventiveness of the plot, so again, I approached the books looking for a similar experience.

How did it compare? Once again, the books did not quite match my expectations after seeing the movie. It's one of those works that is a series of small, narrow "quartos", which the adaptation had combined into one, so I found it annoying to be essentially "switching books" after only thirty minutes of reading... Which amounts to about fifteen minutes' worth of screen time. The movie told a more cohesive story, with less "diddling about," and it was a lot more entertaining to hear the lines spoken by Martin Short, Nick Nolte, and Seth Rogen—so, movie wins! (Conversely, if you actually enjoyed the books, you might be very satisfied with the movie, if you haven't seen it yet!)

3. The Hunger Games Trilogy

I discovered The Hunger Games because my sister had checked it out from the library. I read the first book in one sitting... And ended up reading Mockingjay before Catching Fire. Oops. I was totally thrilled that they were adapting it for film, though I had to roll my eyes when they managed to stretch Mockingjay into 2 films... The nature of the plot intrigued me. How were they going to pull off all the mind-trips and the fanciful contraptions? What scenes would they keep or leave? Sometimes, when reading the book I would be so lost, so I kind of looked forward to the movies as a more linear way of figuring out just what was going on.

How did it compare? The adaptations just got better and better as the series went on, in my opinion—whereas the books just got darker and more "trippy." The casting was absolutely spot on, and the portrayals did more to build the characters sometimes, than the descriptions of the book. Both were good, but I definitely enjoyed the movies better.

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy

And here we have Garth Jennings to thank for this. Here is another movie that I watched because I was familiar with most of the cast (yes, that is Martin Freeman in the poster), and it made me curious so I got the book. Doug Adams is for sci-fi what Neil Gaiman is for fantasy, so I got the book, wondering if it was going to be perhaps more like Princess Bride book-versus-movie...

 How did it compare? I will say this, Jennings apparently did an excellent job of picking out the actual core of the plot amid all the bizarre references and side trails Adams threw in! The trailers might not tell you much, but the movie was very well done and the winks and nods to its sources (such as the "original" TV adaptation, as well as the book) were well-played, the effects were great—the movie is a wild romp of great and random fun!


5. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

I grew up reading the books. We had the BBC miniseries taped off the television, but after time and again of rewinding and watching them, the quality was less-than-stellar and the acting even worse. I was always really disappointed by this. The radio adaptations were really fun, I just really wished I could see it brought to life in a decent manner. It just seemed like they tried their best to find actors that just barely fit Lewis' descriptions... regardless of whether or not they could do anything beyond quoting the book verbatim. But it was all we had... Till 2005.

How did it compare? Well, the acting was more convincing, for one thing! The casting couldn't have been better. Yes, the movie deviated, but in this particular film the aberrations were subtle. I could live with that. I felt like the movie more than did the book justice, and I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching the story so fantastically portrayed in all the subtle moments, more so than reading the book for the umpteenth time.

6. Breakfast at Tiffany's

This was another adaptation situation where I watched the movie completely unaware of the book, ergo I eventually decided to read the book because the movie was so enjoyable. I mean, how could you go wrong with Audrey Hepburn being her normal, classy, whimsical self? After all, she seemed nothing more than just a girl with an absurd number of boyfriends and an "in" with a mobster--but I always thought that might be because Holly Golightly was just so beautiful and she had absolutely nothing else to do...

How did it compare? Well... I quickly realized that maybe I was a little too naive to have missed so completely the true nature of the story! Of course, the book contained greater detail, so there was no missing the actual "truth" of the fact that in essence it is the story of how two prostitutes find out that they truly love each other... The book ended very differently, and I think I will just continue to enjoy the innocence afforded by the skillful filming, thank you.

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This one was fascinating to discover. I am pretty sure I read the book because I was curious about the movie. This meant I read without any preconceived notions, and when I actually watched the film, I could do so with understanding. This is one of those "unorthodox style" books that employs "text visuals" (pages with all the words run together, or only one word on a page, or a page printed over so many times it is a scribbled mess) to communicate the emotions of the narrator. The book gave me a lot of feels, but there were also some graphic sections and some parts that confused me. I watched the movie soon after.

How did it compare? I cried, plain and simple. The casting was practically perfect. A film done in third-person when the book is written in first person generally means that the character in the role of the narrator gets the most screen time—and that young boy did a phenomenal job. He really held his own; a fantastic film!

8. Peter Pan

This was and is one of my favorite fairy stories. I read it repeatedly all growing up, and I would look at picture books, watch plays... Unfortunately, for the longest time, the only versions of Peter Pan in existence were of the titular role played by a woman, or the movie "Hook" starring Robin Williams as Peter... But that didn't exactly count. I wanted to "see" him fly. I wanted it to be an actual boy... I wanted a legit fairy, not just somebody shining a flashlight against the backdrop or inside a prop. So in 2003, Columbia Pictures released a version starring a boy as Peter Pan—one of only a handful in existence.

How did it compare? Vastly better! The story itself is imaginative, if the language of the novel was a bit... antiquated? So it was lovely to see a good, solid performance from a bunch of child actors, I love this movie and it came off as better than the book, for sure!

9. The Count of Monte Cristo
Okay, I'm cheating a little on this one. I didn't actually read the book; parts of it, but not the whole thing. But honestly, everyone who's read it talks endlessly about how arduous it is, how painstaking the detail, how protracted is each and every scene—so it's almost like I know enough to compare the two.

How does it compare? Movie wins. Opting for more of a straightforward storytelling, than a laundry-list of meticulous superfluity, the movie gets at the relationship between the two men, the transformation of the Count and the way it affects that relationship. Certainly I now know the tale well enough that I don't feel the need to actually read the whole book... (unless my geek-nostalgia gets the better of me...) The acting is stellar--Hello, Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce!--and it worked really well. An adaptation that kept all the "good bits" in and told an excellent story.

10. Divergent

I read the book after Hunger Games, because I was informed that they were similar. Not completely, as I rather liked Tris more than Katniss, and I felt like the tone of it all was very different, Divergent being much lighter and more hopeful than the heavily-oppressed tone of Hunger Games. Of course, the film adaptations came out relatively close to one another, so I was most curious to see how it would turn out.

How did it compare? The movie did a great job at communicating the story, and the casting was well-chosen. (I still cannot stand the actor that played one particularly annoying character... Guess that means he did a good job!) The thing I appreciated about the adaptation for Divergent is it really gave life to even the background characters—I really got the sense that even the extras were chosen carefully. I felt like the adaptation really came off well, and did ample justice to the movie, and yes, in some ways, it was better, more succinct in its presentation.

How about you? What are some adaptations you've seen where the movie came off better and more enjoyable than the original book?