Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Books and Movies

Frederica Mathewes-Green (A sometimes-contributor to Touchstone Magazine) has produced a list of movies which she considers better than the books on which they were based. You can see her article here. I will list her top ten, but definitely hop over to her article which expounds on her rationale.

1. Gone with the Wind
2. The Godfather
3. The Wizard of Oz
4. The Princess Bride
5. Jaws
6. Forrest Gump
7. Blade Runner
8. The Lord of the Rings (series)
9. Harry Potter (series)
10. Adaptation

Indeed, I agree with her on the top 7. (And I haven't seen or read #10.) I've seen the movies and I've read the books. I might quibble with #4, because the book was written not merely as a novel. But the movie stands on its own quite well, so I won't quibble too much!

Ah, but the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I take decided umbrage with that (no pun intended!) Say what you will about the Potter series, but the movies cannot - by the simple expedient that you cannot fit all the details of a 900 page novel into a 2-hour film - match the depth and breadth of the books. Regardless of whether you think Harry Potter is a load of tripe or deeply meaningful or merely a smashing story, the books have the value of detail and character building and so much else that you cannot capture on screen.

The same is true, though even more potently, with the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson turned out a beautiful series of films, but some of the glaring omissions, additions and horrible changes to characters and events make the movies pale by comparison. I could talk about the revision of Faramir's character, or the weakness of Elijah Wood's Frodo, or the reduction of Saruman's insidiousness in his destruction of the Shire. And yes, I could also talk about the stunning music and scenery that brings Middle Earth to brilliant, shining life and the tremendous fearfulness of the portrayal of the orcs, but the positives here just cannot outweigh the negatives.

But since the topic has been dealt with admirably in her article, I have a poser of my own: Are there any books out there - written after the movie was released - that can hold up as a story on their own? Admittedly, most novelizations are dry and boring, and only enjoyable if you like to re-live the screenplay in print rather than, well, on-screen. There have been some notable exceptions, though. I'm thinking here of Orson Scott Card's stunning novelization of the blockbuster movie The Abyss. Card brings to life the backstory, this history, of the main characters: Bud, Lindsey, Coffey, and the NTIs themselves. Coffey is not a mere villian, so after reading his story you become sympathetic to his plight deep underwater. You have a deeper understanding of what make Bud and Lindsey tick, and their interactions become more clear and understandable. Especially, though, you learn about the NTIs, where they came from and why they decide to "interfere" with the events on the surface. (And despite the additions in the director's cut, that is still quite vague in the movie version!) Did you like the movie? The definitely hope over to your local library and check out the book!

So, any other nominations for the (presumably short) list?

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