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I just finished reading Du Maurier's The Scapegoat and naturally had to rewatch the movie. This was a movie I had long since loved and read the book long after the fact. I was quite impressed at the adaptation and the way it condensed the book. There is a lot more detail in the book of course, but it was an intelligent adaptation.

 

This led me to start a conversation on the common issue of movies based on books. Sometimes the book is just as good as the movie, as is THE SCAPEGOAT (IMHO), as previously mentioned, and, I think, both THE PRINCESS BRIDE and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Sometimes the book is so much better it's not even funny, such as, IMHO, every single film version of HUCKLEBERRY FINN. And sometimes the film is a lot better than the book, such as (again, my opinion) MARY POPPINS and WIZARD OF OZ (not that the books are bad, but the films are better).

 

Why is this? What other examples come to mind? Ever been disappointed in a movie because the book was so great, or vice versa? Discuss.

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So far as I have been reading, I am really enjoying Rebecca, Du Maurier's classic.  The movie makes some sequences more prominent and, of course shortens some adventures of our unnamed heroine. But it is staying pretty true so far.  I must admit I have not reached the novel's conclusion, and I won't go into that, but I have found movie's that end like the novel sometimes disappoint me.  Maybe a little too much falling action after the climax. The movie has always been a favorite, and I will report if there is that great a departure.

 

Jane Eyre is one that seems to have been pretty faithfully done through the years. Loved the novel, but also loved the movie versions, the 1943 version is still my favorite. The characters ring true to me.

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So far as I have been reading, I am really enjoying Rebecca, Du Maurier's classic.  The movie makes some sequences more prominent and, of course shortens some adventures of our unnamed heroine. But it is staying pretty true so far.  I must admit I have not reached the novel's conclusion, and I won't go into that, but I have found movie's that end like the novel sometimes disappoint me.  Maybe a little too much falling action after the climax. The movie has always been a favorite, and I will report if there is that great a departure.

 

Jane Eyre is one that seems to have been pretty faithfully done through the years. Loved the novel, but also loved the movie versions, the 1943 version is still my favorite. The characters ring true to me.

 

Why on Earth are you posting in Courier?

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It's never been my experience that any movie has been better than the book (when the movie is an adaptation of the book), though I admit I've never read Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz so I might agree there if I had. I can imagine that books for children in particular would have the best chance of being improved through the visualization of the movie.

 

Whenever I've watched a movie after having read the book, especially if it's not long after, the movie has never been better (to me). But after enough years have passed since the reading, usually a decade or two, I find I can then appreciate the movie adaptation a little more.

 

Only one movie (that I can recall at the moment) was every bit as good - and possibly even better - than the book. That was Lewis Milestone's 'Of Mice and Men' (1939).

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I think that often the problem with movie versions of well-known books, was censorship. Now, I'not talking about "dirty" books, but those that dealt with mature themes. The studios would buy the rights, but then water the story down so not to attract the wrath of the production code, the Catholic Legion of Decency or local censors. One of my favorite books is Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn", and Elia Kazan certainly did a great job with the movie version, but anyone who's read the book knows that there were deletions and changes.  The example of "Huckleberry Finn" is another one, I don't think anyone has ever made a film version that was true to the book, because it deals with racial issues.

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Cape Fear (original!!!)

The film was based on the novel The Executioners by John D. McDonald (highly regarded for his Travis McGee detective series).

The book is not about two men facing off against one another. It's actually about the lawyer and his wife. The Max Cady villain character only appears once, very briefly.

 

S

 

P

 

O

 

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L

 

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R

 

S

 

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And the book has virtually no action. It consists almost entirely of conversations between the lawyer and wife discussing what they should do. Even the big climax when Cady is killed happens "off screen", and the couple then goes to the scene to see what happened.

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My favorite film as a young kid was Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959). I liked it so much I read the novel by Jules Verne, which I found to be pretty boring, Maybe it was my age -- single digits. But I missed all the characters who were added for the movie. It seemed so much more alive than the book.

 

Many years later, E.M. Forster's A Passage to India became one of my favorite novels. I was concerned when I heard that David Lean was going to film it.  I need not have been. Even when the film strays from the facts of the novel, it so beautifully captures the spirit. I saw it at the Ziegfeld Theater in NYC and wanted to get up and shout with joy at some of the scenes, they so perfectly capture Forster's vision and the mystery of the novel. I think A Passage to India is David Lean's masterpiece, better than Lawrence of Arabia.

 

One specific example:  The scene with Judy Davis on the witness stand, intercut with the scene of Peggy Ashcroft being buried at sea. The moment the coffin enters the water, Davis suddenly attains a grace which makes her change her testimony. 

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The movie The Razor's Edge was highly recommended to me but I was a little hesitant to watch it.  The book is one of my all-time favorites and I thought maybe the movie would be a letdown...  I have to say that I loved Power and Tierney in this film, and in fact all of the roles were wonderfully cast (Anne Baxter, Herbert Marshall, Clifton Webb...).  The only part I felt was contrived was Power's time in India.  I'll always be partial to the book, I think, but I definitely recommend the movie, too.

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My personal opinion is....

 

The biggest problem with trying to convert a book into a movie is because a book contains so much material, it takes many hours to read, while a movie takes only one to four hours to watch.

 

We can watch GONE WITH THE WIND in 3 1/2 hours, but we can’t read the whole book in 3 1/2 hours.

 

So, this means there is usually more stuff in books than in movies based on them. Other than the fact that we can see things in movies that have to be described in words in a book, which helps cut down the time-length of a book, but still, a movie is almost always a very very short version of any book.

 

This is the problem Von Stroheim ran into when he tried to film every page of the book GREED. He wound up with about an 8 hour movie, and no one wants to watch an 8 hour movie, while plenty of people will gladly enjoy many hours of reading a thick book.

 

About the only movie/book I ever watched and then read was Faulkner’s Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun, which were both combined in the 1 1/2 hour movie, SANCTUARY. Well, in that case, the movie was less than nothing, while the two books had a lot of stuff in them. :)

 

On the other hand, if we watch THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE, which is based on the book SANCTUARY, and if we watch it without ever reading the book, then we get a pretty good story from the movie, and we don’t notice the stuff missing from the book. But in this case we must be honest and say this movie is simply “based on the book” and is NOT a filmed version of the book. It just takes a few highlights from the book and leaves out 95% of the rest of the book, which is ok for a movie to do, if it is a very good movie, such as REBECCA.

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The Da Vinci Code was a great great read but the movie was very average.  The Shining was an awesomely scary King novel that was rather tough to read alone and at night decades ago for me but the movie I thought was pretty average and sometimes silly compared to the mind-bending novel.  The horror theater of the mind is very very often much more terrifying than the silver screen especially with a psycho mind like Stephen King.  The terrific novels of Ann Rice that were adapted for the silver screen were much much better reads IMO.  Silence of the Lambs was a terrifying novel that WAS equaled by the absolutely riveting movie.

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Fred makes a good point about why it is hard for the movie to be as good as the book. You just can't get all of a book in a movie.

 

Two books I read, and later saw the films are Little Big Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Both did a very good job of portraying what was in the book, but could not surpass the book. 

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I've mentioned this stuff before.  Yes, it's difficult to adapt a good book into a movie, especially if the book is a long one.  There often IS more going on in a book than can be put on screen in a timely and fiscally prudent manner.  Which is why the film version of "Sometimes A Great Notion" fails miserably for me.

 

In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, there's a lot left out that was in the book, but the HEART of the story was kept intact, and that's why IT worked.

 

But there are some movies adapted from books that were better than said book.  THE NATURAL is one good example.  So is THE SILENT PARTNER, a movie adapted from a book titled "Think of A Number" by Anders Bodelson.  FORREST GUMP fits this category, too.  The film adaptations of these are FAR different stories than the book offered.  But still about the story itself.

 

It must have been a point of consternation for screenwriters adapting a novel for a film treatment to decide just how much of the book to put in the screenplay that will please the money conscious producers, and still be recognizable as the book.  Many books turned into movies would have fared better if a "mini-series" treatment were possible.  Still others, such as the aforementioned "Silent Partner", give the root of a compelling story that, once adapted for a contemporary audience, can much be improved upon.

 

In the case of THE GODFATHER, it seemed to me, after finally reading the book some years after seeing the movies, the book was split up by the writers.  The novel is actually both PTs 1 and 2 rolled onto a single entity, and split up for the two films.  And, like in most movie adaptations, there were some characters in the book that never made it to the screen.

 

It's an interesting topic, and good examples of either the "better" or "worse" side abound.

 

Sepiatone

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I think i've cited this one when the subject came up once before, but I thought "High Fidelity" was better than the Nick Hornby novel, largely due to the perfect casting (John Cusack, Jack Black, etc.)

 

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" was more compelling than the Dorothy Johnson short story.

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I hope this is not obnoxiously rambling. My excuse is that I am not fully awake and there are only non-caffeinated drinks here at the moment.

 

I have been told that science fiction generally translates well to the screen because nuts and bolts are easy to depict and so descriptions in the novel become background. The action of most science fiction novels is minimal so it is easy also to depict most within the time allowed.  The thrust of most science fiction novels is reactions to and adaptation of technology and these can be effectively compressed into time allowed.

 

I have been told that fantasy generally is easy or impossible to present well. An imaginative reader and a wonderfully-written novel create a unique world which can never be duplicated on screen because no one else's mental images of that world will be the same. An average reader and a flatly-written novel generate a largely generic world which can be adapted into a movie with ease. I have been told that there can be no quantifiable rules for whether a screen adaptation will work because the degree with which each reader connects to the novel is unique. It has been my experience that those who truly and deeply love: The Lord of the Rings trilogy detest the movies because they do not present that world as that reader has lived within it. My primary complaint with the movies is that the Orcs in them are cute and cuddly when compared to their literary counterparts.

 

I believe that some novels can never be truly represented on screen because they are so very vast that even if the movie ran for seventeen-hundred hours the limitation that the screen is of fixed size will detract significantly from the story. An example of this is: Duma's The Count of Monte Cristo in that there are many scenes which must be experienced holographically. This is possible to do when reading it  It is not possible to do with a flat projection.

 

I have been told a rule which I believe is insightful: if you can read the novel in increments of ten pages a night then you will prefer the movie. If you mean to read ten pages and then realize that the sun is rising and you are disappointed because you are halfway only through the novel then you will prefer the novel to the movie.

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The movie The Razor's Edge was highly recommended to me but I was a little hesitant to watch it.  The book is one of my all-time favorites and I thought maybe the movie would be a letdown...  I have to say that I loved Power and Tierney in this film, and in fact all of the roles were wonderfully cast (Anne Baxter, Herbert Marshall, Clifton Webb...).  The only part I felt was contrived was Power's time in India.  I'll always be partial to the book, I think, but I definitely recommend the movie, too.

 

When a book is about the search for inner peace making a movie out of said book can be difficult,  but the Razor's Edge does a good job.    I agree with you about the scenes in India but again, pulling off the right vibe isn't easy.   Movies are better at showing action and the search for inner peace just doesn't fit that.   e.g. showing a guy meditating isn't good for the box office!

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The Godfather is certainly better than the book, as is (as I've posted) the original Cape Fear.

 

You said a mouthful. Puzo's book paled to the magnificence of the movie (with the exception of Part 3, of course). Part 2 (and Part 1) was recently shown on a pay channel with the De Niro flashbacks intertwined with the Pacino scenes, and it was far better than the VHS.

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It all depends on the book- a literary novel is much harder to do as a movie than popular fiction like "Jaws" or " The Exorcist" .   They keep trying to do "The Great Gatsby" one of my all time favorite books and it just never seems to work- yes they can spend a fortune recreating the period but fail with the heart and sould of the novel. In the last version Gatsby had more bromantic chemistry with Nick Carrway than with his great love Daisy.

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They keep trying to do "The Great Gatsby" one of my all time favorite books and it just never seems to work- yes they can spend a fortune recreating the period but fail with the heart and sould of the novel. In the last version Gatsby had more bromantic chemistry with Nick Carrway than with his great love Daisy.

I think I was alone in my Lit class preferring Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night to his Gatsby. I'd like to see a good film of Tender Is the Night.

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Whoa, Cape Fear is a book? I'll have to read that one!

 

I think it's pretty true that it depends on the book on the one hand, and on the other it depends who's making it. For example I think LOTR seemed unadaptable til Peter Jackson made it, and he couldn't have without his great love of the books. And although the 1930s DAVID COPPERFIELD is increidbly condensed, I think they do a great job, and that's partly because the filmmaker wanted to make it as a fan of the book. Some people adapt books because it's popular or it's a job, and sometimes you can really tell.

 

And although it's two different mediums, sometimes a movie can be more efficient because you can say several pages worth with one single shot. Yet sometimes the narration is part of the fun, as it usually is with Dickens.

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