Booking Through Thursday – Books into Movies

This week’s questions:

1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
2. The worst?
3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)

And, by all means, expand this to as long a list as you like. I’m notoriously awful myself at narrowing down to one favorite ANYTHING. So, feel free to list as many “good” or “bad” movie-from-books as you like.

Now, this is a topic guaranteed to provoke debate!

1) My (probably) controversial pick: The Lord of the Rings – taking the trilogy as a whole, and the expanded DVD versions. I had read two of the three books in college, but never made it all the way through The Return of the King. I ended up finally finishing that one when I tackled all three as a reading project during the break between the second and third films. I know that some characters and incidents got dropped completely from the movies, some characters were expanded (Arwen), and some were cut back, but the overall story was faithfully conveyed. The movies stand on their own as great film-making, and I honestly didn’t enjoy Tolkien’s writing all that much (please don’t hurt me!). It also seems to me that battle scenes are better conveyed visually, and I find the story more emotionally moving to watch than to read.

I frequently forget that my favorite movie, The Princess Bride, is also a book adaptation, and I think it’s a very good one as well, even though the backstory is changed a lot. Since the screenwriter, William Goldman, was adapting his own novel, though, I think you have to respect his choices about what varies between the two versions.

One adaptation that I was nervous about was Wonder Boys, since I love Michael Chabon and think he’s one of this generation’s best writers, but I like it a lot. Again, some things were cut, and the ending is a lot cleaner in the movie, but the bittersweet humor of this story’s “lost weekend” is conveyed very well, and the casting and acting are good.

2) As someone else mentioned, I try to block these from my mind, so right now I can’t really come up with an answer to this one. But sometimes it seems to me that not-very-good books survive the translation into movies better, since the expectations are a lot lower – and my answers to #1 are exceptions to that, of course.

3) Most of the time I like the book better – The Lord of the Rings being an exception, again – and interestingly enough, that tends to be true for me even if I saw the movie first. I think that’s because I like the glimpses into the internal lives of the characters and other parts of backstory that don’t translate so well to film.

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  1. LOTR – good choice. But nothing can beat the BBC Pride and Prejudice that came out in 1995. Sigh.

    One of the worst adaptations ever made was the third Anne of Green Gables movie, which was horrific. But it wasn’t actually an adaptation of a book – just a completely new story that happened to feature Anne and Gilbert behaving completely out of character.