8 Movie Adaptations that Were Actually Better than the Book

June 29, 2010 at 1:00 am (Uncategorized)

No, it doesn’t happen often. Nine times out of ten, what makes a book richer, deeper, and more satisfying than a movie is the same thing that makes a creaky door scarier than an axe-wielding figure in a horror flick: the imagination is much more powerful than the eye.

Every once in a blue moon, however, a movie adaptation comes along that’s better than the original. Whether this happens because the film was executed masterfully or because the original really needed work… well, that’s for you to decide.

In chronological order, here are eight great flicks that are better than the works they’re based on:

1. Dorothy, Get Your Gun

Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (1900)

What the Children’s Novel Offered:

  • A creative, engaging story that, according to some interpretations, may be an elaborate allegory about the Populist Party’s efforts to take the US off the gold standard. Or, you know, a children’s book.

What the Movie Added:

  • Judy Garland. Seriously, her two-minute performance of “Over the Rainbow” is one of the most important moments in film history – and that’s before she even leaves the farm.
  • Ruby slippers. Sorry, L. Frank Baum, but your silver slippers from the novel are sooo 1900.
  • A not-so-subtle smack upside the head for a war-wary American public. In 1939, war was already spilling over the borders of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The US, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, remained largely isolationist at the time.
    If you buy this interpretation, the film’s impeccably timed message is powerful: it’s time to leave the safety of Kansas, meet your allies on a journey through a foreign land, and fight the Wicked Witches, East and West. Does this interpretation surprise you? Check out this WWII timeline and share your thoughts in the comments. The really fun part of this theory: which countries are represented by the main characters?

2. Actually, Nobody Really Comes to Rick’s

Movie: Casablanca (1942)

Based on: Everybody Comes to Rick’s, by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison (1941)

What the Play Offered:

  • A good kernel. Although Murray Burnett’s conception of the play was amateurish, the idea of an American ex-pat running a café in an exotic locale – with an anti-Nazi subplot to boot – made it both marketable and relevant in its day.

What the Movie Added:

  • A much better name. Everybody Comes to Rick’s must either have been a working title or the basis for a CBS sitcom that was way ahead if its time.
  • A more expansive set. The original – which also takes place in Morocco – unfolds almost exclusively inside a cafe, which kind of downplays that whole cross-continental-Nazi-pursuit thing.
  • A wonderfully fleshed-out story. After fifty years of insisting that the play was a rich, fully-developed work that deserved to be shown in its own right, Burnett finally got permission to produce it in 1991. Despite being associated with the Casablanca name, it closed after just one month.

3. E, F, Gee!

Movie: Jaws (1975)

Based on: Jaws, by Peter Benchley (1974)

What the Novel Offered:

  • A real-world villain. By virtue of actually existing, sharks have the power to influence your life outside the theater (e.g. where you choose to skinny dip / chunky dunk). Going to Tokyo probably won’t put you on red alert for Godzilla, but we bet you’ll be watching for fins when you go to the beach.

What the Movie Added:

  • The most ambitious special effects of their time. Although Spielberg’s mechanical sharks look kind of… mechanical in retrospect, this big-budget flick permanently raised the bar for movie effects while changing movie blockbusters from a winter into a summer phenomenon.
  • The musical notes E and F. In that order. Repeated over and over at an increasing pace. Without them, Jaws might just be a story about a large fish.

4. The “Good Parts” Version

Movie: The Princess Bride (1987)

Based on: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (1973)

What the Novel Offered:

  • Awesome characters, great dialogue, and whimsy. So much whimsy, in fact, that Goldman pretends his novel is a redaction of an older, stuffier book, makes constant observations about the “original,” and then calls his “the ‘good parts’ version.”
  • A line so quotable it needs no introduction: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

What the Movie Eliminated:

  • Most of the narrative presence. Reading the novel is like watching a movie with the director’s commentary on: the play-by-play is interesting, but sometimes, you just want to get to the dang story already. (That being said, the Princess Bride DVD is also available with, what else, the director’s commentary.)

5. Pressure and Time

Movie: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Based on: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King (1982)

What the Novella Offered:

  • An all-around great story. The plot is slow and deep, but surprisingly full of adventure. Which isn’t bad, considering about twenty years of it go by in rooms you could count on one hand.

What the Movie Added:

  • A slightly better title. Admittedly, going to see an epic-sounding film about “redemption” sounds like a lot more work than going to one about, say, “transformers,” but at least they got the “Rita Hayworth and” out of there.
  • Time. If form is supposed to reflect content, it seems counter-intuitive to write a quick novella about the agonizing passage of two back-to-back life sentences. The movie, on the other hand, lets the story grow on you. So slowly, in fact, that it originally flopped at the box office – only to crawl through the ranks as an all-time favorite in the years following. Redemption: accomplished.

6. Forrest, Jenny. Peas, Carrots. Tom Hanks, Oscars.

Movie: Forrest Gump (1994)

Based on: Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom (1986)

What the Novel Offered:

  • A sympathetic protagonist as the vessel for a twentieth century US history lesson at break-neck speed. You might think of the novel as the literary granddaddy to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Through what appears to be dumb luck, Forrest shows up at more important historical events than Christopher Walken does films, making him a great “everyman” character for the twentieth century.

What the Movie Eliminated:

  • Some of the more absurd plot points. If you cringed when Forrest’s mud-covered face left a perfect smiley on the yellow t-shirt, just be glad they left out the part of the novel where Forrest is stranded on an island populated by a tribe of cannibals.

7. Love Bites

Movie: Twilight (2008)

Based on: Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer (2005)

What the Novel Offered:

  • A new take on vampires, an intriguing male lead, and sexual tension you could cut with a stake.
  • A genuine understanding of teens. For better or worse, Meyer knows what makes hordes of them tick. And sigh, palpitate, gasp, and tremble.

What the Movie Eliminated:

  • The writing. Stephenie Meyer has imagination, but let’s face it: as far as great monster lit goes, this isn’t Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
  • The first Twilight film lets us indulge in the fantasy / eye candy without getting distracted by the technique.

8. Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean They’re Not After You

Movie: Angels & Demons (2009)

Based on: Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown (2000)

What the Book Offered:

  • The classic Dan Brown plot path, which takes you to awesome locales, ties in with history, and gives the more paranoid among us some conspiracy theory for thought.

What the Movie Added:

  • Great pace. This is something few films succeed in achieving, let alone film adaptations of rushed action novels.
  • A more plausible ending. We won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the movie’s final action sequence goes lighter on the “Die-Hard” and heavier on the “humanly possible” than the book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: