Friday, May 3, 2013

The Book Was Better

"Books are always better than the movie versions."

That is the common wisdom.

But, is it always true?

Let's break this down.

Since the beginning of cinema, books have been a source for movie adaptations.

All the way back to the silent days.

Charles Ogle, the son of an Ohio minister, played The Monster in the Thomas Edison produced "Frankenstein," and in the same year (1910) played Bob Cratchit in the first film adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." In 1920, he played Long John Silver in "Treasure Island."

German actor Max Shreck played Graf Orlok in "Nosferatu," a film that was an end-run around copyright laws, that was in no way a blatant rip-off of the novel "Dracula."

And, of course, Lon Chaney starred in adaptations of the French novels, "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." 

Cinema was in its infancy, so, as classic as these silent films are...

The books were better.

F. Scott Fitzgerald hated the first, silent adaptation of "The Great Gatsby."

And, he was probably justified.

Later, during the "Golden Age" of Hollywood...

Humphrey Bogart starred in "The Maltese Falcon" and other films based on the pulp fiction of Dashielle Hammett.

Which was better?

Book or movie?

Probably a draw.

If "Gone With the Wind" had been published and produced today, Rhett Butler would have been portrayed by Fabio.

No! Wait! That would have been the '90s.

Produced today, Ashley, Scarlett and Rhett would probably have looked like this.

The book wins this one. But, probably not by much.

"The Wizard of Oz" is considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

But, compared to the book it was based on, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the film jettisoned substance, plot, and the entire second half of the novel, in favor of style.

Okay, The Blog is starting to ramble and could continue to give examples, pro and con, all night.

So, to the point...

This is a subject that The PC has pontificated on to anyone who would listen, for years.

Most movies are not as good as the books that they were based on.

They just aren't.

But, there are two contemporary movies, based on contemporary novels, (and by "contemporary" I mean, "from the last 30 years," because, when you are The PC's age, the last 30 years are contemporary,) that are so far superior to the novels they were based on that it is almost freaky.

And, those two movies share something in common.

The movies are...

                                                         "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

                                                                      "Forrest Gump."

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was based on the cult fave novel, "Who Censored Roger Rabbit."

The novel is weird and trippy. Kind of cool, but in it's original form, impossible to adapt to film.

The Disney executive who optioned the novel probably should have been fired. (And, knowing how Hollywood works, probably was.)

The film disposed of the entire plot, saved a couple of the characters (if in name only,) changed the "toons" from comic strip characters to animated and moved the story from present day to the 1930s.

The result was one of the best movies of the 1980s.

                                                      And then, there was "Forrest Gump."

Hands down, the worst novel The Blog has ever read. So bad that when "Gump" author Winston Groom published a sequel, "Gump & Co." The Blog read it just to be sure that the first one wasn't just an anomaly. 

(it wasn't.)

The novel reads like it was written by a not very talented high school student.

The main characters are broad and cartoonish.

The novel's heroes, Forrest and Bubba Blue are a couple of racist, redneck, shit kicking bohunks. The villains (Richard Nixon, for example) would be twirling their mustaches, if they had them, while contemplating their EEVILE deeds. The episodic adventures strained the concept of "suspension of disbelief."

The movie retained the episodic format, reinvented Forrest as a likable, educable retarded savant, changed Bubba's race to African-American (which would have seriously pissed off the novel's white supremacist Bubba,) and gave us a plot that, while wacky and kind of out there, we, the viewers, could relate to.

And then, there were the "Gumpisms."

We all know that the first line of the movie is the eminently quotable, "Momma always said, 'Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

So much better than the novel's opening line...

"Life is no box of chocolates. Let me tell you that!"


Is it any wonder that, when the movie won the Oscar™ for Best Picture, no one thanked the novel's author?

So, there you have it.

Two movies that are far better than the book.

Oh. Right.

I mentioned earlier that these two films shared something in common.

Both were directed by Robert "Back to the Future" Zemeckis.



In case you think that this is a love letter to Robert Z...

The Blog will, in the interest of fairness...

...point out that Zemeckis also directed one of the worst print to film adaptations of all time...

                                                               "Howard the Duck."

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