Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Have you ever liked the movie better than the book?

I asked myself this question the other day and I think the answer is a qualified "no". I've never liked the movie version of a book more than the book itself -- though some movies, like "2001: A Space Odyssey", certainly equaled the book. When a movie breaks new cinematic ground, as 2001 did, it's difficult to balance the heft of the movie against a simple story told in words. "The Exorcist" and "Jaws" also fall into this category, where the movie is so much bigger than life that it's virtually impossible to compare to the book. This is why I vote with a "qualified" no.

The other day, regular commenter Annie mentioned reading "84, Charing Cross Road" while watching the movie, and noted that it was, line-for-line, the same as the book. I've seen that sort of fidelity in a few movie adaptations. "Rosemary's Baby" is extremely loyal to the book. Even the visuals match what is described on the page. Although I love the movie, I can't say it's better than the book. Ira Levin, the author of "Rosemary's Baby", is one of the greatest masters of the English language, as far as I'm concerned. And Roman Polanski, who directed Rosemary's Baby, is also no lightweight, making a comparison of the merit of the two works no easy task. Still, I vote for the book. It seems I always do.

You don't see this sort of page-to-screen accordance very often. If you did, it would be easier to compare book to movie. In fact, many movies are so unfaithful that they sometimes lose the very concept of the book. The movie, "A Home at the End of the World", was a major disappointment. It's ending is so unlike the book's conclusion that I was shocked. It seems they excised the meaning of the story to avoid a slightly uncomfortable ending. I don't know how Michael Cunningham, who wrote the book (and is the best writer in America today), could have allowed this to happen. In any case, the book is far superior to the movie and I believe that's always the case (with a well-written book).

There's so much more in the language of a book than there can ever be in a visual experience like a movie. Cinematography is a far less exacting thing than language because visuals are an approximation. Words, on the other hand, are precise tools with exquisitely clear meanings. For this last reason, it doesn't surprise me that I can't think of any movie that seemed better than the book. Can you?

No comments:

Post a Comment