Question of the Week: Book or movie?

As a reader and as a writer, I’m supposed to say the book is always better. But that’s not always true, is it?

Even Chuck Palaniuk has said that David Fincher’s film version of Fight Club¬†(adapted by Jim Uhls) is superior to the novel, and many will argue that the same is true of Jonathan Demme’s version of Thomas Harris’s novel¬†The Silence of the Lambs.

Sometimes a film is better in some ways than the novel; I’m thinking particularly of Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient, which introduces a visual mystery not possible in Michael Ondaatje’s novel. You could make a similar case for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, although expect some heavy fire from J.R.R. Tolkien purists if you do.

Much as I admire Elmore Leonard’s fiction, I think the writers of Justified have exceeded his achievement with the expansion of his story “Fire in the Hole” into the TV series. Of course, they’ve done that in large part by consulting with Leonard and remaining as true as possible to his sensibility and style.

What other films and television shows exceed their literary origins in part or in whole? What are some ways in which the adaptation has fallen short of the original, and what would you have done to avoid that pitfall?




4 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Book or movie?

  1. I do think that in some respects Jackson did improve upon the books primarily in making the fight and action scenes much more dramatic and exciting. He also flushed out some characters that were just names on a page, like Bard and Arwen, that needed to be, especially in a movie. What I didn’t like was that what made Tolkien magical was the epicness and history behind every word which was lost on the translation to film.

    In an odd case of liking book over film, since the film came first are the adaptions of the Star Wars prequels. In the books, you really get a sense of the story that Lucas wanted to tell, but just wasn’t able to accomplish on screen.

  2. The Hunger Games is an interesting one. I thought the first book was a fun popcorn read and the second book was weighed down by too much teenage love triangle and I was unable to finish. The movies, however, were inverse. The first Hunger Games movie was kind of dull and missed a lot of the world building that made the books and the games so interesting. The second movie was fantastic and seemed to make up for the failings of the first movie while also improving the second book.

    • My wife has read the books, and I mostly haven’t. (I read a few chapters and thought the writing was better than I’d expected, but then I decided to see the movies as cold as possible.) We both preferred the second film to the first, by a large degree. I haven’t asked her whether she prefers the books to the movies yet, but tonight I shall.

  3. The movie Stardust is pure fun. While the book is one of my favorite books, I felt that the movie was amazing in its own right.

    I also enjoyed Disney’s Treasure Planet. I know it bombed big time at the box office, but I find it to be one of their most underrated animated movie of all time. It has heart, and a wonderful feel of adventure. I read Treasure Island too long ago as a kid to be able to compare it, but I don’t recall getting the same feel of adventure as I did from watching that movie. Blasphemous, I know.

    Never read Fire in the Hole, but I’m a fan of Justified. Wasn’t too happy with season 3, though the last season was slightly better. Here’s hoping season 5 is much better.

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