Can a movie be better than the book it was based on? I am initially taking a disorganized approach to playing catch up. This was topic #190 (from a couple of weeks ago).
Generally I believe the book is better than the movie. Obviously, there really is no way to get everything that is in the book into the movie. The screenplay writer/adapter determines the focus and the important parts of the story. The viewer that has not read the book only has the screenwriter’s view to go on. An example of this is in Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara is depicted as a shallow, selfish, flirty, vapid fool. While she is certainly that at certain times in the book, she is also the pillar of strength for a whole lot of people in very trying circumstances.
That is not to say I didn’t love the movie as much as I loved the book. There was no way to do justice to the book completely. That is from the viewpoint of a major bookaphile (me :–) .
A counterpoint to my argument lies in the Lord of the Rings series. I must explain that I am NOT a fan of fantasy literature. For whatever reason, I get tripped up by the odd names and creatures, and get confused. perhaps if I drew out the character trees like I used to when reading the great Russian novelists’ books it would be different. But the Lord of the Rings books just didn’t capture my heart or attention. I don’t think i finished the trilogy. However, the movies were a bit hit with me. So, this is an example of where the movies were better (for me) than the books they were based upon.
Here is my final example. One of my favorite novels of all times was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I absolutely loved this book. I love a long book. I love a wordy, descriptive writer. I loved how he developed and deepened his characters. The movie (with Henry Fonda) was every bit as good, hauntingly, achingly good, as the book. If you have read the book, and seen the movie, I would bet you will never forget his “I’ll be there” soliloquoy. The movie was every bit as good as the book—but I always advise folks to read that book first—because it is so terrific.
Final examples of a movie being as good (or perhaps better) than the book are Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew [and movie with Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor] and Romeo and Juliet [with Olivia Hussey]. in these cases they (as i recall) used his play word-for-word. But the acting and directing make the language and idioms more accessible. For many, it is difficult to read Shakespeare—but once you struggle through reading it yourself, seeing these movies is a delight.
So there you have it. Can a movie be better than the book it was based on? Yes in the case of a great movie based on a book you either didn’t like or struggled mightily to understand. In the case of a book you loved—it can be as good but cannot possibly contain everything in the book. If the film was well done, that part doesn’t matter.