Was the Movie as Good as the Book?

I know we've all had the experience of reading a book, and then seeing a movie based on the book, and being sorely disappointed. "That wasn't the way I pictured it at all!" we complain.

And in truth, many a book is badly adapted for film - or is just a book that doesn't do well adapting to film.

Still others fare better as movies than the original book version, and some are delightfully just what we wanted them to be.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The Lord of the Rings. The entire cycle of movies was brilliantly envisioned by director Peter Jackson. This was, in fact, one of those movies which was every bit as good as, and perhaps even a little better than, the books. While the books could drag a bit - long passages of battle descriptions, or heroic poems - the films captured the magic, and the feel of Middle Earth. The actors were well-chosen and satisfied most every fan, and with a few small exceptions (some die-hard fans objected that a couple of favorite characters were written out of the screenplay), the film version of the story was true to the essence of the books.

2. Last of the Mohicans. A tedious book, a brilliant movie. While the screenwriters took enormous liberties with the characters (even pairing Cora with Hawkeye, which never happened in the book), the original book is difficult to read, and Natty Bumpo is anything but a romantic hero. The film, on the other hand, drips romantic adventure; the scenes are lush and beautifully played, and the movie captures the passion and pathos of the early American saga.

3. The Road. A brilliant book, and equally brilliant movie. The book is spare, grey, and painful; the movie is spare, grey, and painful. The screenwriters clearly understood the book and knew just what to do to bring it to life - not an easy thing for a story that is as interior and reflective as this one.

4. Harry Potter. Another deservedly-applauded adaptation. The characters came to life much as we'd pictured them (with the possible exception of Hermione's being a bit prettier than I'd imagined her to be), and the Hogwart's of film was as magical and special as the Hogwart's of the book. Harry himself was ideally cast, and the emphasis of the films struck just the right note, taking very long and detailed books and including what needed to be included, and leaving out what could be left out.

5. Emma. There have been many versions of Jane Austen's classic, of course, but in this case I'm referring to Gwyneth Paltrow's outing as the "clueless" heiress with a heart of gold. Her developing maturity, her relationship with her family and friends, and in particular her blossoming love affair with Mr. Darcy captures all the wit and charm of the book we love to read - over and over and over.

6. The Shining. Here is an adaptation in which the film varied significantly from the book, yet I felt captured the spirit of the book perfectly. Stephen King's roller coaster ride of horror takes the reader from laughter to terror, as does Stanley Kubrick's film version. Where the book had Jack in the basement descending into madness, the movie had the iconic scene of the two little girls in the hallway, standing in dumb stillness in an image that still scares me when I think about it.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird. Ok, is Gregory Peck Atticus Finch, or was Atticus Finch Gregory Peck? Either way, the book and the movie were mirror images - the wonderful descriptions of Harper Lee, such as that of the ladies of Macomb Country being like tea cakes of sweat and sweet talcum, translated into stunning visuals, beautiful acting, and a movie that, like the book, will live on in our memories forever.

8. Rosemary's Baby. Here is another adaptation that brilliantly captures the essence of the book. The book's horror derives from the mundanity of most of the events: Rosemary makes cushions for the window seats. Rosemary has a party. Rosemary goes to her obstetrician appointment on a hot summer day. And underneath it all is the suspicion, the wrongness, that she can't quite identify and tries to refuse to believe up to and including the last moment when she, desperate to be a mother, comforts the child of Satan.

9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This is another book that is perhaps hard to adapt since much of its brilliance is in the insane interior world of its characters. Yet Milos Forman makes Ken Kesey's novel come to life, giving real life even to such possibly stock characters as Nurse Ratched.

10. Rebecca. I loved Daphne du Maurier's book, with its hinted at lesbianism, its growing sense of menace, our heroine's gradual development from school girl to full womanhood, and the eventual discover of Maxim's crime that was not a crime. The movie version stayed true to du Maurier's British reserve, the slow unraveling of the clues and all of the complexities of the various characters. Another book I read again and again, and movie I watch over and over.


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