Great Expectations for Adaptations

This blog may be a bit controversial considering it will be going our to hoards of all y’all book lovers, but has anyone ever considered that sometimes… SOMETIMES… the film is better than the book?

I went to see the new Les Miserables film this weekend, and I LOVED it. I’m a huge, huge fan of the stage musical, and so I was expecting to be a little under-whelmed in comparison, but I can safely say it’s just as good – and Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ trumps anything I’ve seen on stage, just based on sheer emotional intensity. When I was 15, my school play for that year was Les Mis. I was cast as ‘Prostitute 3’ and ‘Grantaire’ (one of the students – the one that’s always drinking), and this sparked a huge obsession with everything Les Miserables related. Naturally, this lead me to try and read the original Victor Hugo book, and wow, was I let down. It’s long – REALLY long – and un-bel-iev-ab-ly slow. There are a million characters and subplots that do nothing except gum up the narrative, and worse, there is no singing! Also my two favourite characters (Enjolras and Eponine) are barely featured – but hey, there is a 30 page description of the Paris sewer system, so it’s not all lose-lose. I have no qualms in saying that not only is the stage and film adaptation better than the book, the online fan-fiction is a MILLION times better than the book. If not a little weird in places.

So, I’ve been thinking about a few more cases where (I think) the adaptation beats the original. Here’s my top three:

1) Apocalypse Now (adapted from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad)

A school book I LOATHED due to its horrendous racism and general sucky colonialist excuse-ism. I know it’s of its time, but I don’t have to like it. Pace is again an issue here, and not even the beautiful new Penguin Classics cover can convince me to give this another go. The film, however, is one of my perennial favourites.

2) The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

God I’ve tried to like this book. It should be so up my street – parties, glamour, romance, deceit, – but somehow, I prefer to see Robert Redford act out all of these things rather than have boring old Nick whinge on about how awful his fabulous lifestyle is. I’ll be very interested to see what the new adaptation is like too.

3) The Crimson Petal and The White – Michel Faber

This is a bit of a fib, as I actually also love the book, but the BBC’s recent adaptation was just stunning. It was so well done, trimming fat where fat needed trimming, without ever losing any of the story’s power, detail or momentum. I was personally VERY glad they chose to remove some of the book’s more shocking scenes, as there is definitely some things I’m happy to leave to my imagination.

4) Any and All James Bond Films – Ian Fleming

Has anyone ever read the books? Could they really be better than the movies??

And how about you — have you ever found yourself aghast after seeing a movie adaptation of a novel, either because you loved it so much or hated it completely?

12 responses to “Great Expectations for Adaptations

  1. The show of Les Miserables was not a huge success in its earliest incarnations, because of all that extraneous stuff. I’m not sure they dramatised the 30 pages of sewers, but I think it took a while to cut down to its optimum size for the stage.

    Not quite a movie, and they could certainly have left more to the imagination, but Game of Thrones is much better onscreen than in print, I reckon. No time for self indulgent lists of lords and battles – just on with the story!

    • I disagree with GoT, mainly because a) I love all the backstory and history in ASOIAF (yes, I’m a geek), which the show cuts out for obvious reasons, and b) I can stomach the torture and sexual abuse of women in the books (actually sometimes enjoy reading the gory bits), but I find that stuff much more problematic on tv, vis the Joffrey and prostitutes scene from last season, when I had to actually leave the room. I guess some things are much more powerful visually rendered than safely contained in the imagination.

      • Yes, that’s kind of what I felt about CRIMSON PETAL… there’s a fairly shocking scene involving Rackham and two child prostitutes, and I was like, actually, I don’t need to see that physically happening thanks.

        I also totally agree about the Joffey/prostitutes scene – I haven’t read that book (stupidly, I skipped ahead of the series!) so I don’t know what the scene is like as text but on screen it was one of the most disturbing moments of the series.

      • It was added to the show, as far as I recall. I try to defend the show as much as I can when it comes to the questionable content, because it’s part of the more realistic portrayal of war, but when they invent reasons to show really horrific sexual violence I usually end up rolling my eyes. I guess there is something male-gazey about the whole scene, which undermines the generally awesome feminist material coming from the books.

        LOVED Crimson Petal. Such a brilliant and moody adaptation. terrible admission: I still haven’t read the book!

    • OH Games of Thrones is a good one – and I agree. I also think a few people would suggest the Lord of the Rings for similar reasons – too many names! And thank GOD Tom Bombadil was given the axe…

  2. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a funny one. I honestly think the movie was so good because the director picked up on the ‘dancing light’ that surrounded Gatsby’s vision of his perfect love. The light in that film is just so incredible and atmospheric and because Fitzgerald was also a screenwriter, perhaps his breaking into prose describing sunlight and more in such detail was his visual/film brain in flow. I think he would have been profoundly pleased with its adaptation. One film that didn’t do the book justice – ‘Heartburn’ – with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. The book (Nora Ephron) was UNBELIEVABLY funny – laugh out loud funny. That certainly wasn’t captured in the film. I could go on – and on. But I won’t :)

  3. Disney’s version of HOLES (wow I’m highbrow) was great – or is this just me? Very true to the books, and Jon Voight and Sigourney Weaver were brilliant. It had a nice energy and feel – Shia Labeouf was pretty good too…then.

    • I’m sorry, but I can’t back you up, Olivia. The movie of Holes was too slapstick; it didn’t have the right tone for me. Yes, it was faithful to the plot, but all the magic was Disney-fied and hammed up. Shia Labeouf… pffflllggght

      • Oh no Sara! I know what you mean about the tone not being quite right, but that I think that was Disney being Disney, – and I love a bit of Disney now and again…Nothing beats HOLES the book though. Except perhaps maybeee The Cardturner.

  4. Well 2013 is not even a month old and I am still picking my way through boxes of out of date mince pies and polishing off the last can or two of the multipack cans of lager that seemed at the time of purchase such an immeasurable must have bargain in Tesco. I suppose I am not alone in this most base of pastimes, nibbling furtively at the remains of the huge boxes of biscuits and tins of cheap chocolates that still for many of us hold a final hidden temptation lurking half- forgotten and uneaten at the bottom of the tin. The nights are long and cold, the days are short and miserable, and many hours of watching pointless television have been whiled equally pointlessly away. When we should really (ahem) have taken the opportunity to hone our writing skills to razor sharp perfection. Hah! As I view my post-Christmas waistline that has, I confess got a tad larger over the annual pig-out, I have become reflective. Indeed reflective on one book, one of the greatest novels ever written. Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’. Charles Dickens one of the greatest novelists ever to put pen to paper wrote many novels, but he only wrote one ‘A Christmas Carol’. But every day over the festive season on almost all the popular television channels there was a different feature film version of the very same story. And I watched nearly all of them. It was in a word, wonderful. How the director of each film interpreted, one written version was fabulous. So many to choose from I couldn’t say which one was better than the other. Still enough of my wittering, I shall just go and check the tin of celebrations one last time.
    Stan Mills

  5. The prime example of “Movie better than book” I think is the Shawshank Redemption. The book is some strong storytelling but the movie pushes it up to another level!

    I would like to mention A Series of Unfortunate Events for its impressive compression of three very similar books into one great film.

  6. I have to make a guilty confession – i find Dickens SO MUCH easier on the screen than in the reading. Almost everytime. Keeps the brilliant names, wonderful plotting, brilliat twists and turns, but cuts out the ‘long’ bits.

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