Ah the eternal question. Is the book always better? I say, well it depends. I think a lot of people say the book is always better because there is a ton of fucking shitty adapations out there. Sometimes, the adaptation puts a new light or can go a bit further than the book. To help break this down, I often think there are three types of book to film adapations. And each has the potential of being good or terrible. So, we will look at an example of each. Got all that? K, lets go.
1. Books that have no business being movies – Either they are too long. Too complicated. Or too dependent on the nature of prose to be adapted well. You see anyone trying to adapt Gravity’s Rainbow. I feel like this is the easiest one to completely fuck up. For example:
This movie is dogshit.
But, the book is this really compelling journey through a fever dream of fantastic worlds and characters. And they just cant seem to execute it right. Probably because the Wachowski’s are too busy making their points to actually make a really good adaption. As a result, Cloud Atlas the film meanders through material that is as fucking complicated as a 20 min Rush song.
Now lets look at a overly complicated book adapted well:
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a needlessly complicated novel that encourages the reader to join in on the author’s hot takes on the ennui of English life in the 1700s. Its already impossible to find a narrative line through the story, so how the hell do you adapt it. By making a film about a book thats impossible to adapt. And A Cock and Bull Story does this amazingly. Somehow hitting the same notes as the Tristram Shandy novel, while making the specific point of how hard it is to adapt. Sometimes you have to make that lateral move through the source material to get at something gold.
2. Books that seem like it would be easy to make a film adapation of – I feel like this is the most common category. Usually, when people talk about the book being better, this is what they are referring to. Lets go with something recent here.
A great little book. A terrible fucking movie. They took something that was simple, and made it into something needlessly bombastic. Its such a short quick read, its a wonder why The Giver (film) has to be so fucking shitty. Seems like it would be easy to adapt. Yet people decide they want to take their own spin on it.
But, again, that door swings both ways.
When i praise the potential of the book to film adaptation. I always point to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The novel is incredible. The film is incredible. And its almost an in-tandem experience. Things dont necessarily happen the exact same way in the film as they do in the book. But that change isnt necessarily a negative to either. The performances, score and cinematography, build on the world that this beautiful prose has. Its hard for me to think of one without the other. If I were teaching a class on film adaptation, this is would be my centerpiece. The high water mark.
3. When the film adds more stuff from the book – For one reason or another, a film adaption will sometimes go a bit further or in a different direction than the book did. Again, this can go both ways. Lets look at my least favorite book adaption of recent times.
Why? Why the fuck did they do this? The Hobbit is a great little story, and it most definitely not the Lord of the Rings. Why did you have to try to make one into the other? I still say there is a good Hobbit adaptation buried in there. And maybe someone will edit that some day. But for now we have six hours of fucking movies to tell a fucking 310 page story. You dont need to bloat everything out. This is a shitty adaptation because they made a compelling quick read fucking boring. Filled with characters no one gives a shit about. God damn those movies suck, and they are way worse in the light of 5 years later.
Now, lets look at a different example
I have been known to complain about this movie. But you know what, this is still a solid adaptation and addition to the source material. I love Philip K Dick’s writing, but he definitely has a penchant for coming up with these amazing setups and just not finishing strong. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep definitely falls in that category. Its a good premise that kind of falls flat due to boring symbolism and flat storytelling. But the movie is atmospheric in a way the book is not. It really allows the viewer to live in this dark gritty future that influenced a ton of films afterwards. Its a much better viewing experience than the book. I just wish it didnt have the fucking doves.
Overall, all I am saying is that film doesnt have to be a medium that ruins a book. It can bring life and expression to something. It can also completely fucking ruin an amazing book. You have to take it on a case by case basis unfortunately. Too bad.