Book or Movie: Which Version Is Better?

Seems like any time people read the book before they’ve seen the movie version, they always, always say, “Oh the book was so much better.”  I suppose part of that has to do with a feeling of ownership and insider information.  They speak of their intimate knowledge of the true story of the novel as if they helped the author write it.

I have found it goes both ways.  For instance, the film Slumdog Millionaire was a surprisingly moving story that I thoroughly enjoyed.  And while I enjoyed Vikas Swarup’s Q&A, the novel the movie was based on, I thought the movie took Swarup’s poignant story, set in an inventive narrative frame, and made it better.  The absolute opposite was true of The Perfect Storm.  The movie version was so…trite and fake….while the Sebastian Junger’s book was riveting.  For a moment, I was ready to say maybe non-fiction doesn’t translate that well into fictional movies (e.g., Capote’s In Cold Blood is better than the movie version).  But then I think of A Beautiful Mind. Sylvia Nasar wrote the book, which was interesting and an achievement no doubt, but the fictional film was in another ballpark altogether.

Sometimes I think film handles plot better.  Take Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The novel is rich in so many ways…the Combine, the Chief hallucinogenic visions, the wires in the wall.  But, for me, anyway, the plot to the film version is perfectly executed, from the moment McMurphy thumbs his deck of cards at Ratched to the end when he’s strangling her, the whole plot is a staircase to the final scene, upping the ante every step of the way.

Supposedly Kesey never saw the movie version of his book.  He didn’t want to because he knew it would no longer be his story.  As a reader, I can identify with that.  There are some novels so beautifully written that there’s no way they could be captured on film.

I just finished reading What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  I’ve never seen the film, but I want to.  I wonder which I will like more.


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