Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Maybe I'll Wait for the Movie

In honor of the upcoming release of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie (for which I'm thinking of trying to scam a babysitter but have fears I'll never get tickets for any of the showings this weekend) and also because I'm out of ideas so am blatantly stealing borrowing from Kathleen O'Reilly's post on RTB (yeah, I'm lazy scum), I'd like to pay homage to the film industry for all of those books they've turned me onto by making them into movies. Except to be a little bit original, I'm not talking about romance novel adaptations.

First and foremost, if Peter Jackson had never taken on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I'd still be in the dark about the greatness of JRR Tolkien. After the second film, I immediately read the entire trilogy so I could find out what happened to Frodo and Aragorn and Legolas (not so much Gimli). And now that it's all said and done, I do prefer the movies to the books simply because the films cut out so much of the lengthy descriptives I mostly skimmed when reading. Plus, I think the casting was so well done that I'd just as soon watch the actors they chose rather than try to imagine in my own mind what everyone looks like. Really, I think Peter Jackson deserves some kind of Nobel award for turning so many people on to a great work of literature.

And I credit Emma Thompson for making me a Jane Austen fan. It wasn't until after I'd seen Sense and Sensibility that I picked up any of Austen's works, thinking that Pride and Prejudice was simply one of those stuffy old classics that I somehow escaped having to read in high school. We all know how I feel now about Jane Austen. Yet, I have to confess that I haven't read all of her stuff. They're going to revoke my membership card one of these days.

John Grisham is another writer who I started reading after I'd seen movie adaptations of The Firm and Pelican Brief. He's not an auto-buy author for me, but I can say I'd never have picked up his stuff in the first place had it not been for Tom and Julia.

It's funny how seeing a movie first, loving it and then picking up the book as a result, is a completely different experience than loving the book and anticipating the movie adaptation. Usually I find the book disappointing because I view it as deviating from the true story, which of course is what I saw in the movie (and I do know that this is some pretty faulty logic). Too, I often don't have patience for lengthy narrative, backstory, or characters who didn't appear in the movie, wanting mostly to get to the parts that I saw depicted on the screen. I hate having to distill the book down into the essence of the film.

Which means I seem to like the book better when I've read it first and the movie better when I've seen the movie first. And since I do know that the book is always the truest form of the story - the version the writer intended to tell - I generally like to read first, view later. In fact, I'm insisting that my kids read all of the Harry Potter books before seeing the movies. It's our gauge of knowing when they are old enough - if they've read the book and can handle the level of darkness, they can handle the movie.

Usually, though, I'm a sucker for both book and movie because if I've loved one, then I'm starved for more. In seeking out the other, I get at least a little bit more in the way of another perspective. I think this is why I'm a DVD Extras/Behind The Scenes junkie. I always want more of whatever it is that I've loved, and I'll take it where I can get it.

Many times I love both book and movie equally. I've loved all the Harry Potter Books, really enjoyed the first two movie adaptations (Scorcer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) and then loved the third installment (Prizoner of Azcaban). I'm waiting with baited breath for Friday to roll around so I can see Goblet of Fire, and I pray every day that JK Rowling writes fast enough and the young stars start drinking loads of coffee to stunt their growth so they can be in all seven film adaptations.

Having read Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, I watched the movie from the edge of my seat. And I have to say that I don't think I would have liked the movie as much if I hadn't read the book first because I was confused a lot of the time about who was who and where. Having read the book helped a little.

I really enjoyed Ann Brashare's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and equally enjoyed the first movie. In fact, I'm hoping they take the other two titles and use the same cast to create sequel movies.

In a sort of opposite way, I didn't absolutely love the book The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and although I enjoyed the incredible acting in the movie adaptation (Nicole Kidman totally deserved that Oscar), it didn't wow me to any big degree because I still didn't love the story. Same thing with Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells. Movie was as okay as the book, but nothing I'd buy on DVD.

Some movie adaptations that I greatly anticipated really left me cold. Francis Ford Coppola completely butchered The Outsiders, in my opinion. And I'm constantly left flabbergasted when I read reviews about how great this movie is. Totally sucked and hopefully did not scare off potential readers from picking up the novel, which was amazing.

And some movies I enjoyed enough that I actually have no burning desire to read the original work it was based on. Specifically, I can think of Bridget Jones's Diary. Loved the movie. Have no burning urge to read the book. Sorry Helen Fielding, although I do own a copy of the book so she's got her cash already. Same thing with Cold Mountain. Saw the movie (*sigh* Jude Law). Know how it ends. Have no desire to slog through what I've heard is a wonderful but excruciatingly detailed accounting of the same journey which takes some 464 pages.

I haven't read any of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia books. I remember starting The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I don't remember if I finished, and if I did, I don't remember any details at all. I think this one hit me much like The Hobbit did; nothing about it grabbed my too-young mind enough to plow over the work of reading something not spoon-fed to me. When the movie comes out next month, I certainly plan to go see it. And I have a feeling that it won't be much more than 24-hours later that I'll be hunting down copies of the entire series.

What I love most about watching movies that originally came from books is the anticipation of how Hollywood will handle complicated visuals or concepts. For example, I read and enjoyed Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, which is soon to be released as a movie starring Richard Gere. One aspect of the book delved into a kind of sick compulsion on the part of the mother, and what she does is so completely out there, my imagination couldn't manage to come up with any kind of good visual as to what it all might look like. I'm just dying to see how the screenwriters and director will portray it in the movie. Maybe I'll finally get it.

When you look at it, it's amazing how many movies began as books. Here's a pretty good list. I admit I was shocked at how many movies started out as written works when I'd figured they'd always been film-only stories.

Goes to prove that there's no such thing as a new idea, and every story's been told before. That's okay. I don't mind.


Sara said...

I think I may be the opposite of you, Lynn. I hold on to my books dearly, and I just as strongly hold on to the conviction that the book is better. Not *always* the case, I know. But, like you said, it really does matter which you experience first.

I'm an avid Dean Koontz fan. Every screen adaptation I've seen for one of his books... well, so much less than impressive (which, I'm sure, had a lot to do with budget).

The memoir, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - loved it. The movie - tedious.

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts - *adored* the book. The movie was good, but left a lot out.

Just this past weekend I saw In Her Shoes after having read the book quite a while ago. I really, really loved the book, and the movie... I just have to say wow! I was *not* disappointed. One of the best adaptations I've ever seen.

Okay... all done babbling here in your blog. *g*

MaryF said...

I usually read books before the movies. Some movies I've seen just because I read the book, like The Horse Whisperer. Uhhh, mistake on that one.

I liked the YaYa book more than the movie, but the movie was good, too. I own it, one of my comfort movies.

I'm REALLY looking forward to Goblet of Fire tomorrow! My class has been reading the book. We didn't get past page 300, but we're all very excited.