Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When the Movie is Better (Or At Least Really Good In Its Own Right)

Okay, so I'm in this Robin Hood class right now, and it's fantastic. We've spent a lot of time talking and thinking about adaptation theory, because there are a million and one versions of the Robin Hood story, and every single one of them is an "adaptation."

One random fact just for fun that you probably didn't know: there is no "original" Robin Hood story (or Robin Hood person for that matter, in case you were unsure he was fictional). There's a handful of medieval ballads (where Robin Hood is actually a commoner outlaw thief, not a nobleman fighting for justice), a couple of Early Modern plays (where Maid Marian is introduced for the first time), and a slew of novels, operas, films, TV shows, and whatever else over the centuries, but there is no true "original" Robin Hood. Every single Robin Hood is just an adaption of a different adaptation.

However, after watching and reading all these Robin Hood variations and thinking so much about adaptations, I've (naturally) been thinking about other adaptations of other stories. Specifically, the adaptation of books to movies.

Oh, there is no area in bookdom more fraught than the book to movie (or book to TV show, as the case may be) adaptation. Book fans tend to have strong opinions and visions about how characters look, or how scenes should be recreated on the big screen. And among us purists, the refrain is constant: the book is always better.

And look, I'm completely in that camp. Books will always and forever be superior to movies. However, in learning more about adaptation theory, I've been giving movie adaptations a new consideration, and thinking about which book-to-movie adaptions I really like. It's not necessarily that I think these movies are better than their books (yes, I know, my title is misleading and over-dramatic), but more that, in their own right, these are good movies of favorite stories that I really enjoy.

Anne of Green Gables - 1985 TV miniseries

Look, I'll be honest, it took me a while to get to this point with this particular version of Anne of Green Gables. I read these books first when I was in about sixth grade, and then I saw the 1985 TV miniseries later, and I did not like it at first. The book was better, plain and simple. But with the recent death of Jonathan Crombie (who played Gilbert Blythe), and some news about a new TV movie that came out last month (haven't seen yet), I've all the sudden become terribly nostalgic and protective over this adaptation. For better or for worse, in my head this is now what the characters look like, and this is what PEI looks like, and this series is just comfort, watch-it-when-your-sick, makes-you-feel-so-good type of good. This adaptation will always hold a special place in my heart.

(Side note: Unfortunately, my husband HATES this adaptation. I think he was introduced to it by his mother and sisters at some unfortunate point in his adolescence when anything his mother and sisters liked was supremely uncool, and now he can't help feeling antagonistic towards it. Also, he claims to find red-headed girls extremely unattractive, and I can't figure out if this is a contributing factor to his dislike of the movie, or a consequence of it. Anyway, I need to have me a daughter one of these days who can grow up and watch this series with me, because my husband sure won't).

North and South - 2004 BBC miniseries

I've loved this BBC miniseries pretty much since it came out, but I only read the book last year. And look, the book is amazing. It is complex and funny and completely wonderful and I highly recommend it if you have any stomach for Victorian novels. But this adaptation is still wonderful in it's own right. It is completely beautiful, and I'm not just talking about Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton. Although, sigh. I don't care whatever other roles Armitage plays, dwarf, Robin Hood villain, or otherwise, for me he will always be Mr. Thornton.

(Side note: Unlike AoGG, my husband thoroughly enjoys this miniseries and watches it with me all the time.)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings -2001

I'm proud to say that I read the books first. I read them before I even knew this momentous film event was even in production. And I loved these books. They scratched every single nerdy/fantasy/epic/bookish itch in my super nerdy fantasy obsessed young mind. And so yes, I was excited when I found out they were being turned into movies, and yes, I was there for every opening midnight showing, and I was even more excited when these movies turned out to be good!

But alas, I must admit that this first one, The Fellowship of the Rings, is the only one I can actually sit through repeat viewings of. The other two start to drag a bit for me, and I can only watch them in edited spurts, skipping around to my favorite scenes. And don't even get me started on his Hobbit adaptation (ugh! It should've been one movie!). Still, I will give credit where credit is due, and say that Peter Jackson is the master of adaptation. These movies are beautiful and impressive.

(It definitely goes without saying that my husband likes this one too.)

The Scarlet Pimpernel - 1982

Okay you guys, have you seen this one? Please tell me you've seen this one! I love this movie sooooo much!!!! I can't even express how much I love it. Now, I read the original book by Baroness Orczy, and I do highly recommend it. The book is fabulous and fun and has a lot going for it. But, oh! This movie is incredibly. I'm probably biased (once again, this film is full of childhood nostalgia for me), but I might even make the claim that this is a case where the movie truly is better. If you haven't seen this one, and you have a thing for period dramas, find it! Watch it! I know you'll love it.

The Princess Bride - 1987

Okay, so I'm not sure this one is entirely fair. After all, William Goldman wrote both the book and the screenplay, and it's interesting how the two are so different for being an author's adaptation of himself. But I've read the book (once) and watched the movie (a hundred times), and both are just completely fantastic in their own similar but entirely different way. Goldman is hilarious. I'm sure you've already seen the movie and don't need me to tell you to watch it, but you should read the book too. It's a treat.

Now that I'm going, there's a bunch of other movies I could put on this list, but I'm limiting myself to just five right now. I've purposely avoided Jane Austen adaptations because I just have a hard time even hinting that any movie could do Austen justice (although, I really do love many of the Austen movies). Also, if you think about it, pretty much every movie out there is an adaptation of some book or other (Hollywood is original like that, it's pretty rare for a screenplay to NOT be based on a book), so there are potentially a lot more movies out there that are better (or just as good) as their books, but I limited myself just to movies where I've actually read the book (and still liked the movie).

Even still, it's so much easier for me to think of all the movie adaptations that are just so, so, so much worse than the books (don't hate me, but pretty much every Harry Potter movie fits here). I'm going to have to do a post about that some day too.

In the mean time, what are your favorite book-to-movie adaptations?


  1. Yes to all of these! (Although I haven't seen the Anne miniseries, I loved the first 2 movies done with Megan Follows.) I really like the movie "Holes," based on Louis Sachar's book. Even though the inexperience of some of the kid actors is quite noticeable, it's just great. I made my husband come with me to see it in the theaters, and it was us with a whole bunch of middle schoolers. :) I was loving it!
    Another one I really like is "Bridge to Terabithia"--it is quite different from the book in some respects, but very well done. This was another we saw in the theater together, and we were all crying together (me, husband, sister-in-law and teenage nephew.) Good times.
    Hmm..now you've got me thinking, though. There must be more!

    1. So the first two movies with Megan Fellows are part of the "mini series" in that they were made for TV, so we're on the same page about loving it. I completely forgot about Holes, but I loved that book and remember liking the movie too. And I loved Bridge to Terabithia as a kid, but I've not seen the movie. I'll have to look for that one.

  2. I definitely agree with you on "Anne of Green Gables" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel"! I also tend to think "Room with a View" and "Jeeves and Wooster" are better in their film versions. The great thing to me about "The Princess Bride" is that the author and the screenwriter are the same person--I felt like the book encapsulated what I loved about the movie, but just more so.

    1. Haven't seen or read Jeeves and Wooster, I'll have to check that one out. And I'm iffy on Room with a View, the George in the film didn't match the version in my head so I struggled with liking it (the curse of all book-to-movie adaptations).

  3. I love the whole concept of the Robin Hood class!

    I saw both North and South and The Scarlet Pimpernel as movies first and I think both film versions are better than the book. When I saw the first Harry Potter movie I was amazed at how closely the visuals aligned with what was in my head as I read.

    Another film adaptation I absolutely love is The Importance of Being Earnest - the version with Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, and Judy Dench (having an all-star cast doesn't hurt!)

    1. Oh, yes, The Importance of Being Earnest is fabulous! It is such a great film adaptation.

  4. I too love North and South, but the thing I enjoyed more about the books is that Thornton felt a bit more refined and she never saw him beat someone. I feel that helps the love story. But, the movie is brilliantly done. While this is no classic, I really enjoyed the movie Jurassic Park to the book. Of course The Importance of Being Earnest was so well done. I felt the actors captured the characters perfectly.