Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movies That Improved On Their Source Material

It's been difficult for me to read the various "10 Best of The Decade!" lists without getting peevish or envious, particularly when it comes to movies. This has been my Parenting Decade, really: ten-plus years when I let the zeitgeist blow other people into the theatres while I caught up with the state of children's programming. I couldn't cobble together much of an entertainment list, but there were one or two very bright moments that burned themselves into the back of my brain. With a little diligence I should be able to cast them onto the blank screen at this location before too much longer.

In the meantime, here is a list of 20 Good Books Made Into Not-So-Good Movies, courtesy of The Onion. In this case I am very happy to report I've seen only two of the stinkers mentioned. But is the reverse possible? Has the movie never been better than the book? I think otherwise.

I start with the novel that generated Up In The Air. I thought the movie was both pleasant and substantial, but I've only glanced at the book. I've never been fond of the "Central character on the verge of a nervous breakdown" motif, and given the "approach with caution" review from Publisher's Weekly (see link), I'm inclined to give the book a pass.

Movies That Improved On Their Source Material. There are two that come immediately to mind, the first being L.A. Confidential.

Is it wrong for me to admit I like James Elroy, but I'm not a fan of his fiction? I think he's a kick to watch and listen to, but tiresome to read. Nevertheless I slogged through a pair of his novels, back in the 90s when it was de rigeur. I couldn't imagine anyone making a film I wanted to see out of Elroy's ornery alternate Los Angeles, but Curtis Hanson pulled it off. The characters were all morally compromised, a la Elroy, and the first time I watched the movie I was thrilled with a sense of possibility: given the framework of the movie, it seemed like just about anything could happen -- everyone was qualified to meet a nasty end. American movies could stand a whole lot more of that.

The other example is Coraline.

Actually, it's my daughter who discovered this. She read Neil Gaiman's novel after having watched her most beloved movie a half-dozen times. "Dad: the movie is, like, so much better than the book! I can't believe it!" This from the 11-year-old who prefers Tolkien's books to Jackson's movies.

There's nothing wrong with the book, mind you. Gaiman's Coraline is a haunting thriller made tense with astute psychological observation. But the movie's creators took that tension, left it intact, then fleshed it out in a world of breathtaking texture and depth.

Any other nominations?


DarkoV said...

So....when is the old man going to step uot of the way and let the youngin' start blogging her enthusiastic opinions?
"Non-alcoholic Whisky Prajer"?

O.K. So, it doesn't have the right ring to it.

How'z 'bout "A Ringetter's Lament"

Whisky Prajer said...

The girls both took loud issue with EW's list of the best movies of 2009. After one too many astonished guffaws I finally said, "Look, why don't you do your own movie reviews and put them up on Facebook?" They promptly got to work, but I don't think they've posted their results -- yet.

yahmdallah said...

Wizard of Oz. I know to some the books are beloved, but they simply don't have the charm the movie did. To me, the sequel that Disney made - replete with mind-numbingly scary halloween face that was able to move around on solid rock - was closer to the creepy and illogical tone of the books.

Though it's not a movie, "Wicked" was much better than the novel. Much much better.

Whisky Prajer said...

Those were indeed weird and rather dour books. I only made it through one and a half, but can easily recall how relieved I felt when I saw the movie for the first time: it seemed so much lighter on its feet. Ironic that "Wicked" seems to be carrying on this tradition (here's hoping it makes a successful transition to the silver screen).

Dan said...

Coraline - I'm actually dying to see it, but our Matthew (yes, at nearly twelve years of age) is REALLY creeped out at the buttons-for-eyes thing. He refuses to let me rent it.

Whisky Prajer said...

That "buttons for eyes" angle manages to freak out some normally sturdy souls. Lu's been telling us of classmates who fawn over Twilight and its ilk, but can't manage Coraline. Too bad for you, mate: the parents are especially priceless.