Monday, July 11, 2011

Book-to-Movie: Who Makes the Grade?

I wish I could tell you what it takes to make a book go to movie in a flawless manner, but there are a few that did it perfectly and a few that absolutely flopped and quite a few that took creative license and no longer seemed like the book they were based upon. As a writer, I’m not sure how I’d take my book going to movie, except to say—keep the essence/mood/atmosphere there and give them the five senses that I could only write about. And, for God's sake, please don't cast Paris Hilton !

I won’t even delve into “Frankenstein,” and “Dracula,” and other such classics because they were so excessively revised in movie form that they’ve lost the essence of the original writings in most cases. When they do seem to hit the mark, there’s nothing original sounding about them. I’d prefer someone takes a concept, like vampires, and then goes into a whole new plot line than to try and copy the original book. A great example of this was in my recent write-up about “Let The Right One In.”

Here’s the categories and the book/movies below.

Most repeatedly made into movies: “Turn of the Screw” (Henry James in 1898) and “I Am Legend” (Richard Matheson in 1954). There are so many versions of these movies that it’s hard to keep track of them. Admittedly, some are very weak, others very strong. “Turn of the Screw” had such followings in movie form as “The Innocents” with Deborah Kerr (the best portrayal perhaps) and “Turn of the Screw.” “I Am Legend” had the Vincent Price version “Last Man on Earth,” Charlton Heston did “Omega Man,” and of course Will Smith did that miserable rendition in the recent “I Am Legend.” When you see so many versions of a book-gone-to-movie, you have to ask yourself—was this book so good that people thought it should be made again and again into a movie? Probably. So, read the book. Try to avoid the movie, unless it has a worthy cast and director and recommendations from other lovers of the book.

Book equal to movie: “The Haunting of Hell House” (book by Shirley Jackson) and the movie version by Robert Wise in 1963 entitled “The Haunting.” It was a seamless and beautiful crossover, even using many of the same lines from the book. I just adore them both as the best horror renditions of all time. “The Exorcist” (by William Peter Blatty) and the movie version “The Exorcist” starring Linda Blair were of equal tension and both terrifying to read/watch in the dark. “Amityville Horror” (by Jay Anson) was a pretty fair match on the fear scale with the movie, but I preferred the book a bit more because it was less distracting with big actors doing horrible acting jobs and rough editing.

Book better than movie: All of Stephen King’s works, except “Carrie” and “The Shining” (Jack Nickolson) because they didn’t depend on cheesy special effects. His books are fantastic character studies and it’s a shame when they’re put to movie because they become kind of whiny imitations. Without the written motivations behind the characters, it’s impossible to bond with them and with horrible last minute special effects at the end to put the movie to a tidy stop, it loses all credibility (think “The Langoliers”-flying biting orbs and “It”-spider).

Movie better than book: "The Incubus” (by Ray Russell) wasn’t a bad book at all, but the movie really captured a mood and a flow that the book just didn’t have for me. “Jaws” (by Peter Benchley) went from being a very suspenseful bedtime read to a life-long fear of the ocean. The characters coming to life in the movie were truly amazing, actually making “Jaws” my favorite movie of all time and any genre! It obtained a visceral feeling and a storytelling that just couldn’t come across in the written word.

Book and movie very different: “Sleeping With the Enemy” (awful book by Nancy Price), movie version with Julia Roberts “Sleeping With the Enemy” really took the basic ideas from the book and made them into something cohesive. “Hell House” (by Richard Matheson) made into the movie “The Legend of Hell House” was vastly different (there was a lot of graphic sexuality that was taken out and moving around the plot a bit). This, however, resulted in a book and movie on equal footing even though they were vastly different. I appreciate both versions very much (though I’d like to have seen the NC-17 version personally).

One thing I know about the super intelligent readers on this blog is that you will all have your own personal favorite book-to-movie suggestions. I can’t wait to hear them, so please give me your fav’s.


  1. Love Preston/Child so when that horrible Relic film came out, I was so disappointed. Chricton's super smart science gets watered down in film form. Jurassic Park was awesome (first one), but could have done without all the cutesy kid stuff (Goddam you, Spielberg!!) and stuck to the original ending where the less-than-nice old man gets chewed up by a bunch of compys. But that was tolerable, enjoyable really, compared to what they did to Congo, which is my favorite MC book. Damn f*cking talking ape and stupid diamond laser guns?? Where the... This is what comes of writing by committee and trawling the trailer parks for focus groups. Hate focus groups. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing only boorish inbreds with no taste. Sorry. Two things I'm passionate about: writing and film. They crashed together in the post!! :-D

  2. Cullan; I'm with you buddy. I think my western series smacks of big screen, but I'd be really strapped to see what they'd do to it. Congo was totally righteous! The movie was total monkey shit. Personally, I want to see your book, "The Mound" made into movie form!!! I think, however, you better hold some rights to not Stephen King it in the end with super crap monsters and hokey CGI.

  3. I honestly can't think of a movie that was as good as the book it was based on that I've read. To be honest, you just CAN'T make a REALLY good movie of a book because then the movies would be in excess of 3 or more hours if you want to get the whole feel of the book and characters. Unless it's a Little Golden Book of course! Just my opinion!

    Like Stephen King, I also LOVE Dean Koontz. He is a fabulous writer, but to make a movie from his way in Hell they would be near as good or as understandable!

  4. I will give it credit and say Jaws surpassed the book and Sleeping With the Enemy seriously surpassed the crappy book. God, who ever read that piece of crap and wanted to make a movie from it? Haha. Yeah, it's rare it ever works, but some books are so visual, they need to be a movie. The SciFi novel I wrote, it has to go to screenplay. It's just much more of a tactile visual thing that a book could never get across.

  5. Jaws is the reason I never went swimming in the ocean as a child...

  6. Zombie;
    I had to go to Cape Cod that summer. Holy shit! No one was in the water!

  7. I agree with your opinions for the most part.

    One book series I'm salivating for them to make into movies? The Ender's Game books.

    Then again, I don't know how they're going to do 10yr olds who fight wars, kill each other with their bare hands, and strut around naked in a barracks.

    It's hollywood. They'll figure it out somehow.

  8. Yeah, The Mound will have to include a screenplay approval clause. But, when poor, struggling writers get big checks waved in front of them.... Ah, sweet temptation. :-D

  9. Cullan;
    When that baby comes out, I will do all I can for you to make the cash off it in book form. We don't want you to prostitute your beautiful work.

  10. I a still afraid to swim in anything other than a pool because of Jaws. And a book I love that they did a pretty damn fine job on the movies (but it has to be the extended editions on DVD with deleted scenes I could NOT believe were deleted) would be Lord of the Rings.

  11. Both the movie and the "Jaws" novels left me with a serious shark phobia. (Of course, the fact that I live in Australia, a country surrounded by oceans filled with Great Whites, doesn't help either!) Certain imagery in the books has been imprinted on my brain, like the swimmer reaching down and not finding her foot, and the unborn sharks cannibalizing their siblings until only the fittest survived.

    No swimming in the ocean for me!