Monday, August 16, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Books vs. Movies

It’s the age-old entertainment the book better than the movie? Or is the movie better than the book? Many a spat has been had over popcorn about which is the superior version of a particular story.

You could argue that more and more movies these days are being based on books. If you write a best seller, you can almost guarantee you’ll have Brad Pitt’s production company knocking on your door to buy the rights.

Should they be a genre all of their own? Boovies? Or Slashies (Book/Movies)? I don’t know. But to try to nut it out, I’ve compiled some of my favourite and least favourite adaptations.

The Good

Book - written by Mario Puzo

Movie - directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino

Originally published in 1969, the book became synonymous with Italian mafia folklore and introduced now infamous Italian words like Cosa Nostra and consigliore to English-speaking popular culture. Puzo was Italian-American himself and he manages to capture, along with all the gangster action and violence, so many of the qualities unique to Italian family life; not just the dark side, but the strong sense of family loyalty.

And the movie; all you have to do is have a look at the cast list credits to see it was never going to be bad. The legendary Marlon Brando played the Godfather, Don Vito Corleone, and joined a cast including Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen) and Diane Keaton (Kay Adams).

For me, this movie is an amazing adaptation of the book, probably one of best movies there is. Director Francis Ford Coppola created a popular masterpiece which spawned two successful sequels. I read the book first, and then watched the movie, than read the book again – and I just couldn’t replace the image of Marlon as the God Father or Pacino his reluctant mafia successor son. I think that is the mark of a good Movie/Book.


Book – written by Stephen King

Movie – directed by Brian De Palma, staring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie

Carrie was Stephen King’s first published novel and caused quite a stir when it was published 1974. It’s said to have been the most banned book in American schools and sold one million copies in its first year on store shelves. The book tells the story of Carrie White, an awkward and shy American high school student who is abused by her religiously fanatical mother. She discovers she has telekinetic powers and eventually uses them to wreak havoc on her classmates who tease her incessantly.

Following the success of the book, the 1976 movie adaptation was released and became a cult classic. It is often referred to as a ‘watershed’ film in the horror genre and the best movie adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Carrie was a thrilling book to read – King is a genius – and the movie did the book justice, and perhaps even brought it to life. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie both scored Oscar nominations for their performances, almost unheard of for a horror film. Carrie is still a movie which scares the living daylights out of me, even though I’ve seen it countless times. It’s a big call, but perhaps the best ever book to movie adaptation!

The Notebook

Book – written by Nicholas Sparks

Movie – directed by Nick Cassavetes, starring Rachael McAdams and Ryan Gosling

For me, the movie version of The Notebook improves on the book. The book is a romantic journey about the lives of Noah (the poor boy) and Allie (his upper class love interest). They become separated by their social differences, but as with all good romance stories, they realise their love for each other through a series of plot twists and turns. The chemistry between Rachael McAdams (Allie) and Ryan Gosling (Noah) is incredible and is really the key to making the movie so touching. It’s no wonder they were a real-life couple after shooting wrapped.

Book – written by Dennis Lehane

Movie – directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley

Dennis Lehane’s book is a masterpiece, so it’s only fitting that Scorsese lent his mastery to the movie version of this incredible story. I won’t spoil the dramatic end for those who haven’t seen the movie or read the book, but both are an incredible journey. It’s 1954 and US Marshal Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of a murderess from the hospital for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island. The movie version is a true and clever adaptation of the book – and even if you haven’t read the book – you’re immediately sucked into the complex and mind bending plot. A cast of talented Oscar-winning actors, including Leo, only add to the brilliance.

The Bad

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Book – written by Audrey Niffenegger

Movie – directed by Robert Schwenke, starring Eric Bana and Rachael McAdams

Audrey Niffenegger’s book is an amazing read. It has been hailed by critics and the reading public alike as one of the true original stories of the past decade. It follows the romantic relationship between Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble. Henry has a rare genetic disorder, which sees him travel through time, having no control over where and when. The story jumps around from Clare’s childhood, to their tumultuous lives together as adults.

The movie was ok, but if you have read the book and loved it, you were probably disappointed with the big screen adaptation. I’m not sure that a movie, no matter how well produced, could capture the essence and even the timeline of the book. The movie was good. It was just never, ever going to be as good as the book.

My Sister’s Keeper

Book – written by Jodie Picoult

Movie – directed by Nick Cassavetes, starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin

Cameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in My Sister's Keeper
On their own merit, both these versions are popular and enjoyable enough. Jodie Picoult’s book tells the story of Anna Fitzgerald who wants emancipation from her parents who have relied on her body to help treat her sister, Kate, who is sick with leukaemia. The story explores some deeply emotional issues including the death of a child and the impact on the family unit. I think the book is an ok read, and the movie is an ok watch, but if you’ve read the book, you might have been a little disappointed about the alternate ending provided and some of the detail missing from the character’s relationships with each other, particularly the parents of Kate and Anna Fitzgerald. These changes result in the movie adaptation being very different to the book.

The Ugly (otherwise known as bad adaptations AND bad movies)

The Power of One

Book - written by Bryce Courtnay

Movie – directed by John G. Alvidson, starring Stephen Dorff

I read this book when I was a teenager and for me it was an inspiring story. It centres on English boy, Peekay, who lives in South Africa during World War II. The story follows Peekay’s struggle as an English boy in a society dominated by Afrikaans culture. He desires to change the country and unite the African, English and Afrikaans cultures in a society where racism and violence are everyday occurrences. I found it, and its subsequent sequels compelling reading.

Unfortunately, the movie was shockingly bad. Not only did it lack the emotional development of the book’s characters and the storyline, it was marred by some pretty ordinary Afrikaans accents (Yes, you, Stephen Dorff).

The Da Vinci Code

Book – written by Dan Brown

Movie – directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou.

Dan Brown’s book was a bestseller and became a cult classic, inspiring countless pilgrimages to the many famous European landmarks used as locations in the book. The novel opens with a gruesome murder at the Louvre in Paris and clues in Da Vinci’s paintings, which lead to the discovery of a dangerous secret society which threatens the belief foundations of Christianity. The book is a great read and the exciting storyline moves at breakneck speed. The movie’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t move at break neck speed. It is incredibly long and incredibly painful, especially if you’ve already read the novel and know the twists and turns. Director Ron Howard tried to do justice to the intricacies of the book, but by doing that, he created a long, long, long movie – with perhaps too much detail.

That’s my list of the Good, Bad and Ugly Book/Movie adaptations. What are your favourites? Which ones do you despise?


  1. Haven't read some of the books to the movies Kirst, but big fat word to the Da Vinci Code. I mean - I'm not a fan of the book - but the movie was sooo slow.

  2. Good call on Carrie, Kirsty! I would have to add Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy too - absolutely brilliant adaptations. It's funny how interesting or action-packed books (like Time Traveler's or Da Vinci) can make dull movies? I preferred Angels & Demons as a movie - thought it was really well done.