When the Movie Was Actually Better

There's a general rule among book lovers -and even those who only read an occasional book - and that is the simple fact the book is almost always better. It makes logical sense - books don't have to deal with a specific allotted screen time to tell their stories, budget issues for special effects, studio controversy and politics, finding the right actor to fit the part of characters readers already fell in love with. Sure books have to limit page count and work with publisher suggestions, but they come into the world as new products without imitation. From there the world-building has already been set, and movies merely try to bring an existing world to celluloid reality. Not an easy effort, which is why so many fail or don't thrive quite as well as their paper parents.
Not everyone will agree with my list, but I'll explain my reasoning of why I'd rather watch the flick than read the book for the following.

Jaws





Stephen Spielberg and cast may have had to deal with the cursed fake shark, Bruce, going over budget and over shooting schedule because of the shark taking a mechanical break so often - almost getting the movie cancelled and never shown to fans in the first place - but the product they delivered was a legendary film that reminds of us why it's not safe to go in the water. 

Directing talent superb and actors well-cast, the movie follows only some of the book by giving a perfect example of a well-structured plot: put a main character in an uncomfortable position that fights his nature (chief not liking the water living on an island), with the character role that ties into the story (small town chief looking for a break from violence since he escaped the big crime-ridden city) into a setting (small town that depends on tourist revenue and good reputation). Man versus nature (shark), Man versus greed (obstacles with mayor lead more crisis and stumbling blocks to the story instead of a killer), Man versus self (Chief Brody is propelled further into action to fix his guilt and mistakes made by previously caving in to the city and his self-doubt.) Throw in an expert on sharks, a wizened but unstable boat captain, and you have terrific trio that sets out to fight the mighty beast.  

The score helps - how memorable it is! 

The original story was conceived by the talented Peter Benchley, so the director doesn't get all the credit. Still, Benchley's book was bloated down with other unusual side-stories, such as extramarital affairs and mobster activity. When making its way to the movies, screenwriters saw the focus of money being enough of a motivation without the tangled mobster webs. Extra-marital affairs weren't needed to speak of the heydays of lost youth and opportunities - in book it makes sense since we get in the characters heads and can understand more, but on the screen the effect is stronger showing united characters who get along as they battle together toward a common enemy. 

Man Without a Face



Mel Gibson wins the screen as he plays a scarred man who reluctantly returns to a teaching role when a young, troubled student convinces him. A movie built deeply on a strong bonding of mentor and mentoree, the child isn't the only one healed and given a semblance of hope for a better future.

I'd watched the movie, several times, for at least ten years before I ordered the used book. The novel isn't something I heard of, ever, and it was more of a young adult piece of sorts. While the book was actually very good, well-written and absorbing, it missed the magic the movie produced.

While the movie had its sad notes, the book was much more depressing, having the ending bring me down from four stars to three. McLeod was intriguing written down, but he was also more wooden in word form than he was in movie glory with Mel Gibson behind the helm.

Unlike some readers - including Mel Gibson himself in an interview, I don't think the end of the book was saying molestation happened, but I could be wrong. Both are good, but the movie is much better.


Carrie



This movie has been remade several times for some reason, as well as at least two plays or musicals I believe. A compelling story that was made right the first time, I've found all the remakes sorely disappointing in overall comparison. Sissy Spacek played the ideal Carrie in the original movie directed by Brian DePalma, who used the artsy split-screen in a few scenes with a technique he became well known for. The mother, Piper Laurie, was equally impressive. In fact, both actresses were nominated for Academy Awards. Piper Laurie was also nominated for a Golden Globe.

The score by Pino Donaggio is perfect for the movie, pianoing out an almost childlike innocent touch that's suddenly choked off by the doom. There were two original songs sang for the movie at the prom, Someone like Me and Born to Have it All, both songs I own and still listen to. Set aside the score, acting, and directing, and you have an intense drama-horror that totally works. Age doesn't hurt it, only adding to the nostalgic feel. We all still commiserate with high school and proms, after all.

The book's ending was the one change from the movie, but I prefer how DePalma sought to do it. To have Carrie be betrayed in the safety of home was a more dramatic act that the way King prosed it. In fact, Carrie was only a two star book from me because there  I find it rather dry and distant.  Review here.


Dolores Claiborne



King is mentioned a few times here, as you see. Ironically most of his movies are lackluster, but Dolores Claiborne was a shining winner.  The book was also well-written and filled with drama, mainly told through dialogue. and had a few details the movie excluded. Still, the script stayed very faithful for the novel, and Kathy Bates brought the role of Dolores Claiborne to life perfectly.

The book may have added a twist with Vera's secrets and focused on their relationship a tad bit more, but the movie heightened the feeling of living with the past while surviving the present even stronger. One of my favorite dramas of all time. 

Danny Elfman's score was beautiful and haunting. It's one of my favorite from him, although a few other movies edge it out (slightly). There are some trippy special effects waiting for the viewer, such as Selena seeing herself backward in the mirror. While the book was told in first person point of view, the movie is enriched by a few small scenes of the daughter coming into own personal hell of realization.

Read the review of the excellent book here, but make sure you also see the movie. It's a winner. I rated the book a solid four, and the movie an easy five.

The Shining




 Yes, another King. This one is controversial in its way. First, King disliked the movie version while most fans adored it. Seems he had a disappointment that his main character was played by Jack Nicholson and came across to angry too quickly - not how he envisioned his Jack Torrance. He did a more faithful adaptation years later, but unfortunately for me I found it overly dramatic and obvious with its shock effect. I appreciated adding in the animal hedges in the new movie because they were a genuinely eerie effect left out of Kubrick's movie, but Jack seemed too tame and softened in the new movie. Bring on the crazy!

The book is a good one and a top favorite of many King enthusiasts. While I dug the book and agree it's one of the horror masters bests, I disliked the ending in written form. I found it lacking and cheesy to give the hotel an actual voice of fear. Yes, the frozen ending isn't the best in the world, but it fit. Read the review of the book here.

The one gripe of the movie was Wendy, who was so whiny and irritating that...well, no, she didn't work well for me. Throw in the other characters though, Kubrick's darkly artistic style that you can't shake, and the abrupt resounding sound effects from the score, and you have a strangely eerie movie. It doesn't have to rely on fact-paced action or shock effect - the slow build-up of horror from the hotel totally works without any cheap gimmicks. Of course the twins and their repetitive chant will be forever remembered, as will the special room Danny was forbidden to enter.

Monkey Shines




I was a frequent visitor in the horror aisle at the local video store, and that is where I found and re-rented Monkey Shines. It's a shame more people don't praise or even know about this psychologically rich film. It's not horror in focus so much as intense in cerebral twisting. George Romero of all people made this movie - the man may be known for bringing zombies to life in Night of the Living Dead and sequels - but he deserves mucho praised for making an intelligent and stylish thriller that worked on a demented level more than a visceral one.

I bought the book a few years back because I was such a big fan of the movie. Michael Stewart may have penned the story that would become a favorite of mine on screen, but I ended up dishing out three stars for the book.  It was good, but it didn't hold up to intensity the movie did, because for some reason the mental bond between the monkey and Alan didn't ring as strong in the novel. Ella wasn't as unique and interesting as a monkey. Sounds weird but somehow the movie just captured the emotion of that bond better. The book focused on Allen and the implications of science with moral lesson - the movie took that away and focused on the psychologically damaging bond between Allan and the animal he has to become dependent on.

Psycho



  
I love Robert Bloch, truly; the man could weave a pen so effectively it may as well have been a wand shooting out magic. He had impressive stories in his mind, mainly winning the awards when they were short. Psycho was a short book too, and I have a feeling it was another novel he was coming up with for whatever reason, but not knowing how much it would affect people and become big later on. If Hitchcock hadn't noted it, perhaps it would be another unknown and infrequently read novel haunting used bookstore shelves?

The book Psycho was good, but it was short and slightly tame. You leave off the chilling ending with Anthony Perkins' smiling eerily at the camera, and you leave out some of the intensity of the fights and mother/son bond. In the book you're through Norman's head and its not the same - he's old and balding and just different. Psycho the story had merit, but the movie had suspense. 

What's strange is the movie had MORE story and more invented plot and character development. The book kept things much smaller in scale, less plot development, and less plot nuances that would grip or surprise the reader. There wasn't a case of leaving too much out of the book - the movie had to add to the story to improve itself.


Requiem For a Dream



Here we may run into an argumentative matter of opinion. I just didn't dig the writing style of the book. I found the author's daring artistic off-putting rather than unique, the dialogue confusing, the pacing distracting, and the emotional delivery slightly flat. It's a three star rating, but I almost went lower. 

Meanwhile the movie dares to be different and artsy as well, but in a level that works. The directing, split screens, sudden shifts in time and effect, incredible acting, and Clint Mansell's unmatched score is an experience movie-goers can't forget.

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