Ep. 14. Get the popcorn ready: Can the movie be better than the book?
Photo by Juraj Gabriel
We are among the ones who think that the book is better than the movie. If a week ago we were asked about an example of a movie that could be better than the book, we have to confess we could not come up with one on our own. However, we found such examples in an infographic created by Love Reading. The chart compares side by side the aggregated score from dozens of websites rating movies and the books they are based on. Since almost always the book is better than the movie, we want to talk about some of the books that defy this rule (and the movies they have inspired, of course).
📽 The Remains of the Day (1993) Director: James Ivory
This is a drive down memory lane for Stevens, a long-time butler at Darlington Hall, an English country estate. As Stevens take a road trip on the English countryside, history uncovers, both Stevens own personal history as well as historical events that took place earlier during WWII. This is a quiet book, but do not let that fact fool you, in The Remains of the Day what doesn't happen is as important as what do happen. The film adaptation does a great job at translating the tone and even the tempo of the book into the big screen.
"Mrs. Taylor had served us with a good broth, which we had eaten with helpings of a crusty bread, and at that point, there had been little to suggest the evening held for me anything more daunting than the hour or so of pleasant conversation before retiring to bed."
That line in the book has inspired Southern Living to create a recipe for Field Peas in Herbed Broth Soup. This recipe is easy and comforting, leaving you with ample time to read (or watch) The Remains of the Day.
📽 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Director: Peter Jackson
A major blockbuster in 2001 was Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein. This is the story of Frodo Baggings, a humble hobbit who is entrusted with the major task of taking a Ring with incredible powers to be destroyed facing dangers along the way. He is joined in the task by fellow hobbits, elves, humans, dwarves, and other magical creatures. The epic saga of Middle-Earth has been a favorite of readers of all ages for so long that a movie adaptation had to be absolutely amazing, and that is what Peter Jackson did in 2001.
"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." If you are one of us who get goosebumps when reading or listening to that quote, you might want to visit Hobbiton in New Zealand. The location is a staging of The Shire, the place where Mr. Frodo lives and from where he departs with The Ring in his quest. The set was used for the filming of Peter Jackson's movie and could be toured today. Visit Hobbiton Tours to plan your exploration of hobbit holes and everything else Hobbiton has to offer.
Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand. Photo from Nikhil Prasad
Or maybe you would like to own something that reminds you of Lord of the Rings. How about a beer stein from the Prancing Pony and a matching set of coasters; or a welcome mat from The Doormatory with Tolkien's famous typeface to receive your friends into your home.
Beer stein and set of coaster evocative of The Prancing Pony
Welcome mat from The Doormatory
📽 The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Director: Jonathan Demme
Doesn't just listening to the title of this book gives you the chills? No? How about a brief description of the story: Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer and forensic psychiatrist serving a sentence in a mental institution, is questioned by a young FBI trainee. Are you scared now? You will be after reading the book or watching the 1991 adaptation.
We have chosen the cover of the mass-market paperback released as a movie tie-in in 1991 for our Cover Gallery this week. There are two reasons for our decision. First, the cover is the poster for the movie and it is in keeping with our topic. Second, it features a moth, which is charged with a lot of symbolism in the story (we would not want to spoil it for you). The moth in question has a skull-like marking in the back. But take a closer look, can you see the skull in the cover is made out of the bodies of seven women? This is the photograph In Voluptas Mortis by Philippe Halsman and inspired by the surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dali.
1991 Mass-market paperback edition
📽 The English Patient (1996) Director: Anthony Minghella
Towards the end of World War II, a patient with severe burns, who is presumed to be English, is attended by Hannah, an Army nurse in an Italian village. As the novel progresses, the patient make revelations about the events leading to his injuries, revelations that will affect other characters in the novel.
The movie adaptation of The English Patient received great critical acclaim, winning all kinds of awards, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best picture. If you are a fan of the book, you might want to plan an expedition to the Cave of Swimmers at Wadi Sura in southwest Egypt. This cave, discovered in 1933 by Hungarian explorer László Almásy, is where some of the iconic scenes in the story take place. The cave contains 10,000 year-old rock art depicting swimming human figures. Its remote location can be accessed as part of a journey organized by Ancient World Tours, an organization specializing in world heritage travel which you can contact for tour availability. We must warn you, as good as the movie was, the scenes in the Cave of Swimmers were not filmed in the actual location, but on a film set.
📽 Schindler's List (1993) Director: Steven Spielberg
Not all angels have wings and not all heroes are perfect lads or flawless knights. Oskar Schindler is a German industrialist in Nazi-occupied Poland. He drinks, he is a flirt, he is a hedonist, but he is, without a doubt, a hero. By risking his life and status Schindler accomplishes to save the lives of more than 1200 Jews. The novel is a fictional account but the figures and many of the names used in the book are real, taken from a Holocaust survival who worked for Schindler and kept the records. Spielberg adapted the novel in 1993, and one of the major accomplishments of the movie is its soundtrack. The score is composed by John Williams and it features violinist Itzhak Perlman in the performance. For bibliotherapy, we recommend you read the book while listening to the soundtrack of the movie. Try not to be moved.
📽 Million Dollar Baby (2004) Director: Clint Eastwood
Rope Burns is a collection of six stories based on the experiences of the author as a boxing trainer for many years. F. X. Toole is a pseudonym of Jerry Boyd, who wanted to keep his writing a secret from his colleagues in the boxing world. All of the stories are written with deep knowledge of boxing, and the characters are authentic to the point that you think you might know some if them. One of these stories, Million Dollar Baby, is the one adapted by Clint Eastwood in 2004, knocking out (pun intended) its competitions in all kinds of movie awards. In the story, a trainer reluctantly takes in a woman to help her become a champion boxer.
We have chosen Rope Burns for our Six-Word Reviews this week: Six rounds of grit, a knockout
📽 Atonement (2007) Director: Joe Wright
In 1935 England, Briony, 13 years old, witness some flirting between her older sister, Cecilia, and the son of a servant. Briony's interpretation of the event is affected by her adolescence and there are consequences for all involved when she acts upon that immature interpretation. The novel spans 60 years, with the years of WWII and beyond serving as a historical background.
In the book, Cecilia wears a green dress in one of the most important parts of the story. The description by McEwan of the dress goes as follows: "Her latest and best piece, bought to celebrate the end of finals before she knew about her miserable third, was the figure-hugging dark green bias-cut backless evening gown with a halter neck. Too dressy to have its first outing at home."
In the movie adaptation, Oscar-winner costume designer Jacqueline Durran created an eye-catching piece while still blending with the visual aesthetics of the film. More than 10 years later, the dress, worn by Keira Knightley, is still one of the most memorable movie outfits. If you would like a replica of this dress, we have found one at Velvet Bird Cage in U.K. We must warn you, it will come at some expense.
📽 The Hours (2002) Director: Stephen Daldry
The Hours is in itself a reworking of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. In fact, the book starts with Virginia herself, as she is starting to write Mrs. Dalloway in the 1920s in London. The story then moves to Los Angeles in the 1940s, where Laura, a suburban housewife, yearns to read a copy of Mrs. Dalloway. Finally, the book takes us to New York City in the 1990s to meet Clarissa as she prepares to host a party for a friend. In all three narratives, the author follows each woman through a day in their lives, in the same fashion that Mrs. Dalloway tells about a day in the live of the protagonist. The Hours was adapted in 2002 with Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf and winning an Academy Award for it.
Cunningham uses flowers, specifically yellow roses, as a symbol in emotionally important scenes across the three plot lines. Virginia Woolf surrounds a death bed for a bird with yellow roses, Laura uses yellow roses to decorate a cake for her husband, and Clarissa buys yellow roses for the party she will be hosting. If you like books, yellow roses and The Hours, we have found a bouquet of yellow paper roses and book page flowers from Sams House of Craft. This flower arrangement looks great and it will not wilt.
📽 Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Director: Danny Boyle
The original title of the book was Q&A, and it was renamed later after the huge success of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. When the book starts we meet Ram as he is being held on a cell after winning India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The reason of his captivity is that nobody believes that a young man with no schooling, no parents, and no prospects have won such a difficult and lucrative trivia contest. But as the story progresses, Ram tells how his own life experiences have given him each and every one of the answers.
The movie adaptation captures very well the essence of the book, and one thing it has over the book is that if you watch the movie, you can enjoy the song from the last scene. The song title is Jai Ho, and we dare you to not stand up and dance when you listen to it.
The last scene where the dancing and the music take place was filmed at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a train station you can visit as part of one of the tours offered by Mumbai Magic. The tours also include other locations in Mumbai, where the protagonist of the story grows up. With Mumbai Magic, it is also possible to arrange a visit to other sites in India, like the Taj Mahal, which is featured in the book and probably in any travel guide to India.
According to the infographic, there is one movie director who was able to achieve the feat of creating not one, but two movies, which were received much better than their books. The director in question is Ang Lee, a prestigious Taiwanese American director; and, his movies scoring higher than the eponymous books are Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). We have chosen both books for our Book vs. Book this week. At first it might seem that the books do not have too much in common, but besides having movie adaptations directed by the same creator, both books deal with love, loss and societal conventions.
📽 Brokeback Mountain (2005) Director: Ang Lee
This is a short story about two cowboys working together on a ranch and feeling attracted to each other. Their relationship grows even when both of them fight it and try to do and act as it is expected from them. As a short story, Brokeback Mountain might not have been able to explore certain nuances about the characters that the imagery of the movie could have used as an advantage.
📽 Sense and Sensibility (1995) Director: Ang Lee
In this well known Austen's book, two sisters are in love: one impulsively disregarding propriety, and the other concealing love and loss in order to save appearances and comply to societal norms. They both learn that compromise might be the key in the search for love while meeting social convention. Austen's characters are very well treated by Ang Lee and masterfully interpreted by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in the movie adaptation.
What can be more perfect that drinking tea while reading Sense and Sensibility, and the experience would be almost dreamy if the tea in question is the Sense and Sensibility blend from Adagio Teas. The blend is high in caffeine and it contains black tea, white peony, almond flavor, and apple, and it is part of their literary blends collection.
We do not want to take any of the merit away from the directors of all the film adaptations of the books we have mentioned, but we would love to give a nod to the actors and actresses as well. Specially, we would like to highlight that Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, and Emma Thompson have two leading roles each among all the movies mentioned.
There is another book, whose movie adaptation is so well known, that if you visit our GuessWork page, you will be able to guess the title of this book only by its first line (which is very similar to a famous line in the movie, but not exactly the same).
Regardless of what the critics say about some book/movie pairs, we still belong among those who will always enjoy a book much more than its movie. We even dare to speculate that these directors whose movie interpretation of the story has been deemed better than the book must be book lovers themselves. How about you? Have you ever enjoyed a movie better than the book it was based on?
To buy books covered in this episode, visit our TBR Bundles.