Monday, July 27, 2009

Movies based on books rule.

This weekend, I watched Speak, a movie based on my favorite Laurie Halse Anderson book. I enjoyed every minute the way I used to enjoy Saturday morning cartoons. As I get older, enrapture is harder to come by, so when it happens, I dwell, trying to figure out the mysterious formula that makes movies/books/songs un-look-away-able.

One of the best parts of Anderson’s books is her craft with language, pushing words together, changing words to reveal a teen’s pronunciation and thereby exposing some hidden meaning. There’s no way to translate that to film, but Speak seemed sort of poetic. Other book-based films I'd describe as poetic: Ghost World, Jesus' Son, Into the Wild, and The Sweet Hereafter.

First thing I noticed about the DVD case was that DB Sweeney was in the movie. Immediately I started guessing who he could be. I cast him as Mr. Neck, but the guy who played Mr. Neck was someone else who was PERFECT as Mr. Neck. When DB showed up as Melinda’s dad, I smiled. And that’s when I decided that watching a movie based on a book you love is a little like watching a movie about your life.

People who read the book know so much more about the story than the average movie watcher, so they can’t help but want to explain everything, to wish for more depth, to feel every part of the story, even the ones not shown.

Movies based on books are a literary conversation. With every choice, the director says: this is my take on the story. Each actor says: this is my take on the character. Sometimes they nail it and sometimes they don’t. Either way, I relish their attempts.

My favorite part of book-based movies are the little surprises they leave for readers. I love how all of the billboards in the background of Romeo + Juliet are commercialized lines from Shakespeare's plays. I love author cameos and scripts that incorporate actual dialogue from the book.

Speak did a great job with this awesome line from the book:

I cut class, you cut class, he, she, it cuts class.

I grinned as if hearing/reading it for the first time.

Movie movies are great, but book movies are always better. Case in point: I really want to see I Love You, Beth Cooper. Seriously.

Any book-based movies you love or hate? Any insight into why I love literary movies so much?


  1. Book based movies are great if you read the book beforehand, because you relate so much to the storyline.
    Case in point. I saw Harry Potter this weekend with my family. My older sister and I have read all the books and walked away loving the movie. The rest of the family hated it. Serioulsy they all swore they were not watching the movie(s) based on book 7 because they hated this one so much.

  2. I usually either love or hate movie's based on books (that I've read). I loved most of the Jane Austen adaptations (except for Mansfield Park which strayed horribly from the story and the characters). I also really enjoyed "The Secret Life of Bees." But I HATED The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald). It was a movie that I felt like I might have liked if I hadn't read the short story first, and known just how much they butchered it.

    And Megan- I loved the new Harry Potter too. Maybe those are better if you've read the books beforehand.

  3. I should mention that movies are ALWAYS better when you read the book first.

    However, even if I didn't read the book, I still like book-based movies better than written-for-the-screen movies.

    What up with that?

  4. Some movies based on books are great. Others, um, not so much. For example, I loved the book Angela's Ashes, but the movie was terrible.

  5. I love movies based on books as long as I go in with a realistic they-can't-fit-everything-i-loved-in-this-book-into-the-movie state of mind. And I think it's so enjoyable because you feel you know so much more back story than the non-reading viewer. It's like being in on a secret.

  6. I do agree that the movies are better after having read the books (Harry Potter, obviously)! I always have to remind myself that the movies will never be as I imagined them! Sometimes they are a disappointment but most of the time they are great! I always respect the actors, directors and producers taking on projects they didn't originally have a hand in!

  7. Tim Burton's Charlie & the Chocolate Factory was fantastic, except for one thing - the sub-plot about Wonka and his cold-hearted dentist father. I thought it was an necessary alteration to Roald Dahl's perfect book. It's still a sticking point for me. But, besides that, Burton's adaption was excellent. :D