Booking Through Thursday: Celluloid
1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
I don't know about "best;" I suspect if I thought about this long enough I'd come up with a lot of possibilities. So I'll go with the first thing that popped into my mind, the recent War of the Worlds. Now I know a lot of people hated that movie (I liked it), and there were some important differences between it and H.G. Wells' wonderful story, but I think the spirit of the book was captured in the movie, as well as in the amazing technology.
Another recent example that I remembered: The Freedom Writers Diary. I thought the movie The Freedom Writers did a good job at capturing the book. (And Hilary Swank even resembles Erin Gruwell.)
2. The worst?
Again, I'm not sure about the "worst;" and since I almost always think the book is way better than the movie, there would be even more possibilities for an answer to this one than there are for the "best" if I thought about it for a while. So - the first thing that popped into my mind: The Firm. Oddly, that is also a Tom Cruise movie!! Not that it's a classic novel or anything, but the changed ending in the movie irritated me so much! Why can't Hollywood leave such things alone? Or is it that movie audiences couldn't handle how the book ended?
In the interest of having two and two - another example of "the worst" adaptation that I am thinking of is not books and movies, but plays and movies. I just have to mention it because I think it really was "the worst." I thought Phantom of the Opera as a movie was so bad they should snap every DVD of it in half, and erase the master. What an abomination.
3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)
Yes, in all three cases I'd read the book first, and I saw Phantom on the stage before seeing the movie. I agree that whatever you are exposed to first probably seems best, although I'm trying to think of an example where I saw the movie first and liked it more, and I can't! Maybe because I almost always read the book first, and in most cases, may or may not see the movie. Even in the case of the two movies I listed as "best," I didn't like them more than the books - I simply thought the movie versions were respectable adaptations.
Added 1: OK, I came up with one. I didn't see the movie first, but I think I enjoyed it more than the book: Last of the Mohicans. James Fenimore Cooper's books are great - but they are also kind of difficult reads.
Added 2: Here's another great book to movie adaptation: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Though I still liked the book more, and so much had to be left out, the 1934 movie was very good (the 1982 TV movie wasn't bad, either).
Added 3: For a hilarious take on James Fenimore Cooper's writing, read "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" in How to Tell a Story and Other Essays by Mark Twain (1897).