Books Can’t be Movies?

Saw ‘The Avengers’ last week, well right when it came out. It was awesome. I didn’t realize it was a Whedon, but his sense of timing for witty one liners is undeniable. And overall, the job with a larger cast of characters was well-balanced. Not too much backstory, but anyone who needed to look for it could see enough of the characters’ motivations to keep them from freaking out (or whatever it is those of you who don’t go to movies entirely to turn your brains off do).

Comparing this to ‘The Hunger Games’, which was based on a book–something about the scale of the whole thing was a lot easier to enjoy. I’m sure people might argue there’s more depth in the Collins-inspired movie, but let’s face it, there was something missing from that movie. (Just going off the profits alone, it’s easy to see which one people are enjoying more…whether or not you argue it’s because it was all dark and depressing, really,really?)

Anyway, I couldn’t help but think what a spectacularly awful book ‘The Avengers’ would make. I don’t enjoy the comic series—I grew up on a little bit of Archie, a few Disney cartoons (yes, they did comic books before purchasing Marvel), a fair bit of Chacha Chaudhary (probably misspelled that, it’s been a while), and, eventually, a fair bit of Japanese manga. But superhero comics have never been my thing; oftentimes it seems like the problems were laid on to hide that things do always work out for the good guys. (Although Tony Stark’s alcoholism is pretty strong. I like that that was his problem; it goes with his persona much better than what they used in the movies.)

Even so, American comics make fantastic movies. Consistently better movies, I think, than books. I’ve racked my brain over it for a few days and whether or not it’s my poor knowledge of cinema interfering, I can’t name a single great book whose fully faithful adaptation made a great movie. (Keep in mind I still haven’t seen ‘Catch 22,’ which I hear is surprisingly good, and I can’t stand Puzo’s writing style even though I thought the movie was pretty awesome, and I’m only counting full novels devoid of illustrations. And, again, I haven’t seen that many movies.)

Maybe this is more Hollywood. Maybe it’s the fact that movie adaptations of books have a hard time going through because of the rabid book fans and the pressures of doing business in Hollywood. But I’m inclined to think it’s a more fundamental difference. The ways in which books are fantastic is irreplaceable. Adapting pieces to movies works occasionally, but you’ll never get the full range of the book. Usually, the result is tolerable but rarely more than mediocre. At worst you end up with something like ‘Zorba the Greek’, which took all the wrong moments from a pretty fantastic piece of work, and at best…?

If you could name any fantastic book-movie adaptations that are genuinely faithful, I’d love to hear of them.

I do hear the Japanese recently made a movie of out Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norweigan Wood’….


6 thoughts on “Books Can’t be Movies?

  1. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was largely similar, I believe, as was Silence of the Lambs. Don’t quote me though. Hunger Games was largely faithful and did better as a book, but you’ve already seen it.

    One of the problems is condensing a novel, roughly 300-400 pages of condensed text and description down to a 120 page wide-spaced screenplay adaption. Much must be cut and sometimes key events don’t make sense without the necessary set-up or pages prior requiring a tweak to adjust for continuity and suspension of disbelief.

    • Huh, I never saw the movie for ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ but it is highly rated…should check it out.

      Yeaah. Although a lot of things that need to be explicit in a book can be implied or cut down in a movie. Vice versa too, I think–there’s movie scenes that go on for minutes and would barely need mentioning in a book.

      Now I want to know what the average words-to-minutes ratio tends to be.

      • It’s one page per minute, give or take, not necessarily words. It’s one of the reasons screenplays are so lean on description and dialogue heavy.

      • Really? I thought that rule only applied to things read aloud. Seems like for books-to-movies it goes…maybe 5 pages a minute? Varies, though.

      • The reality varies, but the rule is one minute becuase that’s what it averages out to by the 90 minute mark.

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