Monday, March 12, 2018

Books vs Movies 1/2: Books I Read After Seeing the Movie

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Movie: One of those movies that uses it's actors like juggling balls rather then for their talents and performances. Filled with a self-indulgent hyper-kinetic freneticism that is supposed to overawe but only makes me feel as empty as I do after watching forty minutes of Marvel movie fighting. I couldn't take more than a half hour of it.

The movie contains only the barest outline of the contents of the book (which is well over 700 dense pages).

Book: A classic, beautifully written, deeply insightful, and filled with a rich panoply of characters and events. I just don't like it. Why? Because it's filled with despair , depression, and the oppression of a soulless bureaucracy. I need someone to root for in my media, and there are no redeemable characters in the book. Anna starts out likeable enough, but soon becomes single-mindedly fixated on her adultery and filled with despair. Levin is kind of interesting as he works out the basics of communism, but hardly someone to identify with. Kitty is vacuous during the first half of the book, but she gains a few morals by the middle; unfortunately, her character just isn't that interesting.

Arrival, Ted Chiang

Movie: Quiet but phenomenal: intelligent, suspenseful, beautifully acted, scripted, and directed, and thoroughly engaging. It was only an hour after the movie ended that I figured out exactly what had been going on. One of my favorite movies of its year.

Book: A very nice short story, written in an economical style, well-plotted and thoughtful. To be honest,  the movie is so good that it makes reading the story kind of superfluous. The movie contains everything in the original story (with a few irrelevant changes) and more.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Movie: A beautiful movie with some haunting cinematography and outstanding acting. Some of the scenes and characters are haunting, and it contains some of my favorite actors. The story is clean and harsh.

Book: Very well-written, the movie is fairly close to the book. Both were enjoyable.

Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding

Movie: A very well-made chick-flick romcom that is a modern remake of Pride and Prejudice. A defining role for the fetching, sarcastic, and sympathetic Renee Zellweger. Actually a lot of fun, although kind of devolves a bit at the end as romcoms do.

Book: Slightly better than the movie, with a sharper satirical voice. The movie pretty much follows the book, but the book has its own distinctive voice.

The Chosen, Chaim Potok

Movie: A classic coming of age movie set in two Jewish 1940s Brooklyns that intersect. Contains some lessons in overcoming prejudices, making friends, and dealing with the heavy roles placed on us by society and family.

Book: As I recall, the movie is pretty much a reflection of the book, but the book is longer and deeper. Honestly, it's been a long while since I read it.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Movie: An iconic live-action Disney musical and performance by Dick Van Dyke. Very reminiscent of his overacting and production, like Mary Poppins. Fun in a nostalgic kind of way.

Book: Holds up better than the movie It is aimed at young readers and has good pictures and a simple clean writing style. The movie basically follows the book but changes several story elements to make it more child-friendly.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial, William Kotzwinkle

Movie: A classic Spielberg movie, with an absent father, cute kids, realistic dialogue that can veer from maudlin to annoying, and an incredible sense of wonder and magic. Beautiful cinematography and direction.

Book: A novelization of the movie, and I remember being thoroughly underwhelmed. The book adds some inner dialogue to the book that somehow managed to destroy the magic of the story.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Movie: A great movie, one of the three major films starring James Dean. Powerfully shot and directed, with iconic performances.

Book: A powerhouse classic novel, one of the best American novels ever written. It is large, wide and epic, as well as thought-provoking with biblical allusions, well-drawn out characters, and interesting moral questions. The movie only superficially covers about the last quarter of the book.

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

Movie: A great movie; could be considered a chick-flick but it is so much more, with sweeping characters caught in a global war and a series of interesting character dynamics and coincidences. Beautifully shot and acted, and very engaging.

Book: The movie follows the book fairly closely, and may be slightly better, but the book is also great. A very good read.

Escape to Witch Mountain, Alexander, H. Key

Movie: I loved this as a kid. It's kind of dated and a bit hokey, but still pretty fun to watch.

Book: Aimed at a rather young audience, so very easy and quick to read. The movie and book are nearly identical.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J. K. Rowling

Movie: An interesting movie, more low key than the Harry Potter movies. Two thirds of its time is spent on the pastoral main character and his doings and only in the last third do the hinted-at dark elements come to the fore. In this way, it is actually a closer representation of Rowling's writing style than the HP movies.

The main character is not a fighter, but a nurturer, which is quite an unusual choice for a movie that seems, superficially, to be more about action. It was well shot, had quirky characters, but was perhaps a bit slow. And then there was a battle sequence which went on too long, or at least with too much monotony. But it was enjoyable, all the same.

Book: Has nothing to do with the movie; it is a small fictional encyclopedia, which will eventually be written by the main character of the movie. You can skip it.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

Movie: Cute but disappointing. The characters were nice, the message was upbeat, but it was mostly predictable. The movie had a particularly bad misstep by setting a romantic scene in The Anne Frank House (ugh) and one particularly good scene near the end in a car. The rest was fine, occasionally charming, but too tame and pedestrian.

Book: The movie very closely follows the book. The book is slightly better, but has basically the same flaws.

Freaky Friday, Mary Rodgers

Movie: Here I refer to the original movie with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, I suspect that it is now pretty hokey, like many made for TV Disney films, but may still have some charm. I remember find it very funny and entertaining when I was a kid. The remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan was watchable but often over-produced and dumbed down. I think I might try to find the original again.

Book: Has several major differences from the movie, as I recall, as it follows almost entirely the point of view of the daughter in the mother's body. I don't remember it, although I remember my brother owning a copy. It was aimed at young teens.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Movie: I saw this in high school and wasn't ready for it. It's pretty grim. Well made, but not really entertaining.

Book: A well written classic, and far more expansive than the movie. The movie covers most of the book, but skips the first few and last few chapters and glosses over a lot of the middle. The book is also grim, but the good writing brings the characters to life, and it is more engaging.

Heaven Can Wait, Leonore Fleischer

Movie: Another somewhat dated movie (1978). While the special effects are hokey and the timing and performances of the actors are sometimes a bit off, it still holds up pretty well. I really enjoyed it when I was young.

Book: Actually, the movie is based on the 1941 play Here Comes Mr. Jordan by Henry Segall. This is the novelization of the above version of the movie. It wasn't that bad, just a straightforward telling of what you see on the screen. Not worth seeking out.

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Movie: A beautiful, thoughtful movie about three women in three different realities, connected by visual clues and emotional eddies. Perhaps a bit heavy handed on cinematic allusions, the directing and production are nevertheless solid, as are the magnificent performances by several incredibly talented actors. Emotional and hopeful.

Book: Was a disappointment after seeing the movie. It's not a bad book, but it is pedestrian in comparison. The movie essentially follows the book, with some cinematic licenses.

The Hunger Games (1), Suzanne Collins

Movie: I loved this movie so much that I immediately bought the entire trilogy of books knowing nothing about it. The performances are fantastic and the story and execution is beautiful. It's a great movie. Even so, the movie glossed over certain side themes and characters. It tried to both denounce the games while at the same time glorify them on screen, which didn't really make sense.

Book: The book is phenomenal, an instant classic, beautifully written with evocative characters and settings. The book presents the correct balance of despair and terror that the movie glosses over.

The second and third books are just as good or even better, while the subsequent movies got progressively worse.

John Carter (A Princess of Mars), Edgar Rice Burroughs

Movie: Roundly condemned for being boring, disjointed, and derivative, it was a huge box office bomb. I liked it. It was quirky and even daring in certain instances, and the plot, while somewhat far-fetched, was easy enough to follow. The characters and plot were shallow, but not boring.

Book: From 1912, the book is pre-golden age of science fiction, which explains its bizarre far-fetched plot. It is a decent read. The movie follows the book fairly closely, but expands on the text and plays with the start and end in order to provide a more compelling explanation of how the protagonist travels to Mars. Neither book nor movie are amazing, but they are both entertaining enough.

Julie and Julia, Julie Powell

Movie: A fun Nora Ephron movie about blogging, New York City, marriage, and cooking. Amy Adams is cute as Julie the blogger who decides to cook through Julia Childs' fat-laced Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Meryl Streep is delightful (of course) as a young Child as she first learns to cook. The fact that, in present time, Child acknowledges Julie only to dismiss what she does as a stunt is disconcerting but somewhat telling.

Book: The movie is actually based on Powell's book Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously as well as an autobiography by Child from the same year. Powell's book corresponds to the Julie scenes in the movie, and is written well enough. I can't really recommend the book: it's okay, but the author has some questionable morals.

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

Movie: An iconic, fantastic Spielberg movie that still works so well that you don't even mind the just ever-so-slightly off effects (except for when the girl says "It's a UNIX system!" which elicits a groan of pain from me every time). Has the usual daddy issues and cute, precocious children. Wonderful, magical film, with a great cast especially Goldblum), superb action and humor, and even a timeless message.

Book: The movie pretty much follows the book, which is also excellent. The book leaves out some of the great lines from the movie, but goes deeper into the characters, science, terrain, and so forth, and has a slightly darker more ominous tone, especially the ending.

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

Movie: A stunning work of cinematography, with a good story and good acting. This was one of my favorite movies of its year.

Book: The movie pretty much follows the book, but the movie is more fun to experience.

Me Before You, JoJo Moyes

Movie: Shallow and predictable. Its assets are the impossibly perky Emilia Clarke as Lou and the handsome and winning Sam Claffin as the wealthy but paralyzed Will. Everything else were just devices to have the main characters interact, trade barbs and glances, and share hearts. During the movie, when it appeared to be leading to a tragic ending, the realization of its inevitability evoked some emotion out of me, but that was its only real good point. When it ended I suspected that the book would be better.

Book: I was happily surprised to discover that the book is not only better, but it is excellent, well worth the read. The book goes deep into the poverty and struggles of Lou and her family, the dynamics of Will's parents and sister, the ethics of suicide and assisted suicide, and the lives and struggles of quadriplegics. The book takes its time and is well researched. Even Lou's boyfriend is more interesting in the book: in the movie he is one dimensional and you know he will be kicked to the curb a few seconds after he shows up on screen; in the book, he is still an ass but more well-rounded and sympathetic. I recommend the book.

After you read the book, you can enjoy the movie more, because you now know the back stories of the characters that were glossed over by the movie. Or you may also be even more disappointed in the movie for cutting the heart out of the book.

Message in a Bottle, Nicolas Sparks

Movie: Not a bad chick flick, it is solid but also not particularly daring. Paul Newman steals all of the scenes he is in.

Book: It's Nicholas Sparks: the plot is simple and fun, the writing is good enough to tell the story and not much more. The movie pretty much follows the book.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Movie: A fabulous movie about a strange teen and his mysterious problems and the odd friends he makes in high school The movie is beautifully scripted with several concurrent themes running through it, some serious and some light, and they all work together Great performances and music, too. Inspired me to read the book as soon as possible.

Book: Also great, a longer and more complex version of the movie. The movie managed to portray most of the book's major plot elements, but the book makes them more gripping with an attention to details and events more fully realized. Worth the read.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Bryan Lee O'Malley

Movie: A fun, wacky and engaging movie that inspired me to read the comic series as soon as possible. The movie is so random in some ways, and yet it cohesively uses video-game semiotics to metaphorically convey the main character's reality, while the main plot is its own metaphor about making a relationship work while dealing with the ghosts of past relationships. I loved it.

Book: My joy of the movie was lessened after reading the powerhouse that is the graphic novel series. Scott Pilgrim the six part comic series is incredible and incredibly deep, funny, original, cute, cool, and so much fun. The movie more or less covers book 1, some of book 2, parts of book 3, a teeny bit of book 4 and 5, and then nearly entirely rewrites book 6. The plot ends in a totally different place, and so much of the important story, character development, metaphors, depth, and life lessons from the last four books are absent from the movie. The movie is just a shadow of the incredible book series. I still enjoy the movie, but do read the series.

The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

Movie: An adult story set in New England mostly Maine) about loneliness and mediocrity, the movie is pretty good, although it doesn't really have a lot to say. The main characters are not all that sympathetic, but its a decent watch.

Book: A more fleshed out and sympathetic portrayal of the story, the main character transforms and grows by the end of the book. It is written solidly and a good read. Scenes that were flat in the movie are richer in the book since we can see can experience the characters' inner struggles. I enjoyed it more than the movie (and that feeling is only exacerbated by knowing what we now know about Kevin Spacey).

Slumdog Millionaire (Q and A), Vikas Swarup

Movie: A highly-praised movie, and well deserved. It manages to be funny and yet still explore some of the dark areas of Indian poverty, child abuse, and crime. Great acting and sets, and an engaging plot.

Book: Definitely better than the movie, well written and more satisfying. The book contains background information, relationships, and even entire scenes that are skipped over by the movie, so that many of the characters and their motivations make more sense. Not a long book, and worth the read.

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

Movie: The movie that introduced me to Kristen Stewart, it is a neat, quiet, but powerful little teen drama about an event that is hard to speak about. It is very well done, almost a classic teen movie.

Book: The movie essentially follows the book. It is something like two different people telling the same story - all of the plot elements are there, but the coloring and which parts are given weight is slightly different in each telling. A very good teen read.

Star Wars, George Lucas (Alan Dean Foster)

Movie: Not much to say here, I think.

Book: A novelization of the movie, adding only a bit of interior dialogue. It was nothing special. Foster went on to write the first sequel to Star Wars - Splinter of the Mind's Eye - even before The Empire Strikes Back came out. As a result, that book doesn't entirely adhere to the SW universe; it was a pretty good book, however.

Superman III, William Kotzwinkle

Movie: Superman was a little soporific, but also iconic in many ways. Superman II was pretty great; from today's perspective, its timing, some effects, and some of the dialogue is off, but it's still a good watch. Superman III tried to be a comedy with Richard Pryor, but it wasn't funny. It was pretty tiresome to watch, and its computer elements were as ridiculous as they come in movies. Some scenes with Clark Kent fighting his evil instantiation were okay.

Book: Like E.T.'s novelization, this book was pretty awful, robbing what little interest the movie held with poor cutesy prose. I hardly remember anything from it except that I didn't like it.

The Sword in the Stone, T. H. White

Movie: One of the minor Disney efforts, it's a barrage of meaningless, psychedelic, and silly visuals and jokes. The move has only passing reference to the book's form, missing nearly all of the rich descriptions, all of its important concepts, and all but the last, major plot point.

Book: The movie glosses over the first book of a five book series on the Arthurian legends. The first four are collected under the title The Once and Future King. The first book, rather like The Hobbit, is the juvenile entry of the series; the other four are more for adults. The entire series is a must read, an absolute classic of English literature, on par with The Lord of the Rings. Yes, it's that good.

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

Movie: Certain movies, like this one, just work, and you can tell that from the first ten minutes. This is a lovely romance movie, which uses its science fiction element as an allegory (as all good works of science fiction do). Heart-warming and captivating, but very much an emotional roller coaster. It falters a bit when it veers into trying to explain things scientifically, and then certain story elements aren't exactly explained well (like how their time traveling daughter can possibly survive, at a very young age, the same kinds of experiences that the protagonist went through as an adult).

Book: Like Perks of Being a Wallflower, the movie is a condensed version of the book. The book gives a richer tapestry of the events, including expanded scenes and an ending that are more satisfying than the movie. A beautiful read, good to read together with a loved one.

Twilight, Stephanie Meyer

Movie: Not bad, although it also somewhat shallow. Like The Time Traveler's Wife, the central fantasy is a metaphor about sexual tension between an older boy and a minor girl, but it is also an action movie. It doesn't quite successfully juggle both elements, and Kristen Stewart doesn't give us much character depth, but that is more the fault of the screenwriter and director than hers. The movie is aimed at tween girls, and they like it, so that's that.

Book: Somewhat better than the movie, still aimed at tween and teen girls. Again, it's not bad, and certainly more original than the hundreds of similar books that it inspired and that came after.

The Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum

Movie: A wonderful movie that, amazingly, hasn't lost its charm. Full of great moments, great quotes, and great characters, and some very funny and scary moments you always seem to forget.

Book: Called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I was never able to get into it. The author's writing is not as good as the author's imagination. Dorothy is someone who things happen to, rather then someone who does things. The movie really makes the story shine.

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

Movie: I anticipated this being a boring movie with a straightforward story about a disfigured boy who goes to school, is bullied, makes a false friend and then a true friend, finally wins over the school, etc, blah blah. Actually, half of the book is about that, but the other half is told from the point of view of others in his life, and those stories are more interesting. Some of these side stories don't even revolve around the boy, which make the whole thing a richer experience. So I enjoyed the movie, although the main plot was somewhat shallow. I anticipated that the book would contain things left out of the movie.

Book: But the movie nearly exactly follows the book, even the structure of telling stories from the perspectives of the different characters. The book and the movie are essentially the same, so, while the book was also fairly enjoyable, it was not much more than that.