How many times have you been to the cinema and heard someone say afterwards, “Yeah, it was OK. But the book’s way better”? Why do film adaptations disappoint so often? Maybe because even the best of them only last a couple of hours – with the best will in the world not long enough to include all the depth of an entire novel. If you’ve already read the book, you’re pretty much bound to come away from the film with a sense of disappointment.
I’ve just finished watching the BBC series Parade’s End, based on Ford Madox Ford’s novel – one of my all time favourite books. (Actually, I may have mentioned before that I LOVE this book.) I thought long and hard about watching the TV series, since I thought there was no way it could ever match up, but I’d heard brilliant reviews, especially of Benedict Cumberbatch as the hero, and so in the end, I did. And Benedict Cumberbatch was excellent. All the acting and casting was perfect, to be honest, but even at a total of five hours the adaptation missed the complexity and brilliance of the novel. I kept saying “No, no, that’s not right! You’re going way too fast!” and telling my husband everything that happened in the book, and how much the book was loads better, until I drove him mad and finally totally ruined it for him.
Sometimes it’s easier to enjoy a film adaptation if you weren’t a massive fan of the book/play in the first place, and so you haven’t got high expectations and you’re also not frightened of your favourite book being spoilt by a rubbish film. If I really LOVE a novel, I find I’m really reluctant to see anyone else’s version of it, because it would just spoil the book for me. Kiera Knightley as Anna Karenina is a good example. I haven’t seen that film and have absolutely no desire to, even though – or should I say because – it’s one of my favourite books.
There are a few film adaptations around at the moment. My husband’s reading Life of Pi and is very curious to find out how the film compares. Especially in 3-D – what a massively different experience to reading the novel! I’m also curious to see Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. I love Baz Luhrmann, and enjoyed Romeo + Juliet.
But can a film ever actually be better than a book? In my opinion, yes – but usually if the book wasn’t that great! Here are a few examples of films I loved and which I thought were better than the books, but since I didn’t like the books anyway it doesn’t count (and this is only my opinion, so don’t shoot me):
- The Shawshank Redemption (from the novella by Stephen King). In fact, I’m not a fan of Stephen King (I said don’t shoot me!), so prefer all his films to the books - The Shining, Carrie, The Green Mile and Stand By Me are perfect examples.
- Dr Zhivago I know – the book’s a classic, it’s just that I got bored reading it. No-one could ever get bored of Omar Sharif and Julie Christie :)
- The Godfather No explanation necessary!
- The Wizard of Oz Ditto
- Jurassic Park The book was a best-seller, but again I’m not a fan of Michael Crichton. Anyway, the film is the best dinosaur film ever!
- No Country For Old Men Javier Bardem. I rest my case.
And now here, in no particular order, are the ten films I thought were better than the book, even though the book was brilliant:
- Blade Runner by Philip K. Dick (from his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
- A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
- The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
- Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
- The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
How about you? Book or film? Do you agree with my choices? What do you think of Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings films? If you have any other examples of good/bad adaptations, please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!