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Better than the book?

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Friday, Nov 30, 2007

The San Diego Union-Tribune on The Graduate, novel vs. screenplay:

Charles Webb’s novella has no soul and no style. Mike Nichols’ generation-influencing film, which introduced the world to Dustin Hoffman and gave Anne Bancroft the role of a lifetime, had both.

Harsh, right? I don’t know if I agree, but then it’s been a while since I read Webb’s book. Telling, however, might be how many times I’ve revisited the movie. It’s age-old, really, the Book vs. Movie debate; how one stacks up against the other. But is such a debate even valid considering the clear and vast differences between storytelling on paper and on screen? I’ve decided the phrase “the book was better” simply means the book was better detailed, because isn’t the argument against the movie always that someone was left out or something wasn’t explained enough? It doesn’t make the movie bad, it just makes it, well, a movie—shorter, faster, reliant on a particular structure.

Still, it’s a debate we can’t get away from, especially lately with so many adaptations hitting cinemas. I have, I think, six movie tie-ins on my to-read shelf at the moment —No Country for Old Men, Reservation Road, Into the Wild, Gone, Baby, Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Oil!. I may rate the mediums on their own merit, but I’m very much a victim of the “book is better” deal simply because I strive to read the source material of each and every film I’m more than just vaguely interested in (and somehow the books become more appealing, and race to the top of the to-read pile because the film is on its way). It’s a weird thing. And, weirder, I never read a book after I’ve seen the film. I somehow feel plagued by the filmic shorthand, and, consequently, have put off seeing movies for years (The Godfather, House of Sand and Fog, Patty Hearst) out of a determination to get the full story first.

The Union-Tribune steers clear of any investigation into reasons behind our fascination with comparing movies to books, and instead provides a list of ten movies writer David L. Coddon believes surpass the source material. His selections are diverse and interesting, though mostly way off the mark. Like I said—you just can’t compare the two, right?

The Brandeis Hoot rates comic book adaptations here, while James Hebert, also at the Union-Tribune, looks at adaptations that worked. Betsy Burton at the King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City is on my side in this article in yesterday’s Cincinnati Post:

Books leave a lot more to your imagination, obviously. I think, in the end, they can be more powerful, because you have all the time in the world to let your imagination work ... Movies can draw you out of yourself in a very different way. (A movie) can just pull you completely out of your own existence.

And, judging from the multitude of titles about the hit theatres mention in that piece, I really need to get reading.

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