The Grandson: A book?
Grandpa: That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books.
– The 1987 film, The Princess Bride
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It’s stating the obvious, but there have been so many terrific movies based on books.
This post is taking another look at movies and books, again stating my preference for one over the other. I’ll mention again the phrase we so often hear, “The book was so much better than the movie.” For me that’s not always been the case. In my last post for the most part I looked at movies that came out between the 1930’s to the 1960’s. In this post I wanted to compare books made into films that were released from the 1980’s till now, again sharing which I prefer.
In most instances I saw the movie before I decided to read the book on which it was based. But that’s not the case with this first choice. I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and loved it. Steven Spielberg produced and directed the critical acclaimed 2012 film Lincoln based on part of the book, the last four months of Lincoln’s life. This movie is the only film released in the last five years to secure a spot on my Top 25 All Time Favorite Films list. I love the film, but Team of Rivals beats the film by ever so slight a margin.
In two weeks the fourth Bourne movie that has Matt Damon in the title roll is being released here in the U.S. The original trilogy are among my favorite action movies. I saw them all before I read Robert Ludlum’s first Bourne novel, The Bourne Identity. The book is excellent. But because it was written in 1980, this is one where I like the 2002 movie even more because of the more contemporary setting that made such excellent use of technology in the story. It’s just a great film all around.
The Rainmaker, from 1997 (another movie starring Matt Damon) was pretty good. But John Grisham’s book is just oh so good! It’s so much better than the film. The novel is one of my favorites. I usually do a bit of research before I pick up something to read (“So many books, so little time” – Frank Zappa). My investigation found that The Rainmaker was reviewed well and that it’s Grisham’s most humorous writing. My diligence was well rewarded. The book deals with serious subjects yes, still as it’s written from the first-person perspective of Rudy Baylor, it was wonderfully funny to listen in on his thoughts.
A few years ago I had a 40 minute commute to where I was working. During my lunch hour I usually spent the time reading in my car. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was one I read with my car parked at the far end of the parking lot where there were very few cars. Most cars were all clustered around the main building. I faced a low row of bushes. Beyond them was a deep gully and then a few barren hills, with the exception of scattered oak trees rising up from the gully. Although this wasn’t far from a very busy freeway, from where I sat my field of vision was filled with these bushes and trees, and I could hear all kinds of birds and the rustling of leaves from a gentle breeze.
It was an excellent spot for this city boy to read Jurassic Park. I think the setting contributed to the experience and enjoyment.
Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film version, which I had seen several times before reading the novel, is just fantastic. Still, the book, and the circumstances in which I happened to find myself enjoying it, puts the book above the movie.
The movie The Princess Bride (1987) begins with and weaves in a simple story touching on the gap between generations. A grandfather shares a special book with his reluctant grandson. But this isn’t just any story, it’s a fable packed with adventure, courage, friendship, romance and a whole lot of laughter. The film is one of my all time top 10 favorites. The screenplay was written by William Goldman who is the author of the book. Looking forward to reading the book, I was disappointed when the book, although much of the dialogue went straight to the screen, still didn’t capture the magic of the film. It amazed me that a good book was destined to become a better movie. The Princess Bride, perfectly cast, wonderfully directed by Rob Reiner is one of the very best comedy/adventure/romance films ever made.
Shoeless Joe, a book by W.P. Kinsella became the movie Field of Dreams (1989). I’m not sure which I love more. They’re both wonderful. The movie has a much stronger focus on the main character Ray Kinsella and his relationship, or lack there of, with his father. In the book Ray dealt more with questions of whether or not he was doing the right thing; if he was making a mistake. It touched more on his apprehensions and fears. I’m a sucker for father/son and self-discovery themes. See the movie! Read the book! They’re both terrific! It’s a toss up as to which is better.
In my opinion Peter Jackson was able to pull off the impossible when he created The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He really stumbled when he made the The Hobbit into 3 films. They were okay, fine for “popcorn” action adventure movies. Still, they were nothing like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
But that in no way diminishes what Jackson accomplished in turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy into a magnificent set of films capturing this grand mythic story. The themes of courage, friendship, responsibility, honor, loyalty and sacrifice are all there. I’ve argued with a good friend who is a Tolkien purest. He cannot forgive some of the changes Jackson made and things he left out. I on the other hand say the director was able to infuse the films with the spirit of the books and bring the stories and characters magnificently to life. I love Tolkien’s books, but his great personal love of language and inclusion of so much poetry make it easier for me to give the movies a very slight thumbs up above the books.
Give credit to my daughter, a big Shakespeare fan, and Kenneth Branagh, for getting me to read some of his works. I’ve only read two Shakespeare plays- Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, both made into very good films directed by Kenneth Branagh. And I needed help when reading Shakespeare’s ‘Old English’ so what I actually read were those “Simply Shakespeare” versions where the original words are on the left hand page and a modern translation on the right. Reading the plays was a bit more work than I would want when reading a book. Branagh’s films were wonderful. I would have to say I preferred the movies to the book/plays in this case. Another of Kenneth Branagh’s films that I really enjoyed was Henry V, with it’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech. That is next on my list of Shakespeare plays to read.
There are a few other movies, among them, the The Harry Potter films based on the J.K. Rowling books. But these and others are ones I would have to see the films and read the books again to decide which I truly enjoy more.
Lastly here is a list of some books that I’m looking forward to reading. These are those which again were made into some wonderful movies that I’ve seen and loved.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Henry V by Shakespeare
The Green Mile by Stephen King
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
The Martian by Andy Weir
Jaws by Peter Benchley
Catch My if You Can by Frank W. Abagnale
A Good Year by Peter Mayle
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Fortunately, there is no lack of great books made into excellent films, so I look forward to seeing and reading many more in the years to come.
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“This is a real cheap shot, but for some reason I couldn’t resist…
Drummond’s scowl intensifies, and I smile in return. In the few brief seconds that we stand and watch each other, I learn an enormously valuable lesson. He’s just a man. He might be a legendary trial lawyer with lots of notches in his belt, but he’s just another man. He’s not about to step across the aisle and slap me, because I’d whip his ass. He can’t hurt me, and neither can his little covey of minions.
Courtrooms are level from one side to the other. My table is as large as his.”
– Rudy Baylor, John Grisham’s The Rainmaker