5 movies that were better than the books
I’m trying to read a full 20,000 pages this year, so I’m neglecting the real world in favor of many, many fake ones. I’ve also been tending to lean more towards longer books so I can get to that threshold in time. This is an exercise in patience for me. I tend to like novellas because you get that post-book feeling of satisfaction much quicker, and if you finish the book and hate it, it’s not as big of a deal. I’m assuming the books will keep getting smaller and smaller over the next 10 years or so, so by the time I’m 36, I’ll be standing in Doctor’s and Guidance Counselor’s offices just so I can work my way through their entire catalog on my changing body 7 minutes.
I just recently finished the latest book in the Game of Thrones series, A Dance With Dragons. In it, Jojen Reed (known to watchers of the show as “HOLY SHIT, THAT’S THE LITTLE BOY FROM LOVE ACTUALLY!”), says this:
It occurs to me that virtually everyone lives a thousand lives now. You can live 10 lives in an afternoon in front of your TV, you can live a couple during a movie while you’re on a date, and you can go to the theater and live a few more on a special occasion. Even without books, there are millions of lives to be lived, and a good deal of them are a lot less mundane than this one (though The Walking Dead is a notable exception, amirite? How the fuck do you make zombies boring?).
I think there’s a hierarchy to the rewarding-ness of a medium, though, and it’s according to total length. Longer stories let you get more invested in the characters, so it is, for example, more upsetting to see Eddard Stark die in Game of Thrones than it is to see Leo die in Titanic. And it’s even more upsetting to see him die in the book, because you’ve just put 800 goddamn pages in and are you SERIOUSLY killing off the best character right now? The hierarchy, then, is:
This, I think, is at least partially to blame for the assholes who say “The book was better than the movie,” and make you feel totally inadequate about not being literate.. There are times, though, when a movie is so well done that it’s actually better than the books. Here are my top 5:
1. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Basic Plot: A Hobbit gets a ring, walks a long way to drop it into some lava. This is a third of that walk.
Look, I know I’m totally alone in this. I know it’s blasphemy. I also know I’m the only person who liked the first movie the best. The primary differences that I remember between the book and the movie were that 1) in the book, Frodo waits like, 30 years for Gandalf to come back and tell him to get the fuck out of dodge, and 2) in the book, there’s an entire interlude with a mysterious character called Tom Bombadil who is only described as “The Master of the Wood,” who lives in the forest with his wife, Goldberry, and is apparently totally unaffected by the ring. They say he can’t take the Ring to Mordor himself because he wouldn’t want to.
Now let’s be honest, here: Tom Bombadil was the worst. If you’re going to pick the “Best LOTR Approximation of the Lorax,” it doesn’t even go to Tom Bombadil. It goes to Treebeard and the Ents (they don’t have to speak for the trees, they literally are the trees! And Saruman’s like a really creepy Onceler!). Also, a “Master of the Wood” who spends all his time in a cabin with his smokin’ hot wife? Let’s be honest. It was a fuck den. The reason he didn’t want to take the ring was because there was too much sloppy fuckin’ to give to his wife. Master of the Wood indeed. The movie wins on the Balrog scene alone.
Basic Plot: A totalitarian government has quelled its rebellious districts by forcing them to sacrifice their children in a televised battle-to-the-death. This works, for some reason.
This is mostly because The Hunger Games is just not a particularly good book. The book is written in a similar style to Twilight (read: Badly, but with really impressive plotting), so you’re breezing through it and thinking you’re such a good reader and then you’re finished and you feel the same way as you do when you eat the entire bag of potato chips in one sitting. The movie stays pretty loyal to the book, but it just works so much better in movie format. It was clearly written with the eventual visual element in mind. It reminded me of the last Harry Potter book in that sense, where the final battle on the Hogwarts grounds just feels a little too perfectly cinematic to have been written without thinking about what Neville would look like cutting the head of the snake off. I’m not going to put Harry Potter on this list though, for the same reason I am putting The Hunger Games on: the actors.
The actors in the Harry Potter movies are not all that great. They get better over time, sort of, but you can never really love them the way you love the book characters. The main character in The Hunger Games is Katniss Everdeen, who is basically Bella Swan with a rougher backstory, but the same shitty, boring attitude. Also, she has a bow-and-arrow. Jennifer Lawrence is awesome though, and plays less the Katniss in the book and more her character from Winter’s Bone, and that makes her awesome.
Basic Plot: A poor hunter comes across a huge bag of cash from a drug deal gone wrong, is hunted by the creepiest psychopath on the planet. Tommy Lee Jones is a fucking sheriff again.
Okay, I’m cheating, because the movie adaptation of No Country for Old Men is not better than the book. It is exactly as good as the book. You can’t really improve on Cormac McCarthy, you can only meet him at his level, and the Coen Brother’s adaptation is 100% loyal, perfectly acted, and 10 million different kinds of awesome, so it does what should absolutely be the impossible, and matches this truly awesome book.
Also, HOW FUCKING CREEPY IS JAVIER BARDEM?
Also in this category of just-as-good is Fight Club, Trainspotting, and High Fidelity.
Basic Plot: For whatever reason, women are now infertile, and the youngest person on the planet is 18. A man finds himself helping an illegal immigrant who is also pregnant.
This movie was really unfortunate in that it came out in the same week as Pan’s Labyrinth, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it slipped under the radar for a little while. Turns out, it is ALSO one of my favorite movies all time, at least partly because it has a seven-minute long single shot war scene. The logistics of that should make you shit your pants. The book is different in that it focuses less on the pregnancy and more on the relationship between Theo (Clive Owen), and his cousin, who is the dictator of England. His cousin is not the dictator in the movie, and you don’t really give a shit about him.
Also, it ends on the song, “Cunts Are Still Running the World,” by Jarvis Cocker, which is a perfect way to end any movie.
Basic Plot: The lead Washington lobbyist for big tobacco tries to get closer to his son while hawking deathsticks to Congress.
First of all: HARVEY DENT. There. That’s out of the way.
This is another one that wins out on the differences in the plot of the book and in the actual movie. The book actually sells out the ending more than the movie. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t seen the movie – I don’t really recommend the book – but the book ends with the main character, Nick Naylor, learning his lesson and deciding to be good. The movie is less like that. And this is how a good satire should be. A satire should never end on a cheery note: at the most it should end on a slightly hopeful note. Also, I liked them displaying Naylor trying to reconcile selling a deadly product while also trying to be a good role model for his kid, which was basically not present in the book.
I’m interested in other opinions here, of course. I wrote this blog specifically because I just read Ender’s Game, and though I kinda really liked it, I also thought it sounded vaguely like a justification for fascism, so I’m interested to see how they handle that in the movie. More on that some other time though. Also, here are the movies, if you’re interested: