November 3, 2010

So much more than a book


A recent article about Halloween movies by Dianna Dilworth in eBookNewser got me thinking about a subject we talk about on a pretty regular basis at MobyLives: movies based on books. A particular preoccupation for me has been this question: Which movies based on a work of literature are actually better than the book from which they are adapted? This is a really tough question to answer. Authors can be a tad proprietary about these things and, as their readers, we tend to sympathize because it’s how we first encounter an idea.

But when the subject came up a party a couple of months ago, I reflexively thought of The Shining. Martin Scorsese did a top-ten horror movie list for The Daily Beast last year and summed up well why I had that reflex, saying that, “I never read the Stephen King novel, I have no idea how faithful it is or isn’t, but Kubrick made a majestically terrifying movie, where what you don’t see or comprehend shadows every move the characters make.” This seems just about right to me.

A quick canvassing of some colleagues returned this list:

But those are just a few. On 10/10/10, Biblioklept published 3 different top-ten lists, one of which was their own better-than-the-book list. A couple of the previously mentioned titles were on there as well as a few that surprised me. (I mean, c’mon, I love the Coen brothers, but their version of No Country for Old Men better than Cormac McCarthy‘s? That’s a tough one.) Definitely worth a look-see if interest is piqued.

A sort of flip side to this equation is the books-based-on-a-film-that’s-better-than-the-film phenomenon. Okay, so it’s probably not a phenomenon per se, but books are written that are based on films and clearly some people read them, which I can attest to having shelved a goodly amount of them when I worked at the local library in high school. Jennifer Makowsky at PopMatters wrote about the novelization of the Steven Spielberg-scripted film Poltergeist by James Kahn recently. (Kahn it seems was a one-man Spielberg-Lucas film adapter as he also wrote novelizations for Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.) Makowsky encountered the novelization as a kid and was really floored by it. “Kahn’s version of Poltergeist is a rare example of a book written after a movie is released, which results in a riveting read,” she writes. “The book has the same premise as the movie, but Kahn adds some wonderfully creepy accompaniments.”

For example, there is a scene that further involves the famous clown doll. In the book, during his birthday party, Robbie is in the midst of a treasure hunt his mother has set up. He follows one of her clues that leads him to the grill out in the back yard. As he puts his hand into it, searching for a another hint, something bites him. When he investigates, he finds the clown doll “grinning devilishly, a little too broadly. This didn’t make sense–the clown had been up in the bedroom just before the party; Robbie had seen it there; he was certain. Sitting right up in the rocking chair. Now it grinned at him from a funny angle, caught between two bricks.”

Finally, there’s the video-game-based-on-a-movie-based-on-a-book phenomenon. Flavorwire posted a video yesterday of a 16-bit video game based on There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. Without question, the following is probably the best example of this phenomenon:

Super There Will Be Blood from Tomfoolery Pictures on Vimeo.