Monday, August 17, 2009

Movies that are better than their source

I just finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and I must say that the movie is much better. Philip K. Dick has a mind-bending quality about him, a real knack for surreality and intriguing premises, but he's not a very good writers. His characters don't have much range, his descriptive ability is limited and he isn't really good at evoking emotions. He's actually quite good at the short story form (We'll Remember it for you Wholesale, Minority Report, Paycheck), but his longer works seem to overstretch the clever premise at the core. And of course the film version, Blade Runner, is a brilliant movie. The novel is interesting and worth reading, but the movie is just amazing.

The original source is usually better than the film version I think for simple reasons: a) because most movies aren't that good and b) because no one bothers to adapt a low quality material (whether a book, play, short story, video game or whatever). That most movies aren't that good is nothing against movies. Most art really isn't that good. It's hard to make good art, including good movies. With something as complex as a movie, so many things can go wrong. Thus, when you start with an already good piece of art and try to adapt it to a different medium, it's probably not going to be as good.

Nonetheless, because since it's by no means inevitable that the movie will be worse than its source, there are a number of interesting exceptions, in addition to Blade Runner. This site has a good top ten list, as does this. I'll definitely concur with Silence of the Lambs and Godfather, both of which are exceptional movies made from books that are not bad.

I'll add some others: The Talented Mr. Ripley, A History of Violence (a decent graphic novel, a really good movie), Casino Royale (the only James Bond book I've actually read. The movie is clearly better), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Some others that are pretty close, but the movie I think wins out would be A Clockwork Orange, Road to Perdition, and American Psycho.

Some others I've heard suggested, which seem plausible, though I haven't read the book are The Shining, Slumdog Millionaire, Cronenberg's The Fly, The Prestige, The Crow, The Third Man, and The Ninth Gate.

I'll also add 2001, a book I enjoyed and would highly recommend, which is out shined by a truly exceptional movie. It doesn't really fit because it's not really an adaptation, since the book and movie were produced simultaneously in collaboration.

There probably are other good examples.

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