When the Movie is Better than the Book

WARNING: This article may contain spoilers. It also contains sexy men.

Last week, I read a book I’d wanted to read for years: Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I’d seen the movie before (three times actually), and I absolutely loved it. Therefore, despite trying to go into the book with an open-mind, I inevitably thought about the film while reading and was expecting certain things that unfortunately did not occur in Gaiman’s work. On the contrary, some elements that were exclusive to the book did not, in my opinion, bring much to the story. For instance, Tristran’s struggle with the faeries, or his encounter with the tree were not the most compelling aspects of the plot. The addition of the greek myth of Pan and the nymph seemed out of place to me. It is not always that a scenarist takes away from the book what deserves to be taken away, but in this case, I believe the job was very well done.

The few references to nursery rhymes that occur at the beginning of the novel are completely forsaken as the story progresses. It seemed to me that Gaiman was adding a lot of different aspects to his story but everything remained superficial. In my opinion, the movie is a deeper and stronger version of the book; the characters are more developed (the captain of the airborne ship and his love for cross-dressing for instance), as well as the love story between Tristran and Yvaine. The ending of the book seemed rushed to me. The way Yvaine and Tristran end up together was only foreshadowed by a few hints along the story; there was no real foundation for this development. I thought the final fight scene in the movie was a great way to bring all the characters together and to bring a coherent ending to the story.

Now, we could go into a long debate about how the fact that the movie has added so much to the plot is a violation of the book’s integrity and I’m interested in what you have to say about that, but for me, if what is added serves the story to grow in a coherent manner, then why the heck not? I’ve read a lot of Goodreads reviews that agree with me so it makes me feel less horrible but then again, even if I were the only one to think that, it’ll still be my opinion. In the end, I did enjoy the book (I gave it 3.5 stars), but I loved the movie ten times more. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to reread the novel whereas I probably will re-watch the movie multiple times.

After reading this novel and comparing it to the movie adaptation, I started thinking about other instances when I preferred the movie to the book; they are rare but they do exist. Below you’ll find the ones I could remember.

With Stardust, we have a scenario that adds a lot to the book. Opposite to this example are movies where the scenarist has taken away all that could be deemed unnecessary from the novel without adding anything to the story. I know that some people might argue that if the writer has written it, it is for a good reason, but I’m not one of these advocates. Although I love Dickens’ long-winded novels, I like when all the elements of the plot serve a purpose and I despise repetitions. In the french novel Hunting and Gathering (what’s up with the translation of this title by the way?), the author Anna Gavalda does a lot of what I don’t like. I found that her writing style didn’t drive the story; everything was slow and contemplative. Although a little bit of contemplation is good, the plot also needs to move forward at times and the novel didn’t accomplish this task efficiently in my opinion. On the contrary, the movie adaptation retained all the important elements of the novel and strung them together to make a compiling story. There was much more of a rhythm to the film and the actors were all on point. Maybe the fact that the movie stars the most gorgeous man on this earth (aka Guillaume Canet) renders me a little biased but all I know is that I got much more enjoyment from the movie than I did from the book.

Another element that can make a movie better than the novel is an alternate ending. When I was 16, I went through my ‘Nicholas Sparks’ phase like any teenage girl suffering from unrequited love should. I read three of his novels, including Dear John. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who’s feeling like reading a cheesy american-soldier/perfect-blond-girl romance but let me just say that the book is great (if that’s what you’re into) until the last few pages. The ending was so frustrating that I literally threw the book out the window. I later watched the movie, preparing myself mentally to be disappointed at the end but thankfully, the scenarist was kind enough to modify the ending. In last week’s article on “The Casual Vacancy” miniseries, I already touched on what a modified ending means for the integrity of a novel (link at the end of the article). It’s true that in this case, the alternate ending takes away from the message of the book which I believe is: “If you love someone, let them go,” but my 16 year-old self liked the movie version better because it spared her little heart. Plus, Channing Tatum is pretty to look at and not too bad of an actor so it might also be part of the appeal.

Finally, I left what I think will be the most controversial example for the end. Last summer, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I’d heard this book was amazing and I really wanted to watch the movie (Logan Lerman being one of my main motivation). Maybe I went into it with too many expectations but I didn’t really enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. I’m usually one for deep themes and bildungsroman, and this novel is just that. However, I had a hard time identifying with the characters that Chbosky described. Their issues were (thankfully) too far from my own experience as a teenager and although they were facing some similar struggles (first loves, self-discovery…), I just couldn’t really get into their stories. I think the way the book is written as the hero’s diary was a huge part of the problem. Although Chbosky’s prose is beautiful and poetic, the fact that he writes from the hero’s perspective, a hero I had a hard time identifying with, made it difficult to immerse myself in the novel. In the movie, the same issues are explored but the way they are represented is easier to relate with. I think because we’re not constantly in Charlie’s brain, the intensity is a little more controlled. The only small issue I had with the movie was Emma Watson; her acting didn’t feel natural to me at times. I think this example is a great representation of the power that adaptation can have: without changing anything from the plot, the director made me feel what the book didn’t manage to.

Now that I’m looking back on this article, a recurring theme seems to be that I like movies with good-looking men (who doesn’t?) but I don’t want this to be the conclusion. In this post, I just wanted to say that it’s OK to like a movie better than the book, it happens, get over it. Sometimes, a movie pushes the story further, other times it makes the characters more accessible. Sometimes, it brings pace and excitement to an originally dry novel, other times, it gives the reader hope for a better ending. But these films are the exception which proves the rules. Most of the time, I prefer the novel to the movie adaptation. I like the authenticity of the original story. To conclude, I will always be an advocate for reading the book prior to watching the movie in order to prevent anything like the Stardust debacle from happening again.



Link to the previous post: https://powscorner.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/my-thoughts-on-the-bbc-miniseries-the-casual-vacancy/


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