Most of the time when it comes to adapting a book into a movie, the movie doesn’t live up to the original source material. Books don’t have budgets for a start, they don’t have to worry about being too long for the audience to hold interest; that’s what bookmarks were invented for. The only limit is the reader’s imagination. Very occasionally, however, a movie comes along which is just better than its source material.
For reasons that should be obvious I am not including books that are true stories or non-fiction such as ‘Orange is the New Black,’ ‘Pitch Perfect’ or ‘Mean girls.’
Trainspotting is a seminal film released in 1996 by one of my favourite all time directors, Danny Boyle. It’s based on a book of the same name by Irvine Welsh. The plot of the film centres around Mark Renton, played by Ewan McGregor before he Ob-Wan Kenobi’d. Renton is a heroin addict and so are many of his friends, the film follows their misadventures through poverty, addiction, squalor, attempts at recovery, crime, and relapses. It has a great cast including Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, a plot which mainly follows the book and it doesn’t hold back on the disgusting side of the consequences of addiction.
So why is it better than the book? Don’t get me wrong, the book is great, but only if you can read it. The entire book is written in Scottish dialect, and it changes depending on the accent of the character whose POV is narrating the chapter.
Being from the North East of England, I didn’t struggle too much with words I was already familiar with, but there was a lot I did struggle to understand. I gave a copy to an American friend to read and I don’t believe she ever got past the first chapter.
It truly is an excellent book, and it is worth reading, but it’s the kind of thing you’ve got to prepare yourself before hand, and if you’re not familiar with Scottish slang, have google ready to translate for you. Pro-tip – try reading it aloud to get the hang of it, and remember that ‘ken’ means ‘know.’ If you can't get through it, don't be too dissappointed with yourself. The film manages to convey all the central themes in a manner that's a little more accessible.
A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film directed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, based on Anthony Burgess’s novel of the same name. The main character is Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, who is a charismatic sociopath whose main interests are rape, violence, being a thug and classical music. He is the leader of a small gang, whom he calls his droogs, and they enjoy going around, drinking milk and beating people up, which eventually gets him arrested and placed into a rehabilitation program.
Why is the film better? Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve never made it all the way through A Clockwork Orange, because it is utter nonsense. Here is a quote:
In this day and age we have the internet, so if you’d like to give it a read, you’re going to need to read up on Nadsat and get yourself a Nadsat dictionary, a lot of editions of the book do not include them.
Nadsat is a slang argot which Burgess invented for the book, it’s a mix of Slavic words, rhyming slang, Russian words and things he just made up. Imagine if Joss Whedon started doing a lot of LSD and Buffyspeak just descended into complete madness and you start to get the idea.
Burgess himself said that he regretted writing the novel, and he wasn’t that keen on the film either, saying in 1985:
“The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die.”
Starship Troopers is one of my favourite films of all time, and it’s director Paul Verhoeven is also one of my all time favourite directors. The film was based on a book of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein that was released in 1959. The plot of the film centres on Johnny Rico, an idealistic young man who defies his parents wishes after finishing High School in Buenos Aires and joins the Federation Military Service in order to become a citizen. His friends from school also enlist but just a few weeks into their training, a giant insectoid species known as Arachnids or Bugs, provoke the humans into a giant war.
Whilst the film is a sci-fi action movie, it is also highly satirical in nature, filled with propaganda from the ‘Federation.’ The film was popular enough to spawn an animated series and two live action film sequels, and an animated one. The first sequel is utter trash, the second sequel, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, is a work of pure genius and you should watch it for the song along. Yes, there’s a musical number.
Why is it better than the book?
When I first read the book, a few years after having watched the film, I thought it was a little dull, a bit militaristic and the only notable thing about it was that it was not revealed until the end that Johnny was actually ‘Juan Rico’ and wasn’t a white protagonist, something I’m sure was a shocking twist in 1959, and a bit confusing when he was played in the movie by the white, Casper Van Dien.
Paul Verhoeven however had a much different experience, as he wasn’t a teenager growing up in 1990’s England, he’d grown up in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II and some of the themes were more than a bit familiar.
The original novel promotes militarism, fascism and military rule, something which the film satirises with the news reports that are intensely, fascist and xenophobic in style. Verhoeven even stated in 1997 that the first scene of the film—an advertisement for the mobile infantry—was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), specifically an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst.
Legally Blonde is a 2001 comedy movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Victor Garber and Jennifer Coolidge. It’s a light hearted movie about a slightly ditzy, but smart and determined girl called Elle Woods. After being dumped by her long term boyfriend on the night she expected him to propose to her, Elle decides she needs to knuckle down, and become serious, and so earns her way into Harvard to get herself a law degree.
It’s based on a novel by the same name by Amanda Brown and the film largely follows all the plot beats of the book.
So why is the film better?
It put it mildly, the book is a little on the dull side. The Elle of the book doesn’t have the charm or delight that Reese Witherspoon does on the screen. The film makes some improvements to the plot, and thankfully gets rid of a lot of the wooden dialogue from the novel.
In the movie we get a real sense of Elle’s dedication and hard work to get into the prestigious school, whereas in the book it’s covered in about two paragraphs. Instead of working hard and studying, Elle is helped along by a mysterious secret admirer, who terms out to be one of her classmates, who fancies her, but ultimately she turns down. It doesn’t have the wit or the charm of the film, but I’m grateful to it for existing because the film is just a classic.
Wait! Wait! Come back! Hear me out!
I’m not saying that I like either the Twilight films or the books, but the film is undeniably better than the book, let me explain why.
When the Twilight phenomenon kicked off, I was wondering just who the smeg Edward Cullen was, and why there was so much fan art of him kicking around DeviantArt. Lots of people were talking about this mysterious Edward character, how perfect and handsome he was, but there weren’t many clues as to his origin.
Not until a very close friend of mine told me that I had to read this new book she’d got and she sent me a copy in the post. The book was a bit of a mess, if decidedly average.
Forgetting for a moment the sheer amount of grammar errors in the thing, one of my main problems with the book was the fact that the main character, Bella Swan, was a complete bitch.
The book begins with Bella telling the reader that she’s moving to the town of Forks to live with her estranged father, who she hasn’t seen for years because she doesn’t like the weather where he lives. She spends the first few chapters talking about how much she dislikes absolutely everything, except the pretty, pale people who go out of their way to ignore her.
The film actually manages to make the character nicer to those around her, I’m not saying they make her into a nice person but believe me, it’s leaps and bounds above the novels version of the characters. It improves other characters too, Edward is less abusive, his vampire brothers and sisters are less pointless, and Charlie Swan, Bella’s father, quite frankly becomes the hero we should have been following for those movies.
The greatest improvement to the book though, had to be with the casting of Michael Sheen and Todd the Wraith, as part of the vampire villains, the Volturi. Those guys were clearly being as ridiculous as they possibly could, knowing that no one was going to call them out for it in a Twilight movie.