10 January 2009
Excellent Novels That Were Made Into Excellent Films
The title sums this post up pretty well. I'll just say that the criteria is that a) I read the book b) I saw the film c) I thought both were exceptional. I'll also add that films were NOT eliminated because they weren't "faithful" to the book. A movie is not obligated to be a cinematic reproduction of a book. However sometimes a film will suffer because it does not capture the spirit of the novel. Such was the case for me when W.P. Kinsella's superb novel, Shoeless Joe was made into something called Field of Dreams. Most of my contemporaries loved the movie but I know of two people besides myself who did not. All three of us had read the book and agreed that the film altered the book's theme.
However I find certain types of comparisons fruitless as in "the book was soooo much better." Comparing a book and a movie is akin to comparing a song and painting. I also do not include novelizations of films, principally because I've never read one and never intend to.
In most cases I read the novel before seeing the film as with the most recent film on this list, Revolutionary Road. In some cases, as with The Godfather, I loved the film so much I just had to read the novel that inspired it.
Please note this list is confined to novels, thus books such as All the President's men or Wiseguys (which inspired Goodfellas) are not included. The list is offered in no particular order.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) On the jacket of my cover of this book by Eric Maria Remarque are the words "The Greatest War Novel of All Time." No argument here. The subsequent film directed by Lewis Milestone is similarly among the finest films about war of all time. Both the novel and film are powerful stories of men and war and serve as great anti-war messages.
The Godfather (1972) The film ,which in my opinion is the greatest of all time, is so beloved and acclaimed that it greatly overshadows Mario Puzo's excellent novel. Any fan of the Godfather films should read it. Most of the story from Godfathers I and II are here with some of the back story and detail that even six hours worth of cinema cannot capture.
The Shining (1980) Reportedly author Stephen King was not pleased with director Stanley Kubrick's rendering of his novel. Gimme a break, Stephen. This is the best film based on any of his novels or short stories perhaps in large part because it is perhaps his best book. King's dissatisfaction led to the making of made-for-cable film that inevitably bombed. The original film starring Jack Nicholson is a horror classic.
Jaws (1975) Once again we have a movie that made many forgot an original highly popular novel. A then-young Steven Spielberg practically created the Summer blockbuster with the film. Peter Benchley's novel was a true page-turner but one with surprising depth to its characters and their individual stories.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) What a chore to bring Harper Lee's masterpiece to film. Yet thanks in large part to Gregory Peck's brilliant portrayal of Atticus Finch, the film is worthy in its own right. The two make great companion pieces for many a high school English teacher.
No Country For Old Men (2007) The novel that was the basis for the best film of the past few years was written by Cormac McCarthy. The Coen brothers pleased McCarthy fans by their faithful adaptation of the book. Other McCarthy books have been made into films with much less success. Meanwhile a film based on his Pulitzer prize winning, The Road is due in theaters soon and Ridley Scott is reportedly working on a cinematic version of Blood Meridian. Both are great books and i hope the films measure up.
Revolutionary Road (2008) I read Richard Yates novel several years ago not imagining that it could be led alone would be made into a watchable film. But director Sam Mendes did the trick. No less a personage than Kurt Vonnegut called the novel "the Great Gatsby for my generation." I just saw the film today and it captured Yates' message beautifully.
Little Big Man (1970) Thomas Berger wrote a wonderfully entertaining epic and director Arthur Penn filmed a wonderfully entertaining epic. Penn had the good sense or good fortune to cast Dustin Hoffman in the lead role and surrounded him with a terrific supporting cast. If you enjoyed the film, read the book and its sequel.
The Graduate (1967) Dustin Hoffman stars again this time in Mike Nichols' smash hit based on the largely forgotten novel of the same name by Charles Webb. One of the screenwriters was Buck Henry, one of the wittiest man on the planet. Both movie and film gave voice to some of the cultural upheaval that marked the 1960's.
The Exorcist (1973) Here's a trick questions: which is scarier, the film the Exorcist or the novel? The answer of course is both are equally scary. Both are also equally great and important works of art. The novelist was William Peter Blatty and the director William Friedkin. Wonderfully talented gentlemen who never managed anything better -- how could they?