The Flip Side: Seeing the Movie Then Reading the Book

Asa Butterfield in Hugo (Paramount)

Recently I re-posted a series of articles I wrote on The Site That Shall Not Be Named (no it’s not the Dark Lord’s site) about how to divorce oneself from the source material when you’re watching an adaptation of a beloved book, comic, TV Show or what have you. If you want to read that series start here, otherwise bear with me.

In that series I really tackled a problem many face but mainly it pertained to books and their readers the most. To be more specific people who happened to have read the book prior to watching the film, which is a tough transition.

However, a twitter friend of mine and blogger in his own right, recently posted this intriguing entry:

People who follow me at all know I read a lot.

I read books now more than ever, used to read more newspapers and magazines.

But, I hear all the time, I want to see say “Hunger Games” but I need to read the book/books first. I personally prefer seeing the movie first.

Books are a totally different format, richer, longer, have subtext, a medium of words. Film is a medium of images and sounds, and quite a bit shorter at around 90-120 minutes. The average screenplay is 95-125 pages long, the average book is around 300 pages. It’s simply different.

For me a good example of this is Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. Although the book the “Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick is very cinematic, and the look is in the movie, Scorsese adds scenes, depth of character and a few other things I don’t see in the book. I did see “Hugo” before reading the book, and think if I read the book first I would have used my image of the book to cloud the movie and not loved the movie for what it did well but get trapped in comparisons.

An example of a book I did read first which clouded my judgment of the movie is “Jurassic Park.” I quite enjoyed Micheal Crichton’s novel, and I missed several scenes (especially the river scene) that were in the book in the movie. Although Spielberg does a good job with it, I find actually the monster movie “The Lost World” to be more fun. I think this is partially because my view of the book hurts the movie.

Another example for me from a recent movie is “The Hunger Games.” My wife has read through this series twice already, and I am still around 20% in the first book. I quite enjoyed the movie, and wonder if my judgment of the book would have clouded how I see the film.

Basically movies and books are entirely different mediums. If you try to make the movie just like the book you get boring movies like Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter 1 and 2, which although good and nowhere near as rich to me as Cuaron’s version that shares the vision of the book but doesn’t feel the need to get everything in Harry Potter 3 (still the best of the series to me.
What do you think?

The general points up there I agree with almost without exception. I wanted to quote the post mainly for context and also as shorthand to expound on my observations on this opposite phenomena I didn’t examine.

I completely agree with the assertion that one musn’t read the book before seeing the movie. The book is not Cliff’s Notes to the film. The film has to sink or swim on its own merits. With regards to The Hunger Games, I liked it but I knew innately that there was backstory and subtext from the book only being hinted at on screen, however, it didn’t ruin the film for me.

With regards to subtext allow me to make a minor semantical point: yes, many films are surface only but when you study them you learn to read them (I’m not being poetical, we say that) and seek the subtext. Some films are what they are; vapid or brilliant there’s not much else going on, those are few. There will be more forthcoming dialogue simply because the examples are ones I so closely relate to but I will transition, believe me.

Another thing that even I didn’t really examine in the prior series is that there really isn’t a direct correlation between pages in a book and a screenplay. One can make it, and I have, for a mathematical argument but truly the literal conversion of book to film can have so many more variables. A good example would be Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. I stuck with it and finished it and liked, despite it being the most challenging read of my life. Such is the stream of consciousness and transition from reality to memory to fancy to dream that it makes it a very involving and exhaustive experience. Were you to take certain pages out of the book and transcribe them to screenplay form you could have so many changes of time and location that one novel page could be three to four screenplay pages. Again, if you’re a completist and being literal. A good film of the book would have some of those montages implied in the writing but not all of them.

Certain writing styles do imply montage as Eisenstein talks most about in the book of his I’m in the midst of and what can be done in a paragraph of prose may take a page or more in a screenplay depending on how you decide to exploit it cinematically. This is just further food for thought when thinking about taking something that’s purely text and turning it into visuals.

With regards to the example of Hugo above it’s amazing that we both reached virtually the same conclusion about the film having inverted reading schedules. I took The Invention of Hugo Cabret out of the library and devoured it because it was a quick read, liking the story much better than the presentation thereof and then though I knew Scorsese and Logan made certain changes I felt they enhanced the film and made it the best of 2011.

Sam Niell in Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures)

With regards to the Jurassic Park films, I actually tried to read the book and I failed to complete it despite needing to write a book report on it. That did not diminish my desire to see it or affect my view of it. I absolutely adored every second of it. Being a budding cinephile and a kid who at more than one point wanted to be a paleontologist it was, and will remain, one of the most exhilarating movie-watching experiences of my life. It’s magical. On the other hand, I didn’t try and read The Lost World, I disliked it a lot. How much? This much. I was pleased to learn in my Spielberg class that part of the reasoning behind his doing The Lost World was that Universal had been begging him for a sequel since 1982 and he would not hear of it being E.T.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

As for the Harry Potter films: I love them and I love the books. My love for both is separate but equal, to re-appropriate an old phrase. I always read them before I saw them but with the few production delays they had the gap between reading and viewing grew as the films moved on. My favorite is The Half-Blood Prince, it’s the apex of the story cinematically and in the books I feel so much of what was built in the series lead to that point. The Prisoner of Azkaban is great but like many of the films they stumble at the goal line, metaphorically speaking but that one just loses the ball entirely with the very last image and piece of voice over. Only part of the issue with the first two films is Columbus. The other part is that the books steadily grew in size through the course of the series. Slavishness to the novel was easy, and maybe a requisite to establish the franchise at the beginning. As the books grew slavishness became more difficult to accomplish, nearly impossible, thus the films truly came into their own as a separate but equal enterprise.

So having said all that in the interest of piggybacking and elaborating on points I previously made; What about seeing the movie first and then reading? I am very intrigued by the idea but I do not have much practice with it. I have a few candidates in mind to try it with but let’s see what case studies I have (Yes, we are quite literally discovering it together, hence why I wanted to write this post).

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (Warner Bros.)

The Shining

I decided to pick up a Stephen King book because I saw The Shining. I was just into High School and it was the first time I enjoyed being scared. I was averse to horror before then. I learned from King and went on to read many that he read. However, the film and the book are very different beasts. I had no problem with having a cast in my head, King even acknowledges that in a foreword or afterword of one of his books, but like I said it was different. I didn’t dislike it. I don’t disagree with King’s comments about Kubrick either, yet I still enjoy Kubrick’s riff on the story more than the book or the mini-series. Do I skew to the movie for having seen it first? Yes. However, then there’s The Hunger Games. I tried to read it as a library book. Hardly started. I then saw the movie still knowing next to nothing and would likely enjoy the book more.

Pet Sematary

Miko Hughes holding a copy of Pet Sematary

Here’s one where if you make me pick which one I like I’ll kick, scream and refuse. I love them both so, so much.

Storm of the Century

Colm Feore in Storm of the Century (ABC)

Ha, I’m such a cheater because this is a screenplay but regardless I may be in a minority but I really enjoyed it in both incarnations.

Hellraiser/The Hellbound Heart

Doug Bradley in Hellraiser (New World Pictures)

Clive Barker brings such imagination and originality to everything he does it’s hard to be disappointed but it is a somewhat different interpretation of the vision than the one he put on screen I find. Similarly, he’s working on a comics series of Hellraiser now, which is incredibly good.

The Exorcist

Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller in The Exorcist (Warner Bros.)

With all apologies due William Peter Blatty the movie rips the book to shreds quality-wise. However, the reading experience was just fine.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption/The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (Columbia Pictures)

It wasn’t a tainted reading experience in any way and it’s evidence of why Frank Darabont is Stephen King’s best adapter.

The Body/Stand by Me

Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell and Corey Feldman in Stand by Me (Columbia Pictures)

In a similar way to Stephen King’s reaction to Darabont’s The Mist he also loved this one because of a crucial change Rob Reiner made for the better. Reading it was fine, watching it more lively. In this case it might’ve tainted it in my mind from having seen it so much.

Apt Pupil

This story as written is outstanding. Yes, the cast remained the same but the story delves into the psychology of the situation in ways the film scarcely attempts. You should read it.

The Langoliers

The Langoliers (ABC)

Augmented by having seen it first in part because I love the mini-series up until the very end. It’s like King says, the story just falls into place so smoothly and that translates on to the page and the mini-series is great until one of the worst third act blunders, and effects shots ever.

Misery

Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery (Columbia Pictures)

How can having Kathy Bates in your head not make it better?

Cycle of the Werewolf/Silver Bullet

The Cycle of the Werewolf (Signet/Berni Wrightson)

It’s a totally different beast entirely. It’s a short little book with Berni Wrightson working his magic illustrating it, giving you new images to focus on.

Creepshow

Creepshow (Berni Wrightson/Signet)

Quite frankly with the premise of Creepshow being tales in the style of old EC Comics how can it not be a good comic book, seriously?

Burning Secret

Burning Secret (Vestron Pictures)

I’m surprised I had forgotten this one. This tale is quite literally the perfect example of this list. I saw this film by chance on Netflix. I was rather intrigued by it and was curious to read the book. The book was rather short and a quick read. The adaptation is great because it develops cinematic subtext without using any of the inner-monologue inherent in the prose. What this does is create an air of mystery and a questioning of motives, at least to an extent, which never happens in the book. The strength of the book is that you get explicit detail about the thought processes of each character. In short, you get slightly different but very well-realized renditions of the tale. In each version the medium is exploited brilliantly.

These are likely the only examples I can be completely certain of. Having thought on them: Yes, the argument does have merit. It can be better and more enjoyable to watch and then read. This might mean that The Hunger Games and A Song of Fire and Ice are in my future.

Advertisements

Favorite Older Movies First Seen in 2011

Now, I know what you’re thinking “Another list and in the middle of February no less?” Well unlike my Best of 2011 (#25-20, #20-16, #15-11, #10-1), my awards (Nominees, Acting Winners, Behind the Scenes Winners and Film Winners) and my horror list timeliness isn’t as much of a concern with this list because I am discussing my favorite older films that I viewed for the first time last year.

I have to tip my hat to @bobfreelander from whom I first heard of such a notion. Now I was hesitant to backtrack through 2011 but in seeing all those he posted I just had to and I’m glad I did. I could have split it up amongst some Honorable Mentions, Well-Known Films I Just Happened Never To Have Seen and Films I Never Heard Of Then Saw And Loved but I decided to throw them all into the same heap and unranked no less!

Discovering an older film you enjoy is a pleasure so I decided to not add the stress of splitting hairs, plus as Awards season winds down we’re all tiring of rankings anyway. So I picked 31 titles that I most enjoyed. I always seek diversity and balance when making these lists up and I think this may be the most mixed bunch of all. Enjoy!

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver (MGM)

I already wrote at length about Mrs. Miniver in the link above. Suffice it to say like any “through the years film” of a certain length you must give it time. I watched it for Greer Garson any loved it all.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Witness for the Prosecution (United Artists)

Courtroom dramas don’t come much better than this, Charles Laughton in top form and Marlene Dietrich steals every scene she’s in. It’s as compelling as it is entertaining.

Piranha (1978)

This is a movie night special. It was picked from Netflix as something to try. I had, and still have, avoided the remake but I really enjoyed this film, great horror/comedy as usual from Dante.

Basket Case (1982)

This is one of two Frank Henenlotter films on my list. This one, in spite of its effects, I interpreted as a less comedic, more horror approach than the second film based mostly on conception, execution and tone. I was told I’d enjoy it and I did because the concept really works.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

There will be a few films on the list which will be somewhat emblematic. The first Tarantino I saw was Kill Bill. I never really backtracked until last year for many reasons. When I did this, and not Pulp Fiction, was my favorite.

The Howling (1981)

Here’s Joe Dante again. In some cases when I was trying to break ties I tried to have another director represented but in others I knew I had to have the film on the list and didn’t give it a second thought. Here’s the best film I saw when I was on my werewolf kick.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

I really should and could get all the Universal box sets but the one I found cheap was Frankenstein. I found all of them enjoyable to a different degree but I concur with the sentiment that this is better than the original.

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Being a fan of the horror genre I don’t know how I managed to avoid this one for so long and didn’t have it ruined for me but nonetheless I loved it and went in after the hype had died down, which was a plus.

Videodrome (1983)

I really have to get better at completing filmographies. I saw Spider shortly after it came out and absolutely loved it but never made a concerted effort to seek more Cronenberg. I caught a few this past year. This was the best one I saw.

[REC] 2 (2009)

Though the found footage subgenre is running out of wiggle room I did ask for suggestions, and thankfully got good ones, and I love both these films but I really love the way this one flipped the series on its ear. Jaume Balagueró is a director I had to pick just one film for and whose name makes me press play.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

In my review of The Turin Horse I talked about how there’s only baptism by fire when it comes to learning Tarr’s canon and no film is really an ideal starting point in my estimation, no prior film. Well, Fassbinder does likely have a logical starting point of his own but I decided to start here. Yes, I watched it. All 894 minutes or so, by Netflix discs no less and I’d wait for them and watch them immediately upon arrival and I loved it. Some of my favorite movie watching moments last year were having my morning coffee and playing the next few chapters. Not only did I like the whole thing but then in the very last section it absolutely blew my mind by the direction it took and how brilliantly and boldly it went there. So now I need to figure out where to go from here but it was a wonderful place to start.

Careful (1992)

I had the chance to see more of Guy Maddin‘s features last year (as I am rather well-versed in his short films) and this one took the cake, what an incredible concept and handled as only he could.

La Jetée (1962)

I probably won’t say anything about this film that hasn’t been said before except to repeat that it’s stunning, original and inspirational.

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

I love serials. I have since I first learned of them. One of my first posts on this site was about feeling gypped by purchasing a “composite” (i.e. a feature film version which makes practically no sense). However, my affection for them has far exceeded the rate at which I’ve been able to see them, so if I have a chance to, like on Netflix for instance, I usually do. This is the first Flash Gordon I encountered and though I’ve seen a few earlier this one is still my favorite of them.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)

One of the most accurate titles you’re likely to see. It is the day in the life of a major metropolitan area but the way it’s cut and shot really is symphonic.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Last year was notable because I was able to finally see some B-Movies that wanted to be funny and actually were. This is one of them. This was a favorite of my best friend in junior high but I had no interest in seeing it at the time. I’m glad I finally did.

Strike (1925)

I am not one who subscribes to the theory that Eisenstein’s films are more important than they are enjoyable. I think his contribution to film touches every possible facet of it, it’s complete so, yes, his work important but not a chore and I enjoyed seeing Strike very much.

I Bury the Living (1958)

I remember after I saw this film I tried to remember where I first heard of it: it was in Stephen King’s non-fiction book about horror Danse Macabre. He listed it in an appendix as one of 100 excellent horror films released between 1950 and 1980 or so. I agreed with his assertion immediately. It’s a jarring film but brilliant at both ends so to speak.

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

This is a film I caught during 31 Days of Oscar last year and it’s part of why I love the festival. You will turn up some surprises or films you never saw. I love the title too, the film knows what it is but does it so well and is very memorable for that reason.

The Nickel Children (2005)

This is a movie I found at my local library and more proof that you need to use all sources available to you to find worthwhile films. This movie is not an easy one to watch as it deals with kids who live on the street whether kicked out or have run away and the harsh realities they face and what needs doing to survive. The film could be more sensationalistic than it needs to when dealing with subject matter such as child prostitution, juvenile delinquency and so on, barring one scene the film handles it all very well.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

I have to see the Phantasm series again. If there’s not a box set there should be. I’m not sure there’s a horror series with a better, more consistent through-line than this one, which continuously adds layers to the equation. I saw them all as they popped up on Netflix and it’s hard to say which of the last two I enjoyed more but they really do need revisiting, it’s fascinating stuff.

Charcoal People (2000)

This is a great documentary because all it does is shed light on an issue and give you food for thought, it gives you facts. Charcoal People is about Brazilians who cut down trees to make charcoal that is sold to international car manufacturers to make pig iron, which is, of course, the cheap construction solution. Much of it deals with these people’s lives eloquently and poetically but it also addresses deforestation and the conundrum they face, essentially they don’t want to contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon but they have no other means to make a living. It’s powerful stuff.

The Flyboys (aka Sky Kids) (2008)

This is a film I knew about for sometime. It did some festivals but sat in the can for a while. Then I heard there was a premiere but never saw any evidence of the film say like a DVD. I figured it was just going to be one of those films I never saw because I couldn’t. Well, the world is a funny place. Much the way certain musicians retain or have popularity in unexpected regions so are the curious ways of distribution deals because I saw this film on a premium movie channel in Brazil. It’s an interesting one which has its first plot point feeling very climactic but it doesn’t really slow down from there (As a matter of fact my aunt wondered what took me so long because passing through she thought the movie was nearly over) and I really enjoyed it. In some ways it’s like a lot of kid’s movies but it does have a unique combination of elements and always keeps things adventurous so while changes in the story are surprising they’re not mutations of tone or genre.

Demonic Toys (1992)

This movie is part of the reason that this list is called “Favorite” and not “Best.” I don’t usually distinguish between the two but this is the rare film in my estimation that garners that elusive title of “So Bad It’s Good.” It has an audacious script by David S. Goyer (pre-Nolan Batman films) and a great albeit dubbed evil kid performance by Daniel Cerny, good flashbacks and chemistry between leads. For all its faults, which are myriad, I still found it to be very enjoyable to watch. Beyond that it nearly defies description. I wanted to include it in my 61 Days of Halloween series but I stuck with mostly posting about the original class, this year I may include it.

Der Wilden Kerle 5: Hinter Dem Horizont (2008)

I first saw a film from this series on Netflix but sadly they only offered it with the godawful American dubbing furthermore the US distributor has labeled part two as part one for reasons unknown. So thanks to the magic of the internets I tracked down most of the films and not only is the the first one I saw another film when watching it subtitled the series absolutely refuses categorization and gets curioser and curioser as it goes and you never really know what genre you’ll stumble into making it even more fun.

Burnt Offerings (1976)

This is another Danse Macabre special and after I was finished watching I could not find enough superlatives to laud it with and it held up on second viewing too. Dan Curtis brings to this the same palpable tension that imbues Dark Shadows minus the markings of daytime TV. I was quite literally gobsmacked when I was done watching it.

Lake Mungo (2008)

This was a film that I also found thanks to my seeking out found footage films worth watching. What’s most compelling about this film is its construction. It’s an after-the-fact mockumentary that incorporates a lot of found footage and it also provides some amazing and chilling twists and turns.

Face to Face (1976)

Proof that I have diversity in this list is that I have things from B-grade horror/comedy to this long lost (to Americans anyway) film by Ingmar Bergman. I have been enamored with Bergman’s work since I first saw it and slowly but surely have seen all I could get my hands on, owning most of it. The funny thing about Face to Face is that I actually read it before I saw it. I happened upon a script one day, in an old pocket book edition, read it and I still have a photocopy in my files. The film is much more vibrant and crystal clear to me than the script was, I have read a few other Bergmans and didn’t encounter that particular quandary. Regardless, it’s quite the mind-play and one of Ullmann’s strongest works.

Burning Secret (1988)

This is a fascinating film which actually prompted me to buy the short novel its based on. I think the adaptation is really great not only because it manages to capture the right elements and change a few that it needs to but it strips the inner-monologue from all characters, which while illuminating leaves less of an air of mystery to the tale. It also allows the film to be quite visual and features great performances by all three featured players Klaus Maria Brandauer, Faye Dunaway and David Eberts, in his only role as an actor.

Frankenhooker (1990)

I was fortunate to win this in a Twitter giveaway (so enter them, you can win) and I must say I was laughing from start to finish, as I was supposed to. As I said under Basket Case I felt this one was much more skewed towards comedy and maybe the better for it. Hilarious.

Conclusion

So there’s my list. This year’s is taking shape and who knows how different it will be I’m much more tuned in to 31 Days of Oscar this year, anyway, I’m very glad I did this because if anything it’ll keep me (and maybe you too) on the lookout for older treasures.