The debate between viewers and critics about whether any film can ever be better than the book rages on.
More often than not, it feels like most people would agree that the book is better. After all, the book is the author’s original intent for the characters, the setting, and the overall themes of the work. Transferring all of that to the screen is a challenge and often requires changes that don’t work for all readers.
While it might be the case that the book is better, the following five movies are the exception.
The novel “American Psycho” had much controversy surrounding it at release. It is a gorey novel, with long sections of hallucinations by Patrick Batemen about harming or murdering women, killing a child, and killing animals, all while mixed with long descriptions of fashion and other vain aspirations.
The movie, while accurate to the novel in many ways, changed a few key details. Some critics suggested that the movie is directed by two women was an important change that allowed it to rise above the book. The movie wound up being less of a story about the vanity of a man in a culture of excess and shallowness during the 1980s, and turned the movie into a study of one man’s compulsions and how society ignores him despite his best efforts to fit in.
The Shawshank Redemption
“The Shawshank Redemption,” a film based on a collection of short stories by Stephen King published in the novella titled “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” are both similar in that they tell a story of Andy Dufresne after being falsely imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover.
The key differences between the book and the movie come down to the characters. In the movie, many of the main characters die, perhaps for more dramatic effect. For example, Tommy is transferred to another prison instead of being tricked into going outside where he is shot; the Warden simply resigns; Brooks’ dies of old age in a care home; and, Bogg’s has almost no role and is barely spoken about. Also of note is Rita Hayworth, the real person, and actress, whose only reference in the movie is the poster that hides the tunnel in Andy’s cell. In the book, Andy’s interest in Hayworth plays a slightly larger role.
The movie is arguably better for the same reason the film adaptation of “The Green Mile” is better. It takes the underlying story, which is solid, and ups the drama, dialogue and adds in a memorable cast of actors.
The Silence Of The Lambs
“The Silence of the Lambs” follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling as she hunts down serial killer Buffalo Bill following the kidnapping of a young woman. In both the movie and book, Clarice both works to overcome her lack of experience and also the internal traumas that she must resolve if she is going to work with Hannibal Lector.
One of the greatest distinctions between the movie and book is the portrayal of Hannibal Lector by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins’ theater background gives greater depth to the character in terms of the perception that he is both an intellectual and someone who can easily manipulate his victims, making the character all the more frightening. Other differences include the removal of many character’s backstories and inner conflicts, likely due to runtime.
The movie is better thanks to how faithful it is to the book, but benefits from Anthony Hopkins, the song “Goodbye Horses” played during the reveal of Buffalo Bill’s skin collection, and Jodie Foster’s ability to play both confident and vulnerable to create tension throughout the entire film.
Steven King famously hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining.” The book and the movie have significant differences, both in the temperament of the characters, the hotel, and the plot.
While the plot of both the movie and book involves a small family spending the winter in the Overlook Hotel, the events that unfold could not be more dissimilar. Most significant is that the Overlook Hotel in the book is a haunted and living thing, with many supernatural beings working to make John (Jack in the movie) go crazy and attempt to kill his family.
In the book, John discovers many uncouth secrets about The Overlook and decides to write a book about these events, which plays into his ultimate breakdown. At the same time, he is an empathetic man who has overcome his alcohol abuse, but the hotel is working to turn him into something terrible. In the movie, Jack is portrayed as a man already on edge and seemingly ready to snap from the very beginning. He is less empathetic and more of a broken man lashing out in anger.
Both the book and movie are good in their own right. But it might be better not to think of them as being the same. Jack Nicholson crushes it as Jack Torrence and Shelley Duvall makes the horror so much more real, but the supernatural elements in the book are so much better. This one is closer to a tie. Read and watch them both and decide for yourself!
“Fight Club” is one of those books and movies that should have failed. Yet, somehow, it managed to hit the right notes and resonate with people on a level that turned it into a cultural phenomenon.
While Fight Club continues to face criticism for what some see as a celebration of toxic masculinity, author Chuck Palahniuk defends that it is not a celebration of the negative aspects of masculinity, but it is still an examination of what men have lost in modern society and what it takes to achieve a more meaningful existence.
The biggest change between the movie and the book is the ending. At the end of the book, we learn that the narrator (Durden) is in a mental institution, but members of Project Mayhem are continuing the work of Tyler Durden. This compares to the end of the movie that features Marla and the Narrator (Durden) standing in a skyscraper and watching the explosions that bring down the major buildings of the city. There are several smaller changes, including characterizations and other minor events.
David Fincher elevates “Fight Club” with a faithful adaptation of the book that captures its spirit and improves upon it in many ways. Plus, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are absolute marvels, and even if you don’t like the plot, these two actors are worth the price of admission.