Monday, 6 May 2013

When The Screen Beats The Page

I noticed t'other day that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald has made it into the top 5 downloads on the iBookstore, and is also coming up in the Kindle 100 Bestsellers, no doubt because everyone is getting very excited about the film adaptation, starring Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio, which is due out in the summer. Now, when it comes to adaptations of well-known stories, I am firmly in the Read-The-Book-Then-See-The-Film camp; after all, if you think you'll like the film, it surely means that you'll enjoy the book upon which it is based as well. The book often offers more description, better characterisation and, in some cases, whole storylines that are deemed 'unnecessary' to the film plot. In the interest of cramming a 300-page book into a two-hour film, quite often sacrifices are made and the story can get changed drastically. However, there are exceptions to this - sometimes, for varying reasons, the book seems to get surpassed by it's big - or small - screen cousin. So, in honour of Gatsby's big-screen outing, here is my selection of films and  TV series that I think are better than their written counterparts.

1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Regular readers will know I have a certain amount of beef with this book. As a brief recap - saw the film, thought I'd like the book, DID NOT LIKE THE BOOK. The film just seemed more obviously funny, even with it's black humour - rather than focusing on the violent scenes, the film tends to look more at Bateman's descent into madness, not his obsession with torture and murder. By being less clouded by the graphic violence which seemed to dominate the novel, the film manages to make some of the murder scenes funny - no doubt as they were intended to be in the book. It can be hard to focus when whole pages are taken up by a description of one gruesome mutilation or murder.

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I managed to read the book before seeing the film in this particular case, so I was familar with the plot to begin with. I read all 3 books in fairly quick succession - they do make for addictive reading - but wasn't overly impressed with either characterisation (man up, Peeta!) or the general tone of any of the novels. So, when I made it to the cinema for the film, I was ready for something enjoyable but insubstantial. So imagine my shock to find that the film conveyed emotional scenes about a thousand times better than the book -for example, I was a bit sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Rue died in the book, but the film had me sobbing. And then that bit when all of District 8 did the three-finger salute to Katniss on screen? Overkill! Obviously, the film had the advantage of visible expressions, creative licence and accompanying sorrowful music, but descriptively the book simply wasn't that great; the film filled in the blanks.
Incidentally, I am of course referring only to the first book and film - but whatever happens with Catching Fire and Mockingjay, I think I'll always find the first in the trilogy more sympathetic on screen.

3. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R Tolkien
Possibly the longest book ever, I've only actually read my way through the full three volumes the once. Tolkien took his creation VERY seriously, even lambasting his contemporary and friend, C.S. Lewis, for cutting corners with Narnia (Tolkien seemed to take umbrage with the fact that Lewis 'borrowed' so much from mythology, and didn't put much thought into the topography of Narnia.) Unfortunately, Tolkien's dedication was, in my opinion, to the detriment of the novel; there was so much in the novel that felt shoe-horned in for the sake of it, which lead to whole chapters feeling entirely unnecessary. Tom Bombadil, for example - a charming character, but the whole part of The Fellowship of the Ring that features him was simply lifted out of the film, and did anyone miss it? No. The films are still pretty flipping long, but even then they're taking the necessary bones of the story to tell it, rather than deal with the filler. No one can doubt how impressive and detailed Lord of the Rings is, but it does get to a point where it's simply less time-consuming to watch twelve-plus hours of DVDs than read the book.

4. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Another sufferer from Overly-Long-And-Unecessarry-Descriptions Syndrome. I enjoyed the books immensely - although I did start to lose interest by the first Dance of Dragons volume - and was eager to finish at least books one and two before starting on the TV series. However, now I have seen the first series (yes I am a bit behind), I have to say that it admirably covers all the necessary plot points, without any of the ridiculous descriptions of every damn feast, or making the telling of a 3-week journey actually feel like a 3-week journey. The TV series manages to get all that done AND keep it interesting - which, in itself, is interesting, considering Martin is a producer for the series - I can only hope he's realised in time for the rest of the novels that it's quality, not quantity, and he can tone down all the feasts once in a while!

 5. Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding 
She'd probably hate to hear it, but her turn as the eponymous singleton is probably Renee Zellweger's best performance (even with the overly-plummy Brit accent). The book is amusing, but the film is FUNNY - scenes such as Bridget singing along to 'All By Myself' performed by Jamie O'Neal is the kind of thing you can't really convey in writing; nor is the fact that, in the diary-format of the book, everything has already happened, and is simply being relived by Bridget. In the film, you're able to get the feeling of the shit hitting the fan as it happens, not after it has cleared up. It also cuts out all the really annoying 'feeling v. fat' crap. "V"?! Say VERY, you fool - you're the forerunner for the TOWIE morons!

6. Disney's The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson
So, have you READ the Hans Christian Anderson version? It's not all singing crabs and anthropomorphic seagulls. Sure, the story starts off the same - mermaid goes to the surface of the sea, rescues a prince from drowning, falls in love with him. But after that, it's a completely different story. She gets her tongue cut out, her witchcraft-gotten feet cause her agony with every step, and then the damn prince runs off and marries someone else, causing her heartbreak and preventing her from returning to her family (unless she stabs him.) Er, what the blazes?! Screw that - gimme Eric stabbing Ursula with the prow of a ship and Ariel marrying him on a boat any day.

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