Sometimes the movie is better than the book

When it comes to books and movies, most people (who read) generally agree the “book is better than the movie.” That’s because it’s amazingly difficult to trim an 80,000-110,000-word novel down to a 90-120-page screenplay without losing the story’s oomph. And while I generally subscribe to the idea that books are better than their big-screen adaptations, I’ve found it’s not always the case. In rare instances, the movie is better than the book because sometimes truncating a gangly plot down to its key points is exactly what it takes to make a story good.

While Tom Samson is on sabbatical, I thought I’d try my hand at dabbling in his arena of expertise and highlight some of the movies that outshine their bookish beginnings.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Firm

Book: John Grisham
Movie: Sydney Pollack

Sometimes I think what makes a movie better than its book counterpart is the difference between the insight of age versus the fantasy of youth. John Grisham was in his mid-thirties when he wrote The Firm, and while it’s a good book, the movie is better because Pollack matured the plot. The first half of the movie follows the book closely but deviates from the middle on. In the book, Mitch McDeere swindles the law firm and runs away with his wife and felon brother to a remote island. In the movie, McDeere devises a unique and clever legal way to shake both the mafia and the corrupt law firm. While many young men dream of whisking away to a paradise with oodles of cash and a beautiful bride, being on the run isn’t the most practical life. Finding a way to legally shutdown the evil doers out there and continue to practice your career is. But thank you Mr. Grisham for dreaming the big dream for all us fantasy-driven guys out there.

The Postman

Book: David Brin
Movie: Kevin Kostner

I saw this movie when it was originally released in 1997 and really enjoyed it, but I nearly forgot all about it until Sun Day movie columnist Tom Sansom mentioned it last year in a column. Wanting to see how it aged over 20 years, I re-watched it, and although still enjoyable, I found it a wee bit corny in some parts…okay, a lot of parts…so I decided to give the book a go.

For this one, it’s not that the movie is better than the book (though it is, much), it’s that about the only comparison that can be made between the book and the movie is the title. Other than the book and the movie both being set in an alternate history, there almost isn’t a single similarity. In the movie, a loner man wondering a post-apocalyptic landscape takes up the uniform of a postman to gain food and shelter and ends up starting a revolution through reinstalling mail delivery into a world where communication has broken down completely. In the book, the main character does do this once, but from there it shares similarities to The Wizard of Oz, where the main character, Gordon Krantz (unnamed in the movie), encounters a resistance of people led by a super AI called Cyclops.

The Notebook

Book: Nicholas Sparks
Movie: Nick Cassavetes

I can sum this one up rather quick. The book is terrible. Truly terrible. The plot is barely linear, and in my opinion, more of a diary musing. Not that I need a linear plot, I’m a fan of all types of constructs, but no one wants to read the undigested love of a man to a woman without some processing first. I’m actually amazed that this story kicked off Nicholas Sparks’ career. Cassavetes, here, took an age-old idea and turned it into a tender story of love that borders on tearfully epic.

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