Friday, October 16, 2009

Hollywood's Take on Books

My post today was inspired by two things: (1) a book review of The Lost Symbol (the review was written by Dawn at She is Too Fond of Books);

 and (2) a colleague lending me the movie version of Mother Night.

If I were you, I would be scratching my head about now, wondering what the connection is between the two events and what the connection is between a book review and Hollywood.  Please allow me to explain.

I'll start with the Dan Brown connection.  The first book I read of his was DaVinci Code, and while reading it, I noticed some stylistic stumbling but wasn't distracted enough to not be intrigued by the plot.  At the end of the book, I was satisfied with the story but knew I probably wouldn't be able to read the book again because I was dissatisfied with the way the story was told.  When I heard a movie (starring Tom Hanks, no less) based on the book would be coming out, I was excited--the plot was a historical web that made me want to run out and do research of my own, and I thought that web would translate well to the big screen.  I've seen that movie quite a few times, and I still can't decide whether I like it.  Something just seems off about it...

Even with the problems I had with the book and movie, I wasn't deterred from trying to read Angels & Demons in time for that movie's release last May (as I said in an earlier post, I prefer to read the book before I see a movie that is based on it).  About 70 pages in, I closed the book for the last time.  For anyone not familiar with the book, it is in fact longer than 70 pages.  Much longer.  For me, A&D's plot couldn't hold my attention to help me make it through my problems with Brown's writing.  All I kept thinking while I was reading the book was something close to, "I read better stuff than this coming from college freshmen who need remedial help in writing."  A few thoughts weren't that nice, but I'll keep those to myself.  As an aspiring writer, I kept A&D on my bookshelves solely for motivation: If that book can get published, mine can, too.  Needless to say, I had no expectations when I walked into the movie theater to see the A&D movie (in case any of you are asking why I would pay to see a movie I had no expectations for, it's because my husband loved the DaVinci Code movie and had been tracking the release of the Angels & Demons movie for over a year).  I was mystified at how Ron Howard (the director) and the screenwriters took a book that I couldn't even make it through and turned it into a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Because of my history with Dan Brown's books and the movies based on them, the book review of his latest book, The Lost Symbol, got me thinking about the rare cases in which Hollywood took a book that I either didn't really enjoy or only semi-enjoyed and turned it into a good movie.  Two other examples (for me) are In Her Shoes and Stardust.  I liked both books well enough, but I adored the movies.  In cases like these, I say kudos to Hollywood and its ability to bring books to life.

In many cases, though, I usually end up completely disappointed with what Hollywood did to the book to turn it in to the movie.  I sit through it, thinking things like, "That wasn't in the book," "Why did they take that scene out?" or "Those characters look completely wrong."  The most recent example of movie disappointment I can think of is The Other Boleyn Girl.  When I read the book (by Philippa Gregory), I devoured it.  I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it because I couldn't stop without knowing what happened to Mary and Anne (even though I already knew what history had in store for her).  And so when the movie came out, I was ecstatic (especially when I saw the long list of incredible actors and actresses who starred in the movie adaptation).  I was ecstatic until about 30 minutes into the movie.  Then I was slightly less impressed.  About an hour in, I started doing chores, leaving the room, doing anything that would make it so I wouldn't have to concentrate on the movie.  Disappointed doesn't even really begin to say how I felt while watching the movie.  Not all movies in the "disappointment" category are so extreme.  Oftentimes, my sentiments are, "The movie is okay... but the book is amazing."

The connection to Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, then, is that I am really enjoying the book (and will probably write a post based on it when I am finished).  I have the borrowed movie version sitting on the counter, taunting me, and I'm wondering which category that movie will fit into: it is automatically ruled out of category A where the movie is better than the book, and I'm hoping it won't fall into category B where the movie is disappointing (especially since it was highly recommended).  Instead, I hope it will fall into category C: I like both the book and the movie.  Such an example is Bridget Jones's Diary--the book and the movie are separate entities in my head, and I enjoyed both.

The connection to the larger picture of books and movie adaptations of them is that even though I am more often than not left feeling disappointed with the movie version, I am always willing to go back for more.  If I enjoy the book and its movie counterpart is released, I will go see the movie.  Moreover, as I read books, I often find myself thinking, "This would be a great movie!"  A few times I have considered changing careers to become a screenwriter--my first project would be writing the screenplay for Carol Goodman's Lake of Dead Languages, my second would be Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, and my third would be Jennifer Donnelly's A Tea Rose.  I have yet to figure out my fascination with seeing books played out on the movie screen.  If any of you can offer me insights as to why I would still want to pay to see movies I will most likely be disappointed with, please share them with me.

Happy reading, and may all the movies you watch that are based on books be good ones.


Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

I have been dying to find Mother Night the movie ever since I finished it the first time. I might have to un-break up with Netflix long enough to get my hands on it!! As soon as you write a review let me know and I will be sure to link you.

Also just wanted to let you know that we posted the new book for this month (it is the PERFECT fall story). I know something came up last time but we hope you will be able to make this one! It will be such a great time! Hope your week is going well.

Jessie Sams said...

I had no clue Mother Night was even a movie until my colleague handed it to me. I am planning on posting this Friday about Mother Night (book and movie), so I'll get in touch with you then. Oh, and you did pick a perfect book for the book club--I had just recently heard about it, so I'm glad to have a reason to go to the library and get it.

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