When I was 10 years old I read Lois Lowry’s classic sci-fi/dystopian young adult novel The Giver for the first time. Then I read it again, and again, and again, until my poor paperback copy was worn nearly to shreds. Thus began a 20-year love affair with the sci-fi/dystopian genre that stands strong to this day. The Giver made me think in ways I never had before, about society, about the things people will forfeit for comfort, about the unwillingness of most people to question societal norms or challenge the status quo.
When I heard that The Giver was being made into a movie I had mixed feelings. It’s always exciting to see a beloved story come to life, but oftentimes the picture on the big screen doesn’t measure up to the picture in my head. More often than not, when I see a movie based on a book, I leave the theater saying, “That was OK, but it wasn’t as good as the book.” However, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Here are a few movies that I liked just as well as, if not better than the book.
Tuck Everlasting (2002 version)
In 1975 Natalie Babbitt published a children’s fantasy story that asked a question that people have pondered throughout the ages: if you could choose to live forever, would you? That is the question faced by the novel’s protagonist when she encounters a family who unknowingly sentenced themselves to eternal life by drinking water from a particular spring. In 2002 the book was made into a movie starring Alexis Bledel and Jonathan Jackson. The movie shouldn’t have measured up to my high standards because it broke one of my cardinal rules when it comes to books made into movies: no major plot changes! A relationship that had been platonic in the book was changed to a romance in the movie. I couldn’t be upset over this, though, because the change, in my opinion, worked. Furthermore, the film was beautifully acted and filmed, and captured the mood of the book perfectly.
Pride and Prejudice (1995 BBC version)
Technically, this isn’t a movie; it’s a mini-series. But in this case, being a mini-series gives this adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice a leg up. A mini-series can be twice or three times as long as a movie, which allows the BBC production to mirror the book very closely without making any major changes. In fact, huge chunks of dialogue in the mini-series come directly from the book, to the film’s great benefit. With excellent acting, costumes, scenery, and period details, the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice leaves nothing to be desired.
Many people are unaware that Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award winning film Schindler’s List is based on the book Schindler’s List (originally published under the title Schindler’s Ark) by Thomas Keneally. Having both seen the movie and read the book, I would undoubtedly recommend the movie over the book. This is not because the book is bad, but because it’s different. Schindler’s List is perhaps the most gut-wrenching and difficult to watch of any film ever made. It seems to be filmed in such a way so as to evoke the most powerful emotional response possible. Because of the subject matter addressed, this is a good thing. However, the book is not presented in the same way. It is less the story of the horrors experienced by the Jewish people during the holocaust, and more the story of Oskar Schindler and how he ended up saving so many Jews. It is less emotional and more factual. It’s an excellent resource for anyone who wants to learn more about Oskar Schindler, but if you have to choose between watching the movie and reading the book, watch the movie.
John Grisham’s books seem particularly well-suited to movie adaptations. Full of suspense, they translate well to the big screen. The Rainmaker in particular holds its own next to the book. Featuring an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Claire Danes), Grisham’s story is particularly well-told here, with a subtlety of craftsmanship that makes The Rainmaker the best of any John Grisham movie adaptation.
So, those are a few of my favorites. What are some of your favorite book-to-movie adaptations?