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Author Topic: Movies better than books?
Chunky Monkey Sr
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So I was wondering what everyone thinks of the whole "Oh, the book was better than the movie" argument, and wanted to start a topic about it.

(If SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED thinks this is in the wrong Forum Category, please forgive my insolence).

K.D.W. has already said that STARDUST was a teeny bit better than the book, and in her words: "but maybe that's because of Robert DeNiro."

philocinemas thinks that THE GODFATHER was better in film format, as well as most of Michael Crichton (which I will have to disagree with...the original version of Jurassic Park was 10x better than the dumbed down movie).

What does everyone else think?


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extrinsic
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I prefer to read the story before seeing the movie, which is all good because the story typically precedes the movie. I've gone the other way though and still found the text better than the movie.

One area that almost all print versions differ from their movies is multiple plot lines are condensed into solitary plots in movies. E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News lost much in translation.


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TaleSpinner
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I think movies and books are fundamentally different art forms, as different as photography, oil-painting and music--yet they have much in common and each can inspire the other.

I'm inclined to think that if the author had intended a movie, she should have written a script. A movie has to abridge a book because it's a shorter medium. We'll sit in a cinema for a couple of hours or so, max; we'll read a book an hour or two each evening for a week or more. While the movie communicates through sound and vision, and pictures speak a thousand words, it still cannot communicate as much in its couple of hours as can a book, whether it's multiple plot lines as extrinsic mentions, deep characterisation and motivation, or an enrichened backstory.

When I see a movie of a book I know that stuff will have been omitted. If it's stuff I yawned at (LOTR's endless histories of characters and their intertwining families) I'm happy; if I'm looking forward to a scene and they miss it (the falling action of returning to the Shire at the end of LOTR) I feel cheated.

Also, I know a movie might or might not look as I imagined: HP delighted me with Diagon Alley, Gringott's and Quidditch, but disappointed with how Ron seemed to upstage Harry and Hermione with his better acting.

I enjoyed believing in Superman with the flying, super-strength and the x-ray eyes, but I didn't like the flying in circles around the Earth to reverse time, because it seemed like something out of a, er, comic book. My willing suspension of disbelief depends somewhat, it seems, on the medium.

I like the 007 franchise. While the movies are true to the essence of Fleming's Bond, they're not slaves to the books that inspire them. Their plots often depart substantially from the stories whose titles they take. "The Spy that Loved Me", for example, was nothing like the book, yet both book and movie are (to this sad schmuck) immensely satisfying, each in its own right.

The original Star Wars simply could not have made it first as a book--the story's too thin. Yet it works as a movie because we marvel at its seeming reality. (Well, we marvelled when it was first made, not so much now, now that movie magic is commonplace.) Unlike most of the movies before (except "2001"), we didn't lose our suspension of disbelief because we couldn't see the cinematographic tricks.

("2001" was probably the only SF movie whose book I did not read first, and I understood neither book's nor movie's ending. I preferred the movie for being brief and visually stunning.)

Turning to TV, Star Trek and Firefly are amongst my favourites. As books I doubt they'd have made the same impact: Star Trek's hope is probably too naive for books, and Firefly's "cowboys in space" too cliche; yet because of the medium--and the "for TV" writing--they work.

Cheers,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited September 28, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited September 28, 2008).]


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Robert Nowall
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The only movie I can think of where I didn't read the book first is Gone With the Wind. There, everything that was in the movie came from the book---but there was a lot the movie left out.

I saw two-thirds of 2001: A Space Odyssey before reading the book---my grandmother took me, and made us leave at that point. It was about ten years before I saw the rest of it. Both were good, but, really, very little matched up from one to the other. (Kinda like The Lord of the Rings, actually---both books and movies went in the same direction, but didn't match up in the details of how they got there.)


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Kaz
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quote:
I think movies and books are fundamentally different art forms, as different as photography, oil-painting and music--yet they have much in common and each can inspire the other.

I'm inclined to think that if the author had intended a movie, she should have written a script. A movie has to abridge a book because it's a shorter medium. We'll sit in a cinema for a couple of hours or so, max; we'll read a book an hour or two each evening for a week or more. While the movie communicates through sound and vision, and pictures speak a thousand words, it still cannot communicate as much in its couple of hours as can a book, whether it's multiple plot lines as extrinsic mentions, deep characterisation and motivation, or an enrichened backstory.


Strangely enough, I've never thought of it that way. I guess I did miss a few things. People generally debate movies vs films in a way that shows cinema as the usurper of the role of literature, especially now with the issue of people not reading that much anymore.

But yeah, now that I think about it, it's like debating whether a game of [American] football can be more entertaining than a game of rugby.


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Reagansgame
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I liked the Hogfather movie, but Pratchett was a stickler on production, there. Terry Pratchett has so much subtle humor and subtle philosophy through humor that as a reader (and without intonation) you may miss out on some. But in the movie he was so closely involved in the production, that he was able to make sure all of the nuance made it through.

Pratchett fans must watch the Hogfather, they'll prolly play it on ION again this Christmas, but really, you get to meet Nobby Nobbs and Colon, Death and Susan, Death of Rats, the Wizards, and it introduces the greatest diety: the "Oh God" god of hangovers... good times.


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philocinemas
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I believe the matter of preference is greatly determined by expectations. Many people that go to see "the movie" don't even realize it is based on a previous work, whether it be a short story, a novel, or a graphic novel. They base their opinion of the movie own its own merits.

Those who read a story and then go to see "the movie" set themselves up for disappointment, because it is impossible for one film to match the thousands of imaginations that have already viewed the story within their owners' heads.

I have read a great number of classics and have then seen the movie. I have almost always been disappointed - the only exception I can think of is The Lord of the Rings, which, though not an exact representation of the novel, came the closest to what I envisioned while reading the story.

There are some classics where I saw the movie first, such as Treasure Island, Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer, Don Quixote, and Gone with the Wind. I tend to be much more partial to those interpretations.

With modern literature, I have tended to see the movie first and then go back and read the book. This reveals an apparent laziness on my part, but it does allow me to have a different "view". I thought the first couple of Harry Potters were fairly consistent interpretations of the novels. As for The Godfather, I had a hard time getting past the explicit sex in the book - it's just not something that I enjoy reading (Puzo seemed much more interested in the males). I think the movie is the best ever made - yes even better than Citizen Kane.

Regarding Crichton, I simply feel his characters are a little flat. I absolutely love dinosaurs, and seeing them portrayed on screen (in the way I envision them) for the first time was one of the most memorable movie going experiences of my life. It was similar to seeing Star Wars when I was nine. Reading the book could never have matched the experience I had visually.

Therefore, I return to my opening premise - it is all based on expectations.


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Crystal Stevens
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I happen to own the paperback copy of STAR WARS that came out before the movie. This one does not have the movie cover that came out later. I remember picking it up because it looked like a good read, and it didn't disappoint me in the least. In my opinion, the book was excellent. Then, later, I learned it was coming out as a movie. My first thoughts were that if the movie followed the book even halfway that it would be a runaway hit. What a thrill it was to go see it for the very first time and it followed the book word for word, scene for scene, all the way through.

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR'S STONE was somewhat different. I heard about all the hoopla surrounding the first HP book when it came out and decided to find out why. So, I bought THE SORCEROR'S STONE and read it. I couldn't figure out why kids were going nuts over this book. This was before the first movie was released. I thought it was a very nice, very well done children's story... nothing more. Then I saw the movie. I loved it and all that followed. I feel it came out much better on the screen than it did in the book. Please be aware that I never read more than the first book in the series.

I don't know how many of you are aware about how a movie is put on the screen when it's done from a book. It all depends on how many rights the movie company gets to the book. If the movie company gets all the rights, they can change the story any way they see fit, even if it makes the story into something it's not. They also have the right to write other screen plays based on the book without any okay from the author.

J.K. Rawlings kept all the rights to the Harry Potter movies. None of them hit the big screen without her consent. She had the last say on everything. George Lucas wrote the book STAR WARS. He also made the movie. So he had the last say, too. The result was STAR WARS followed the book exactly, too.

It's these rights and who controls them that depends on whether the movie will be more like or not like the book. I read somewhere that Anne McCaffrey has been approached several times about putting her dragons on the big screen. She's repeatedly turned them down because they refuse to do it as she wrote it.

So that's the reason why most of the movies coming from books are not as good as the books. I know several times after reading the book, I've been devastated with how terrible the movie was. Very rarely was the movie better than the book. JMHO


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philocinemas
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Crystal - I so envy you regarding that original copy of Star Wars. I only have my original copy of The Empire Strikes Back - I never ended up getting the Star Wars novel.
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InarticulateBabbler
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A great topic.

I have mixed emotions on this.

Regarding Michael Crichton, I have only read a couple of his books (Eaters of the Dead and Timeline). The 13th Warrior was different from the book, and I love the movie, but I consider them as different entities. The book was a quick read. Timeline was fairly close to the book. However, Michael Crichton was a director (Westworld; Coma) so maybe he thinks in that medium.

I loved the Godfather in both versions also. However, the book encompasses both The Godfather Part I and The Godfather Part II in less than 450 pages--and gives you the details (good or bad) behind some motivations. However, The Sicilian (which I found to be a much better book) was a bit different from the movie. I enjoyed them also as separate entities.

Dune is the controversial LotR of Sci-Fi, and a timeless story, but the first film version was a travesty of film. It was an expensive joke. The Sci-Fi Channel's version was very close (for all the budget it had), but failed to give Dune Messiah and Children of Dune the same due. It combined both stories into one movie and changed some key facts.

Battlefield Earth stopped well under halfway through the book, and cut out the global scale that was such a key to the story.

We all know how Stephen King has had his movies re-made because of the lack of integrity.

I've seen a variety of Dean koontz movies which were both on target and different stories.

Clive Barker's Cabal was very different from Nightbreed, and there are elements to both that are very good.

Anybody see and read Clive Cussler's Sahara? Even he is so upset he is suing.

Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series will soon be a television series...we'll have to judge that later.

No matter how anyone feels about Eragon, the movie was far worse than Paolini did. (And, Paolini had, at least, an interesting milieu in the first book.)

The Bourne Identity was an entirely different story. The bank account/identity, amnesia, and governmental betrayal were taken from the book and put to another story. IMO the book was far better, The Bourne Supremacy diverted from the actual story where it began. the book was a rescue of his wife, not revenge for her death. Which naturally leads to the first, most obvious differences from the movie and book versions of The Bourne Ultimatum, where it's a 50 year old Jason Bourne, protecting his wife and son from the Jackyl (the true enemy from the first book).

Jumper was also an entirely different story. Both likeable entities, but the book was much more personal. (I did like the addition of the Paladins to the story, but would've loved it if Steven Gould had come up with them and elaborated on that scenario.)

So...better? That's an individual judgment call (for each person on each book/movie).

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited September 28, 2008).]


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satate
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In general I prefer the books to the movies. I liked Philocenemas's comments on it being a different media because I've never thought of it that way and now that I do I think I simply prefer the medium of books to movies because I enjoy the depth of story that a book can achieve that a movie can't. I have found only a few books where I actually liked the movie better.

I have to agree with KDW that Stardust the movie was a little bit better than the book. They changed a few plot points and I liked the changes.

The only other movie that I liked better than the book is Jane Austen's Sense and Sensiblity, the one with Kate Winslet. I liked the movie better simply because the book didn't protray the awkward social silences as well as the book did. It's been a long time though since I've read or watched either so I may change my mind if I read and watch both again.


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rich
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Two off the top of my head re: movies that are better than the books:

Three Days of the Condor was a much better movie than the novel, Six Days of the Condor.

And, this may be blashpemy, but Hombre was a much better movie than the book by Elmore Leonard.

I agree with those that think the first two Godfather movies were better than the book. Come to think of it...I never read Jaws, but I'm going to say that the movie was better than the book only because the reviews of the novel put it in the same league as Puzo's Godfather book. I like sex and violence as much as the next pervert, but not as soap opera.

Oh, and just thought of this one: Monkey Shines. Not a great movie (maybe not even a good one, but it has a place in my heart), but much better than the book. I didn't even finish the novel, the writing was too strained and godawful.


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rstegman
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From my understanding, a book is generally 250 pages, while a movie uses about 150 pages of the book.

All the interrelated plots, all the discriptions, all the explanation goes out the window. Movies tend to be simpler.

DUNE is an example where Herbert and another author tried to create the script for the movie. they trashed the first attempt and herbert went with another author to come up with the final script. They kept in the complexity and forgot the story.
The actual story of Dune was a young man trying to reclaim that which taken from him when his father died.
So much of what was in the film, required explanation, and made no sense without it. The movie was not as good as the book.

The screen writer takes the core of the story, then adds the things that make this one different from all the other clones. If the book can be recreated without the extra pages, the film can be as good as, or better than, the book.
The first three star wars books were like that. So was Jaws. I have not seen the movies, but the Lord Of The Rings were like that.


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rich
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Just a clarification, and I may be stating the obvious, but there are some comments that prompt me to state: Star Wars was not an original novel. The novelization came later.

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extrinsic
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Oh, but the first Star Wars-based fiction predated the first movie release. It's a semantical point, but the novel was released before the movie.

"Star Wars-based fiction predates the release of the first film, with the 1976 novelization of Star Wars (ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster and credited to Lucas)."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_wars#Literature


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Robert Nowall
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I might've read the novelization of Star Wars before I saw the movie, but I don't remember the exact order. (I find it hard to credit Alan Dean Foster with some of the wording of the book---there's a bit at the beginning about two suns and a planet sometimes mistaken for another sun---which is utter nonsense, of course.)
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'd recommend that anyone interested in reading about how books are turned into movies (as well as other stuff about moving making) read William Goldman's books on the subject: ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE and WHICH LIE DID I TELL? (He may have written more, but I've only read those two.)

OSC has talked about how movies and books are different, and one of the big things is that a book can explore the characters' motivations where a movie can only give you hints (or have you try to believe what the characters say are their motivations). This may be one reason books tend to have more depth than movies.

I enjoy reading a book and then seeing the movie. For one thing, it helps me "get" things that often aren't quite clear on the screen. Having read OSC's novelization of THE ABYSS before seeing the movie helped me understand what James Cameron was trying to portray, for example.

For another thing, it lets me see what someone else's interpretation of the book is (and I love getting new insights into a story from other people's interpretations). I also like to see how the cast members interpret the characters. I liked the movie TRUE GRIT (up until the end) because of how closely it followed the book up until the end, and I suspect they changed the ending in part because of the way the actors may have connected as they were playing the characters.

I have to say that because I've read all of the Harry Potter books and seen the movies, when I think back on my experience of reading one of the pivotal scenes near the end of the last book, I remember it as if I had seen it in a movie. The actors are so connected to the characters now for me, that I "saw" that scene with Daniel Radcliffe and one of the other actors (won't say who so as not to spoil anything) instead of reading it.

Letting a movie have that kind of influence on my interpretation of what I read may be a bad thing. <shrug>

On the other hand, I have messed around for years with my own ideas of a cast for LORD OF THE RINGS, and I am completely happy with the actors in the movies. (In fact, a couple of them were my picks well before the movies were ever made.)


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Crystal Stevens
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Rich; I hate to tell you this, but I was there when the book STAR WARS came out and then the movie came afterward. I walked into the drug store, went to the book section, and bought the book. The cover is not remotely connected to the movie. It was only after the movie came out that the cover was changed, and I have one of the originals. You can think what you want, but I know the truth because I lived it.

I remember when STAR WARS hit the screen. My husband almost got got angry with me when we went to see it for the first time because I kept telling him what was about to happen. The book came first... then the movie. I'm sure that I bought the book a good year or more before the movie ever hit the screen.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I can second what Crystal said. There was a 1976 publication of the STAR WARS "novelization" and it came out before the movie (which first appeared in theaters in May 1977). It had a different cover from the movie cover. (I know because I used to have a copy of it-- )
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Crystal Stevens
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Bless you, Kathleen. I was beginning to think that some members would think that I made this all up. Thank you for coming forward and backing me up .
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extrinsic
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One edition of the Star Wars novelization preceded the movie. Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, first published by Del Rey on November 12th, 1976. Star Wars, the original movie, was released on May 25th, 1977. Subsequent editions of the novelization were released later. But for production and editing delays, and creative differences, the movie would have come out first or at least coincided with the novelization release.
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rich
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Let me clarify:

When talking about novels and movies, I thought we were talking about movies that were made from the original source material: the novel.

Star Wars' original source material was not the novel. Yes, the book was published first, but I think the comic book was also being worked on/pbulished before the movie came out. It is a matter of semantics, but, again, I was thinking we were talking about movies made from the novel, not movies that had novel tie-ins, like The Abyss.

I'm not going to belabor the point, and I'll shut up now.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Good point, rich.

That's why they have two screenplay categories at the Oscars: one for screenplays adapted from other works, and one for screenplays that are original.

Sometimes, however, it's hard for some readers to tell whether a book is a novelization of a movie or the basis for the movie (though the "rule of thumb" might be, if the movie is better than the book, the book is more likely to be a novelization).

On the other hand, the novelization may contain more "stuff" than the movie. An example would be the novelization of STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE which took half the book just to finish the podcar race at the beginning of the movie.

What's really frustrating is when they base a movie on a book, and then publish a novelization by someone else entirely that is based on the movie--as if people couldn't handle the original book, or something.


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aspirit
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I think books and movies are different creatures. I don’t mind if the storyline or details in a movie don't follow the book it was based on, as long the movie meets my standards of "good" for the medium. I like both novel and movie versions of Battlefield Earth, despite their differences. On the other hand, the Starship Troopers live-action movie is far inferior to the novel. The movie was bad not because it differed from the novel, but because of how it differed. The movie stripped the meaning from the violence, failed to make me care about the characters, and attempted humor at inappropriate moments.

To keep books and their subsequent movies separate in my mind, I wait to read a book until after the movie, when I hear of the movie first. When I've already read the book, I wait to see the movie until the book has faded in my memory or I'm confident the movie won't disappoint. I was delighted when I saw the trailer for Memoirs of a Geisha, for example. I had read the novel shortly before, and I recognized the soul of the story in the trailer. A few seconds into the trailer, in fact, I jumped in my seat and declared to my husband, "This looks like Memoirs of a Geisha!" I now own a copy of the novel and the movie.


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philocinemas
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The movie, Starship Troopers, was made as a sci-fi social satire. I have not read the book (I will put it on a long list of must-reads), but Verhoeven is a very deceptive director when it comes to sci-fi. He makes all of his sci-fi movies over-the-top and then mocks his own work within the film. I would guess most people do not understand why he includes this "inappropriate" humor; however, I believe he tends to be somewhat pessimistic regarding mankind's future. He tends to suggest that though we will achieve great things technologically, we will continue to be morally and culturally deficient. He suggests that technological advances will only provide a greater means for the justification of injustice.

I am also curious. What did you like about Battlefield Earth?


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Robert Nowall
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I've got a first printing of the Star Wars novelization somewhere 'round---but I acquired it later, used, and the one I picked up and read first was a more direct tie-in with a photo spread in the center. But I still don't remember...no, wait a minute...

I remember belatedly some notes I've got. I used to index my SF books and I've pulled the card I made for it way back when. I also saw fit to write down the date I first saw Star Wars in my writing logbook. (Boy, my handwriting was sloppy then.)

According to this, I first saw the movie on August 25th, 1977. I bought the book on August 27th, 1977. So I definitely saw the movie before I bought the book.


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TaleSpinner
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I was going to say I've always read a book first, then seen the movie. But then I remembered I've been buying the 007 books, partly because I like them and also to learn, hopefully, how Fleming wrote books that sold well and got made into movies. ... I've learned I might write more gripping yarns had I been a secret agent :-(

On Star Wars: Earlier, I said "The original Star Wars simply could not have made it first as a book--the story's too thin." It seems I wasn't entirely correct. (It's so rare for me to be wrong I have difficulty admitting it, sorry.)

Here's Wikipedia on the development of the movies and the books:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars

It's clear that Lucas intended for the movie and the book to be similar, if not identical, although according to "Wookieepedia" the book (I haven't read it) "gives to the overall story is the character's emotions at a certain time, it illustrates what the characters were thinking when they were under pressure, and sometimes it gives back stories to minor characters where the film could not."

More at:
http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars_Episode_IV:_A_New_Hope_%28novel%29

So perhaps the book isn't as thin as I imagined. My "thin" comment came from a--wrong, apparently--assumption that it would be like other books of movies I've seen, where they seem to copy the dialogue and narrate the visuals and sound effects, adding nothing. I have a feeling that while going from book to movie works at least some of the time, going from movie to book almost invariably doesn't--and it's even worse when they try to make more money with sequel books on extended universes, gaps in "history", etc, etc. I've never bought any of them--am I missing something here too?!

I think Star Wars doesn't fit the pattern of making movies out of books, because the book was written as a movie tie-in. That it was published before the movie came out is, I think, more an accident of production schedules than anything, as extrinsic suggested.

Lucas established his name with American Graffiti (1973) and had a contract with Universal for Star Wars. Would the publisher have bought the book on its own merits? Or was the prospect of sales on the back of the movie a substantial influence?

Cheers,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited October 01, 2008).]


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aspirit
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quote:
What did you like about Battlefield Earth?

philocinemas, I'm embarrassed to admit I don't remember. Let's see, I was... not quite 16 and viewing the movie with a friend, which was rare. I cheered, I laughed, I cared about the characters predicaments... I liked the lighting, the camera angles, the special effects, the alien costumes... and I liked the idea of one person leading humans in outsmarting an other-worldly people after so many years of enslavement. I enjoy stories in which the antagonist underestimates the MC's potential, which the MC must realize in order to succeed. The movie reminded me of the importance of indomitable spirit and the importance of courage to strive for the impossible.


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JamieFord
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I thought the Shawshank Redemption was better than the novella.
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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:

I thought the Shawshank Redemption was better than the novella.

I agree. Stand By Me was better than The Body, too.


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Lyrajean
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Yeah, but that's the difference between the screenwriter "fleshing out" a 40 page novella or a 10 page story as opposed to going after a 500 page Harry Potter novel with a hatchet saying "If we chop out enough marginally important scenes and eliminate most minor characters except for pointless cameos I think we'll be left with a slightly less than 3 hour movie!

Even if in the end it amounts to little more than highlights from said-great-book that are mostly meaningless if you haven't read it.

Sorry, 'nuff rant...


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JamieFord
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I actually liked the Green Mile film better than the book(s) as well.
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