Have you ever watched a film and read the book and found that the film is better than its source material? Yeah, me too. Here are a few books that made much better films. In each case, I did see the movie before reading the book. Did that influence my feelings about the book? Probably, but there are books I read after seeing its film that I love. These films are the standouts.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick. The film is called Blade Runner. It’s a classic of film SF. Both book and movie explore what it means to be human. What makes Us human? The filmmakers made great pains to retain this basic premise.
The film is excellent, both visually and thematically. The book had little impact on me at all. I did not care for the protagonists, and the villains came off as better-drawn characters overall. Dick has a way with words that will either thrill you or put you to sleep. The book’s story bored me. Very few of the events had sufficient power to stay in my memory. I think he went after the replicants, but I would;t swear to it. All I remember about the book is the main character buying an android sheep for his family. But the filmmakers had to get the replicants from somewhere, so I suppose Deckard does go after them in the book.
The Witches Of Eastwick by John Updike. Daryl Van Horne moves into the village of Eastwick. He begins to romance three women who happen to be witches. Van Horne is The Devil, and he pursues the women in a game of cat and mouse. What follows is a funny and romantic comedy that has you smiling. Whether you are reading the book or watching the film, that smile will remain or turn into a frown by its shocking betrayal.
In the film, all is well at the end. Babies are born to all three women, and Van Horne is a happy man. Not so in the book. Van Horne wants one of the women and the others use their spells to interfere with his plans. When the bride-to-be comes down with cancer that kills her, that kills the book for me. As good as the writing is, that hurt the novel far beyond the point where I could ever recommend it to anyone.
I hate the ending of this book. It destroys, for me, a beautiful story. George Miller, the film’s director, felt the same way I do. That’s why he changed it to a happy ending. The film is much more satisfying than the book. I haven’t read anything else by Updike, nor will I ever do so again. I loved his way with words, but his final outcome left me disliking his writing.
The Natural by Bernard Malamud. Roy Hobbes has extraordinary natural abilities as a baseball player. An evil woman derails his dreams of playing professional ball. Years later, he gets another chance to make an impression with the New York Knights baseball team.
Hobbes’ arrival at the stadium is where the film and the book deviate. In the movie, Roy is a great guy. He is humble, helpful, shy, and respectful. I love this film’s portrayal of good and evil. It’s a Fantasy with distinct Dark and Light characters. From the two opposing angels to the lighting of the characters, we know just by looking at them whether they are positive or negative.
Hobbes in the book is none of these things. He is a jerk, drinks too much, and runs around with women. He is disrespectful of his teammates and his manager. I did not have a good time reading this. While Malamud may be an excellent crafter of words, this story did not do his resume any good. Here, Hobbes is a bully from the first page, and his redemption near the end of the book isn’t convincing. His focus is on himself and nothing else. The writing is compelling, but I still hated Hobbes at the end.
Hobbes in the film is very different. This is a Fantasy of dreams and the power of angels. He begins as a young man with a set of skills. He sets off for the big city, wide eyed and full of promise. Those dreams he has are dashed when he is shot by a Dark Angel. 16 years later, he returns to the big city in pursuit of his dreams. He doesn’t make much of an impression until he is in his hometown of Chicago. There, the Hobbes of his youth return with the help of a Light Angel. The Hobbes here is a good person. His focus is on the team, not himself. The writing is wonderful, taking the barest skeleton of the novel and expanding it far beyond, almost as if it were a new story.
Jaws by Peter Benchley. The film is legendary. I don’t have to go into the film, as we all have seen it. What is important is how different the film is from the novel. Every character is different to the point of being very different characters in the movie. Chief Brody is a bullying ass who beats up Hooper. Brody’s wife sleeps with Hooper. The Mayor is a sleaze who takes money from the Mob for some reason. Quint is a nasty, hostile disagreeable individual who mistreats his crew and treats Brody and Hooper like dirt. The only character worth rooting for is the Shark.
The writing of Benchley is adequate. The story unfolds in a persuasive manner, but the book never got to be anywhere near the thrill ride of the film. As I read, I was so happy that the film was an entirely different thing than the book. Carl Gottlieb, the final script writer to help out with the film, probably deserves a lot of the credit for turning Benchley’s script into the final likable form.
There you have four lousy books that became classics in their genre. Good books that become bad films are commonplace. Bad books that become great films are rare. You may have others that come to mind. Please share them in the comments. I would love to know about other books that I can avoid reading.