Was the Book Really Better?

November is National Novel Writing Month, to celebrate I’d like to share some of my all-time favorite movie adaptations of novels. “The book was better” is a popular refrain, and more often than not it’s true, but occasionally filmmakers manage to capture the essence of a work, or make it their own in such a way as to provide a truly profound viewing experience. These films affected me as much, and in some cases more than, the source material.

Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is a science fiction classic. In the not too distant future genetically engineered “replicants” are employed as off world miners and for other tasks too dangerous for humans. Physically indistinguishable from people, replicants are forbidden from Earth. When a small group of escaped replicants tries to hide out in a neo-noir Los Angeles, blade runner Rick Deckard is tasked with hunting down and exterminating them. Dark and brooding in tone, this film makes the viewer confront what it is that makes us so fearful of “the other”.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) Featuring another dystopia may betray my tastes as a younger man. This is Stanley Kubrick’s take on the classic Burgess novel. This film is violent and disturbing throughout. It asks the very pertinent question: what should society do with violent, sociopathic people that present a danger to everyone around them. Can a person’s very essence be forcibly changed, and if it can, should it?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give masterful performances in this adaptation of the Stephen King novella. A wrongfully imprisoned man finds his way into the warden’s graces by his financial acumen. However, that very quality keeps the corrupt warden from petitioning his release when his innocence becomes apparent. At what point must one take matters into his own hands?

Fight Club (1999) This visually stunning adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name was no small feat. Palahniuk loves using circular, opaque language and internal dialogue. This picture does an excellent job of capturing the tone and the feel of the novel.

The Princess Bride (1987) Full disclosure, I never read this book. In fact, I was not aware that this film was an adaptation of a book until several years after seeing it. But this movie is absolutely fantastic, and embodies everything that great story-telling attempts to do, whether on film or in print.

No doubt you have already seen some, or perhaps all of these films. I have seen them all several times, and surely will see them each several more. A good movie, like a good book, allows you to gain a little bit more from it with every viewing. Come visit us in the Studio at Central Library to revisit an old friend, or make a new discovery from the film adaptation of novels display as we celebrate NaNoWriMo.

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