Books into movies
Norm Geras and Clive Davis both discuss the fact that most movies based on books seem to be not nearly as good as the books from which they're taken.
They cite some rare exceptions, though; movies that equal the original books. For Norm, this consists of the movies "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Great Expectations," "The Night of the Hunter," "Spartacus," "The 39 Steps," "The Young Lions;" and he cites the movie "Shane" as the sole film that was even better than the book from which it drew its inspiration. Clive lists "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Goldfinger" in the latter category, movies that surpass the books on which they're based.
I agree that the books from which movies are taken tend to be superior to the films. But then, I'm much more of a librophile in general than a movie fan. I like to picture things in my mind, and to read about the interior thoughts of characters and even of authors (a specialty of one of my oft-quoted favorites, Kundera). It's not that I hate movies, but books are the medium I adore.
I also agree that there are indeed movies that are as good as the books on which they're based. But these tend to be movies made from mediocre or decent-but-not-great books; or to be action movies; or to be based on classics I only think I've read but actually haven't, such as Oliver Twist.
I know the story of Oliver Twist so well I figure I must have read it at some point. But no; when I really think about it, I realize my memory is fooling me, forming an amalgam of the David Lean film (a chiaroscuro masterpiece which gave me the shivers as a child when I watched it on a tiny TV) and the way-too-light and airy musical "Oliver." As for Great Expectations, although it was a classic, I've never been a particular fan of either the book or the movie.
So, I'm wondering: has there ever been a case of a really excellent book, one I've read and loved-- being made into an even better movie? I can't think of one, so far.
But I can think of one excellent book I've actually read that was made into an equally excellent movie, although both are so very different from each other that they cannot really be compared. Usually a stickler for slavish adherence to the original plot, I decided to let that criterion --and just about everything else of a pedantic nature--go when I first viewed the 1939 "Wuthering Heights" in a New York movie theater way back in my teenage years.
What a movie! The book was a frightening tale of revenge and cruelty on the moors of England. It had exerted a strange and mesmerizing power nonetheless, a dark and gloomy one. But the movie, although shot in black and white, was an over-the-top romance. It dealt with only a fraction of the book's convoluted plot, but it was the best fraction. Although hardly cheery, it had a more upbeat mood than the book, and the dominant note was passion.
Okay, I'll cut to the chase: I fell in love with the almost unbearably young Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff. I knew that, at the time I saw the movie, he was actually an old man in his late fifties (ah, ancient!), so it was rather strange to fall in love with his long-ago self. Just watch it, though, and I think you'll see what I mean.
Here's a little schmorgasbord of Olivier/Heathcliff beefcake--
The young stableboy Heathcliff, before his fall from Cathy's grace:
The older, hardened Heathcliff, returned from wanderings to wreak revenge on those who'd wronged him:
And an even older Heathcliff, flinging open a window to the snowy moors over which he thinks the ghost of Cathy wanders and is calling out to him to join her: