Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Books and Their Movies: What Works, What Doesn’t?

Summer movie season always brings out the same problem for me and my grad student (and non-grad student, book loving) friends: what the heck to do about movies-based-on-books. The general rule of thumb is that you should read the book first, right? Well, that’s all well and good when you don’t have 100 academic tomes beating down your door to be read. I find that I often cave and see the movie first, but it’s not an uncomplicated decision.

One problem: I’m running out of time to read the books and see the movies. I have not read the Harry Potter books. I know, I know! I’m culturally deprived. But…I’ve seen the movies borderline religiously. I’m not quite waiting in a pop-tent outside the ticket window, but I’m close. I figure, if I only have 25 hours in my life to devote to Harry Potter, I’m going to watch the movies. I do think I’ll eventually be talked into the books, but I find myself satisfied with the movies. But in the meantime, how do you sort the books that have to be read before the film from those that don't?

Another problem: There are books that I love, and I fear extreme disappointment from a film adaptation. I put off watching Little Women for a lot of years, but was pleasantly surprised (I guess a cast with Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Eric Stoltz, Christian Bale, and Gabriel Byrne helps). But when The Lovely Bones came around, also with an impressive cast, I froze. I adore The Lovely Bones and I can’t risk seeing it ruined. Even films that come out well can feel like a shell of the novel. I think White Oleander is a good movie, but the adaptation was so sanitized; the book is gritty and hard, while the film is sad. I have to force myself to try to evaluate the book and the film independently.

I might be onto something, in considering the book and its adaptation as separate entities. After all, if an outing to the movies is supposed to be a break, I don't want to have to do pre-reading! So I’m seeking guidance. Are there movies based on books worth seeing, with or without reading the books? Are there movies you think are better than the book? Should I just get on with it and get all the Harry Potter books from the library right now? The entire series would be a good tool in the procrastination kit...

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