Wait, That Was A Book?

Chris: We have all heard someone say this at some point after watching a movie:  the book was better!  In order to say that you would have to know that there was book to begin with.  In many cases this is obvious.  We shouldn’t have to tell you that Twilight and Misery and The Last of the Mohicans were all based on books.  (And how is that for some random titles?  And while I am digressing let me point out that sometimes the movie is a worthy adaptation, such as The Hunger Games, and sometimes the movie might actually be better, as I think Winter’s Bone is.  But maybe that is just the Jennifer Lawrence factor.)

Christina: Jennifer Lawrence is pretty awesome. Still, not all movies are well-known book adaptations. Two examples? Die Hard and Mrs. Doubtfire. Die Hard is based on Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Mrs. Doubtfire is based on the novel Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine. Both books are out of print, but the movies live on. That’s some cool trivia you can use at your holiday parties.

Two movie tickets
Actually admit two, please.

Chris: And since we are heading into winter, I guess we’ll start with…baseball?

The movie:  Field of Dreams (1989)

The book:  Shoeless Joe, by W. P. Kinsella Shoeless Joe book cover

Field of Dreams, one of the most iconic of all baseball movies, stays pretty close to the novel Shoeless Joe.  The title Shoeless Joe comes from one of the players summoned out of the cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson, probably the greatest baseball player who is not in the Hall of Fame (sorry, Pete Rose!).  Incidentally, the movie Eight Men Out explores Jackson’s banning from baseball in more depth, and is (of course) based on a book of the same name.

The most fascinating difference between the book and movie is the change of the author character.  In the movie Kevin Costner’s character tracks down an author by the name of Terence Mann, who is played by the great James Earl Jones.  In the book the author is…wait for it…J. D. Salinger!  A fictionalized version of him, at least.  The producers of the movie felt that not enough of the audience would know who he was, and were worried that the notoriously reclusive Salinger would sue them.

Christina: Someone who didn’t sue anybody over the unflattering portrayal of him in a movie was Mark Zuckerberg, who was played by Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network.

The movie: The Social Network (2010)

The book: The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

If you haven’t seen The Social Network, you definitely should. It’s either won or has been nominated for just about every film award there is.

The good news is, if you aren’t technically savvy or even if you hate Facebook (like me), you’ll still enjoy the film. The themes of friendship, ambition, and betrayal that made the book a success also work for the movie adaptation.

Fun fact: Jesse Eisenberg opened up a Facebook account in order to research his role. After they were done filming, Eisenberg closed his account. I’m betting Zuckerberg wasn’t too disappointed about that.

Chris: When Christina told me about a “Facebook movie”, I thought for sure it would be pretty stupid.  I was wrong.  The Social Network should have won best picture (sorry The King’s Speech!).  By the way, The King’s Speech is also based on a book.

Anyway, on to something that is more winter appropriate than baseball:  ham!

The movie:  Babe (1995)

The book:  Babe, the Gallant Pig(US title), by Dick King-Smith

The Sheep-Pig book cover
Originally published in England under this title.

I think a lot of us have forgotten how good of a movie Babe was.  We remember it as a quirky film with a nifty catch phrase.  But do you recall that it was nominated for best picture (it lost to Braveheart)?  It also currently holds a 97% rating on the review site Rotten Tomatoes.  Not bad for a little piggy.

Babe is another solid adaptation, sticking close to the book.  The book was first published in England in 1983, was itself an award winner.  King-Smith, a WWII veteran, wrote dozens of children’s books despite not becoming an author until he was in his fifties.  The movie’s success brought on a sequel that was not based on a book.  Maybe that is why Babe: Pig in the City didn’t fare so well at the box office.

Christina: Another movie that’s popular with kids and adults is Mary Poppins.

The movie: Mary Poppins

The book(s): The Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers

We all know and love the movie version with the incomparable Julie Andrews, but the author of the series that the movie was based on hated it. Strangely enough, the things that you probably love about the movie – the animation and the effervescent optimism of Mary Poppins – were the very things that Travers despised. She cried all the way through the movie and afterward, forbade Disney from making anymore Mary Poppins films.

Mary Poppins book coverI guess Travers and the rest of us will have to agree to disagree with the merit of the Disney’s version of her series, but I think we can all agree that Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent was brutal.

Chris: Disney equals Star Wars which equals classic science fiction which equals this next entry.

The movie:  Blade Runner (1982)

The book:  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. DickDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? book cover

Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, this sci fi flick was sure to be a blockbuster hit.  Except it wasn’t.  It is generally thought to be a very good film, but individual takes on it can vary greatly, in part depending on which version is seen.  To date seven different versions have been shown.  And I’m still not convinced that Deckard was a replicant.

While remaining true to the theme of Dick’s short novel, the movie takes the story quite a ways further.  Blade Runner was the first of Dick’s works to be adapted to film, and was not released until after his death.  You might be surprised at just how many other films are based on his writings, such as Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau.

Christina: Someone else who’s had their books turned into movies many times is Jane Austen. Her adaptations are popular, but one of the most popular is one from the 1990s:

The movie: Clueless

The book: Emma by Jane Austen

Clueless remains one of the most popular modern comedies.  That’s pretty impressive for a movie that came out almost twenty years ago (I feel old now). Still, it’s not hard to imagine that Austen herself would have appreciated the retelling of Emma taking place in a Beverly Hills high school.

PS – If you’re wondering why a teenage movie  made that long ago is so popular, you should check out some of the quotes.  (If you have a daughter, you’ll be itching to try out the “Anything happens to my daughter, I got a .45 and a shovel, I doubt anybody would miss you.” quote on the next date your girl brings home.)

Chris: To be clear, Clueless is not a biography about me.

The Movies:  The Shawshank Redemption (1994) & Stand By Me (1986)

The Book:  Different Seasons by Stephen King

The Shawshank Redemption was released to little fanfare, and barely broke even at the box office.  But it didn’t go away.  Boosted by word of mouth and solid rentals, it continued gaining critical and popular support, and currently sits as the #1 ranked movie of all time at IMDb.com.  That is not a typo, folks.  Many people consider it the finest movie ever made.

Stand By Me is an acclaimed coming of age film noted for the slew of young actors who went on to have successful Hollywood careers.

And while you may know that both of these movies come from Stephen King stories, did you realize that they come from the same book?  Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Body were both novellas from King’s Different Seasons.  Really amazing.  It could have been even more so if the movie adaptation of a third story from the book, Apt Pupil, didn’t live up to the “the book was better” trope quite so well.

Christina: This next one is unusual because it took a nonfiction self-help guide and turned it into a teen comedy-drama:

The movie: Mean Girls

The book: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman

Fun fact: Tina Fey didn’t know that the book was a parental guide book when she agreed to adapt it into a film. Luckily for us, she managed to turn the book’s insight into cliques and bullying into a sweet, hilarious movie. Too bad Lindsay Lohan is better known for being tabloid fodder nowadays…

Chris: That was another movie I had low expectations for and was very pleasantly surprised with.  Also, I am withholding comment as to whether or not it is a biopic about Christina.

The movie:  John Carter (2012)

The book:  A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars book cover

John Carter was a box office disaster of a movie.  I believe that had they left “of Mars” in the title it would have done better.  The director removed the Mars part so that the movie would appeal to a broader audience.  Really?  And how did that work out?  I think science fictions movies have done well enough that the word Mars isn’t going to scare people off.

Burroughs wrote 11 books in the Barsoom series of books featuring John Carter’s exploits on the red planet.  All of them have titles ending in “of Mars”.  He is also known for having created another literary character of note:  Tarzan.

Christina:  So the answer to the question of “Was the book better?” is…most of the time. Spielberg took the mafia element out of Jaws (seriously, he says so here), Die Hard without Alan Rickman is just wrong, and well, you can scroll up for our takes on the others. Still, we hold our beloved books to a high standard, knowing that there’s no way a two or even three hour movie can capture every element that goes into a book.

I’ll admit, I wince when I hear that a book that I love is being turned into a movie, but when Hollywood gets it right, they do a beautiful job. It’s fun to take a look at these adaptations and see how things can turn out when literary characters come to life.

“Never judge a book by its movie.” – J. W. Eagan

The books and movies we talked about can all be viewed here:  http://fontana.nccardinal.org/opac/extras/feed/bookbag/html-full/18470

(Edited 10/31/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)

6 thoughts on “Wait, That Was A Book?

  1. Re: John Carter – Disney decided to remove the reference to Mars from the title of the movie adaptation because previous movies about Mars tended to underperform at the box office significantly. By all accounts it’s become almost a superstition in Hollywood that if you stick ‘Mars’ in the title your film will sink without a trace.

    Mission to Mars is just one case in point.

    True story.


    • Mission to Mars is one of my all-time favorite movies and has one of the most ridiculous storylines I’ve ever encountered, which just goes to show that even when things do not make sense, they can still be fun! 🙂

      And Christina, I love Clueless. I still watch it and laugh!


  2. Thanks for this blog post. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversational touch Chris and Cristina have added to this piece. I didn’t know Babe came in second to Braveheart, didn’t know that Travers hated the movie rendition of her book, and DID know that Blade Runner was a flop. I watched it with my husband and friend one night and while they were laughing I was groaning. I have to agree that I enjoyed the movie Winter’s Bone over the book. And yes, it was because of Jennifer Lawrence.


  3. […] Salinger was never comfortable with fame and the spotlight, and slowly stopped writing.  He last published a story in 1959, even though he lived until 2010, reaching a respectable 91 years in age.  His reclusiveness became famous enough that author W. P. Kinsella used him as a character in the novel Shoeless Joe.  In the movie version, Field of Dreams, the Salinger character was removed due to a threat of legal action.  I talked a bit more about that many moons ago in this post. […]


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