The Eternal Battle of Book vs. Movie
By Scott Muller
“The book was better.”
It’s a quote uttered so often that it has its own t-shirt and has spawned roughly two gagillion memes. As an English major who loves reading, I’ve found myself saying it a time or two myself. However, upon further self-examination, I’ve realized that there are really four camps when it comes to the book/television show vs. movie debate. The upcoming movie The Circle really made me think about this. Before I discuss the book and upcoming movie, let me outline the four camps that are possible when it comes to movie/television show vs. movie.
“The book was better.”
This is the most common occurrence. For whatever reason, the book didn’t translate well into a visual medium. I find this happens a lot of times when a book deals with a character’s feelings. I thought The Hunger Games series of books was good, but wasn’t in love with the movies. I thought the books were too grounded in Katniss’s thoughts to really make much of a movie. It’s hard to take a book based on what someone’s thinking and translate it into something someone can see. Take into account Hollywood’s new obsession with drawing a book or series of books into a five-picture cash cow, and it’s tough to create anything that’s as good as the original work.
Another example of this is the television series Under the Dome. I really enjoyed the book; I’m a self-diagnosed nut when it comes to post-apocalyptic fiction, and Stephen King’s book fit the bill. When I heard they would be turning it into a television show, I was intrigued. When I read an interview by King stating that the show wouldn’t be like the book, I was a little worried. I watched the show and, at first, I was satisfied. Some things were different, but it was similar enough that I was satiated. Then season two came along…and the less said about that the better. It was an atrocity.
I won’t bore you with the countless other examples…but, surprisingly, there are three other camps. Let’s take a look at those.
“Surprisingly, the movie/show was better.”
Okay, reading geeks, calm down…I’m one of you. I love reading and have shelves filled with paperbacks I enjoyed and like to loan to others. However, sometimes, the movie is just better than the writing on which it was based.
Shawshank Redemption is probably the best example of this. Most King fans will point out that the original was only a short story and it was pretty good. I’m inclined to agree; however, you’ll be hard pressed to find many people who even knew Shawshank was a Stephen King story. I’m not saying the original was bad, but the movie was a classic. The same can be said for Stand By Me and the Green Mile, both King works that got more mileage on the big screen than on the printed page.
Outside of Stephen King, Forrest Gump is a fine example of a novel that was better known and received as a movie. Ask 100 people if Forrest Gump was ever a novel and most would say no. Well, it was a 1986 novel by Winston Groom. Some of the story was changed and Forrest himself was given a makeover into a guy who resembles Tom Hanks, but all in all it’s the same idea. Forrest Gump, like Shawshank Redemption became a classic that left the books in the dust…not because the story or book was bad, but because the movie was superior. Sorry book nerds.
Speaking of movies that took certain liberties with the story, let’s move on to the next camp.
“The movie was a little different, but I actually liked it as much as the book.”
There are a surprising number of movies that fall into this camp. Gone Girl falls into this camp. I enjoyed the book and the movie equally, even though they differed in some key spots. The funny thing is, the stuff I didn’t like in the book (no spoilers here) weren’t remedied in the movie…the director and those involved with the movie just found different stuff for me to not like.
Another example is the Harry Bosch series of books by Michael Connelly and the Bosch television series on Amazon Prime. What’s amazing about this transformation is that the series actually watches like a book. Each of the two seasons start out slow, like Connelly’s books, but pick up steam at an enjoyable pace. By episode five or six, things are really picking up, and by the last two episodes, events are happening at a break-neck pace. I recommend both the books and the television show, even though Titus Welliver, Bosch in the show, doesn’t look much like Bosch is described in the book.
Other books and movies that were different but were in the same ballpark and I liked equally well were Running Man by Stephen King (both are worth taking a look at), The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (this book is the best one I read in high school).
Now, it’s on to the fourth, and most baffling, camp.
“The movie wasn’t anything like the book…and I felt somewhat strongly that one was better than the other.”
This is a pretty small camp, populated with the second season of Under the Dome (even though it didn’t start that bad) and perhaps the very epitome of how different a book and movie can be: World War Z.
I read World War Z before I saw the movie. For those of you who didn’t read the book, it was written as a collection of stories by a journalist who was chronicling the zombie vs. human war. The book wasn’t as much a book as a collection of (mostly really good) short stories along the same timeline before, during, and after the war. The movie…well, it wasn’t any of that. As a matter of fact, that character that tied the short stories in the book together, the journalist, isn’t even present in the movie. Instead, he’s replaced by a guy who looks a lot like Brad Pitt.
I didn’t hate the World War Z movie. It was a pretty good dumb action movie with a lot of holes in the plot (including how the hell Brad Pitt seemed to know absolutely everything he needed to know and then survive about 27 catastrophes to proceed to the end of the movie). I just didn’t like it nearly as much as the book. I think I would’ve enjoyed WWZ as an episodic television show where each week they tackled one of the short stories. It would’ve been a lot more enjoyable to see things through multiple different lenses. But, hey, what do I know?
Anyway, there are a few other books and their corresponding movies that fall into this category, like some of The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies and most anything in Gotham, but again, this isn’t a huge category, but we should acknowledge its existence.
So, what does all of this nonsense have to do with The Circle, the current novel and upcoming movie? Well, let me hit you with my quick review of the book. I’ll do my all to not spoil the book, and by extension, the movie.
The Circle, by David Eggers, can best be summed up two ways:
You know your friend that’s on social media constantly? Multiply that by 100.
Or, for Modern Family Fans…
If 1984 is Alex Dunphy, The Circle is Luke Dunphy.
If you don’t get the preceding reference, ask a friend that watches the show…they’ll explain.
If you’re looking for a slightly longer synopsis, I will oblige.
The Circle is a story about Mae Holland, about as average a person as I could picture, who thinks she’s far better than her current circumstances. She gets out of a job she thinks she’s too good for when her friend finds her a job at The Circle, which is essentially what would happen if Google, Facebook, and about 25 tech companies had an orgy that spawned a baby. Mae starts out loving it, but things get crazy fast and she comes to question her decision.
I don’t want to ruin anything (even though I wasn’t a fan of the book and really wouldn’t recommend it), so I won’t delve much more deeply into the story. I will, however, tell you why I didn’t like the book. Mae is the very definition of unlikeable character. She thinks she’s destined for more than the job she has at the beginning of the book, but doesn’t do much to prove that. I think Eggers figured out that Mae wasn’t too likeable, so instead of rewriting the character, he decided to add a sick family member to make her somewhat sympathetic. Trust me when I say that won’t last long. Essentially, Mae continues to do stupid things that make me like her less and less. In fact, the only likeable character in the book…well, I won’t spoil anything.
All in all, I’m thinking that maybe I’m was a little too old for this book. I realize the place social media plays in today’s society (I would be lost without TripAdvisor and Amazon, at the very least), but I can’t even imagine a world like Eggers creates in this book. The essential question the books asks is, “How much information is too much?” It’s an interesting question, but the story wrapped around it is boring and the characters unlikeable.
Now, all of that being said, you’d think I’d pan the movie based on the trailers…right? You’d be wrong. Insanely enough, I think whoever got a hold of this book decided there was some good in there and scraped the crap away to get to it. The movie has what looks to be a ridiculously talented cast, including the likes of Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Patton Oswald, John Boyega, and the recently passed Bill Paxton. Other than Watson, I love the casting for this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Emma Watson; she’s an intelligent, well-spoken, class woman…which isn’t what I picture when I think of Mae. I would’ve gone with someone with a better resting bitch face, like Megan Fox, Kristen Stewart, or Emma Roberts. As it stands, it’ll test Watson’s acting chops to play someone so unlikeable (if we’re going to stay true to the book).
Otherwise, if the movie can cut the boring and repetitive parts from the book (and believe me, if you read the book, you’ll get sick of the “there’s just too much social media” stuff pretty quick), this movie will be pretty solid. I don’t know if it’s a movie to run out and see in the theatre, but I’ll definitely put it at the top of my rental/stream queue…if some social media platform doesn’t use my information to do it for me.
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if, outside of the norm, Hollywood will take a book that isn’t that great and turn it into a movie that is. Considering the strength of the cast and the potential to trim the terrible from the source material, I’m thinking that there’s a good chance The Circle the movie will be superior to The Circle the book in every way.
We’ll see if I’m right in April.