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Book-to-movie adaptations that don't suck: pt.2 - Better than the book

Welcome back to part 2 of my "Book-to-movie adaptations that don't suck"series. Today we come to the touchy bit, where I talk about movies I loved even more than their book-counter parts. Before you guys sharpen your pitchforks and come for me, remember that in most of these cases I like both, but just prefer some aspects of the movie more than the book. Without further delay, let’s get into 6 movies that were better than the book.

The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

Just like my list of yesterday, I’d like to start out with perhaps the most obvious item: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although I enjoyed reading the books by Tolkien and see how they played a foundational role to all modern fantasy to follow, I think they have quite a few problems in their original format. Tolkiens style was longwinded even for his time, and frankly hasn’t aged too well. Although his world is wonderful and deserves all the page time it gets, his extensive descriptions of meadows, hills and expositional history can really pull the reader away from the story. The movies circumvent this problem, by combining both action, characters and beautiful scenery in every shot, hereby negating the need to slow down the story to show off the worldbuilding. Peter Jackson, rightfully so, won several Oscars for his directing and cinematography, which really bring the world of Middle Earth to life. In my case, even more so than the books ever did. Besides the fact that they bring the world to life, I love the movies for their sheer craftmanship as well. I love reading behind-the-scenes articles on the making of the Lord of the Rings. For example about the use of scale-doubles and multiple scale models of the same, to simulate the height differences between the hobbits and humans. Or about the way the locations were created using a combination of real world geography, set dressing and after effects. It’s one thing for Tolkien to imagine this world in his mind, but it’s another for Peter Jackson to bring it to life in the “real world”. I think in this case, both deserve equal respect.

Matilda (1996)

Another all-time favorite movie that perfectly captured the magic of its literary counterpart is the movie Matilda. It’s also the first movie I enjoyed even more than the book, despite both being all-time favorites. The brilliant performance from young actress Mara Wilson, the lovely messages of found family and self-empowerment in a smart young girl, and even the changes for the positive that were made from book to movie, make this one of the best adaptations I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Despite the fact that it’s perhaps an “older” movie, if you haven’t seen this one yet, please do yourself a favor and give it a watch.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas was an incredibly ambitious book, that in some ways may have bit of more than it could chew. It received almost equal amounts of praise and frustration from critics and I can agree with both parties. Although the concept and its message were incredible, the execution left some to be desired. Without spoiling the plot of the novel, it follows six seemingly separate stories, set in different places and timelines around the world. It’s strength lies in the connections it draws between these stories, and the narrative it constructs with these connections. However, these connections are often so small that the reader can easily misunderstand them or even miss them completely. The movie adds a visual aspect to these connections by casting the same actors in different roles throughout the several storylines. Each set of characters that is portrayed by the same actor is connected and shares a story-arc and motivation, and essentially lives out the same storyline in a different timeline, under different circumstances. All this is present in the book as well, but the visual of the same actor playing both roles helps link the pieces in your mind. This is definitely not going to be everybodys cup of tea. Some people will think it’s smart, other will call it pretentious. All in all neither the book or movie are perfect, but in this case I think the story and the message the author was going for simply translate better to a visual adaptation than to a textbased one.

Dexter (2006-2013)

Last and perhaps most extreme on my list: the Showtime-tv show Dexter. I very vividly remember the first time I came across the trailer of this show following a vigilante-serial killer with a heart of gold, and being extremely disturbed and intrigued at the same time. Still one of the most effective title sequences ever produced (please look it up on Youtube if you don’t know what I’m talking about), it drew me in from the start. I fell in love with the adventures of Dexter (wonderfully portrayed by Michael C Hall) and his foul-mouthed sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and bought the complete boxset on DVD. Despite the first six seasons being great, the last two let me down, leading me with a bad “series-hangover”. It was only then when I picked up the novels, and realized they were very little like the series, and not in a good way for me. Where the series focusses much on the characters and offers some great dark humor for comic release, the books focus more on a supernatural aspect that felt quite out of place for me in the context of the series. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend the books personally, the series still remains in my top five of all tv-shows I’ve seen. I do recommend you stop after season 5 or 6: stuff goes down hill from there, and it still hurts me a little…

Shutter Island (2010)

The movie Shutter Island had some incredibly suspenseful material work with, but manages to rise above and beyond anything the book could do. Although I enjoyed the book just fine, the movie is one of my favorite films of all time, and actually blew my mind even after more than one re-watch. The best way to go into this psychological thriller is completely blind, so I can’t talk about many of the concrete things I loved about the movie without spoiling the story. The main reason I like it better than the book is the addition of visual clues and brilliant attention to detail that was put into the cinematography. This is one of those thrillers where you won’t see the twist coming, but after it happens you want to hit yourself in the face for missing all the brilliant foreshadowing. I personally love picking up on little clues like this, and Shutter Island is one of those movies that just gets all those details right. Like for the Haunting of Hill House, I’d love to go into some of those little clues and motifs, but other people have already done this better than I ever could. Links to those will be provided at the bottom of this post.

Sherlock Holmes The last entry on today’s list is a bit of a bonus one, as it’s technically not just a single adaptation. If I’m completely honest, I’ve read and enjoyed the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, but never completely fell in love with them. Although I loved the characters, their dynamic and the stories on their own, the writing style can be somewhat formulaic and uninspired, in my opinion, which kept it from being a favorite. However, this cannot be said for the many (loose) adaptations that followed. Not only did I realize whilst making this list that “Sherlock Holmes” is quite the buzzword for me (I’ll read or watch basically anything even remotely associated with it), but also that my two all-time favorite tv-shows are based on this one classic. The first being, of course, the 2010 BBC-series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Given the incredible popularity of this show, I don’t think this needs much introduction or explanation. If you haven’t seen this yet: what are you waiting for. It’s available on DVD and many streaming services, including Netflix and definitely worth a watch. Secondly, there is my no.1 favorite tv-show of all time, and guilty pleasure: House Md… “Wait”, I hear you say. “House isn’t a Sherlock adaptation!” Technically it’s not, but it is without a doubt Sherlock inspired. Even producer David Shore had admitted so, and if you look for it, the parallels are quite clear. Both House and Holmes are brilliant puzzlers and “detectives” in their own field. Both have anti-social and boarder line sociopathic personalities, but get away with it due to their extraordinary talent and intellect. Both abuse drugs of some sort. Both have a best friend (Watson/Wilson) that is way sweeter than they deserve… Do I need to carry on? Anyhow, it’s those Sherlock-inspired characteristics, combined with cynical humor and medical mysteries that hits all my buttons and gives it the special place in my heart it has to this day. Even though, again, I like to pretend that season 7 and 8 never happened… An honorable mention goes to the TV-show Elementary (2012), a modern day re-imagining of the tales of Sherlock Holmes, and the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Both, although not as good as the previous two shows in my opinion, are very enjoyable and worth watching.

I’d love to hear from you guys if there are any movies you like better than their book-counter parts. Talk to me on my Goodreads via the link below, or subscribe to my website to write to me directly. I’ll see you again tomorrow for part three, all about scripts and screenplay adaptations. Spoiler alert: I’ll also let you know how I liked the new Fantastic Beasts movie, if you’re interested.

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Link to a short, concise analysis of Shutter Island, as mentioned


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