Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Movies to Books

As a kid, I didn’t realize that many – maybe even most – movies were adapted from books. The first time I really became aware of this was around the time I was ten, and saw the movie, Jaws. We saw it in the theaters. After seeing the action-packed, tension-filled production of Jaws on the big screen, the slow pace and wordiness of Peter Benchley’s novel was a huge letdown. Movies are better than books!
The same year Jaws came out, Milos Forman directed Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What a year for movies! I did not see the movie until a couple of years later, when it came out on cable. Like Jaws, I thought the movie was terrific. Shortly thereafter, I read Ken Kesey’s novel. It lost me completely.
In hindsight, it may have been less to do with the movies being superior and more to do with me. While I was an advanced reader for my age, I just didn’t ‘get’ either book. This really hit home for me when my daughter brough Cuckoo’s Nest home last month to read for her AP English. She was loving the book, so I borrowed it from her and re-read it.
It was fantastic. The film itself holds up well (I watched it after reading the book), but the novel really impressed me. Kesey’s book is full of powerful images, and the perspective is so different from the movie that it might as well be a completely different story. I heartily recommend it.
It’s possible that part of my problem all those years ago was that I read the books too soon after seeing the movie versions. Maybe I needed more time to clear the image of Jack Nicholson out of my head (I was able to create my own visual image of R.P. McMurphy when I read the book this time around, though Nicholson’s voice still came through); more likely, I was just too young to fully grasp Kesey’s vision. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I read it again.
My daughter is also in a theater arts class this year. Every couple of weeks, the class is assigned a movie to watch at home. They’ll spend a couple of days in school discussing the film. The last film she watched was Fight Club, the 1999 adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name.
I’ve heard a lot about Palahniuk. He’s been recommended to me by a number of people, but for some reason, I’d never walked out of a bookstore or library with one of his books under my arm, I’m not sure why. Until recently (after I watched Fight Club, in fact), the only thing of Palahniuk’s I’d read was his short story, Guts. It was good writing; a very effective piece of writing, in fact, but it was revolting. You can read it here (Ever notice how we always do that? We find something that turns our stomach, and the first thing we do with it is try to push it off on someone else. “How’s your meal?” “It’s horrible! It tastes like crap. Here, try it.”). Suffice to say, I’m not part of the Cult of Chuck (that’s what his website is called. Seriously.)
However, I might become part of it yet. Ten minutes into the film, I found myself sitting there thinking, “I’ve got to read this book.” I don’t think I’ve ever had the reaction before. Maybe I was suckered in by David Fincher’s vision. Maybe it was the acting – Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Brad Pitt were terrific – I’m sure that was part of it. But what it really was, was the story, and the Voice, which was strong throughout.
Some time soon I’ll land me a copy of Fight Club, the book. I’ve been told by some of the people who are part of the Cult that Fight Club is not Palahniuk’s best work, but I’ll read it anyway, and hope that it’s not too soon after seeing the film, though I’m much better than I used to be about judging each on its own merits. I hope I enjoy it. I hope it doesn’t totally gross me out.
Have you ever seen a movie that compels you to read the ‘source material’? How was it for you?
Thanks for reading, and have a nice weekend.

10 Responses

  1. Oh yeah – Jumper, by Steven Gould. I loved that movie, read the book, loved the book, but the two were not the same by a mile. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown was another one (and I know lots of people hate Dan Browns books) but I really, really enjoyed it. I'm seldom disappointed going movies to books, but I'm often disappointed when I go books to movies. Books just seem less constrained.

  2. I usually love the books much more than the movies, except for The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I saw the movie first, LOVED it, and then read the book and wasn't thrilled by it. I also saw the first Twilight movie before reading the books, but once I picked up the book I thought it was much better than the movie, as usual. I wasn't as aware of it a few years ago, but now I'm really noticing that a LOT of books are made into movies. Almost all of my favorite YA books are in the process of being made into movies. I'm happy about this because husband doesn't read, let alone read YA, so it's a good way to share the story with him without him having to read the books 🙂

  3. I'm just the opposite. If I know a book is being made into a movie, I'll check out the novel before I see the film. Unfortunately, the film almost never lives up to the book, in my mind. Books tend to be more imaginative, and what you imagine is never the same as the director who adapted the book to film. But I have an acute appreciation for both media. In short, I'm addicted to each of them.

    BTW – thanks for critiquing my query today on Matthew's QQQE blog!

  4. What first comes to mind are the Harry Potter movies, which to me don't do the books justice at all. On the other hand, I have to admit that I find a lot of classics easier to take as movies, or the movies give me more patience with the books. I didn't start reading Jane Austin's works until after I saw BBC's version of Pride & Prejudice. The movie helped me appreciate the book, and that lead to me reading the others, but I honestly like the movie/mini-series better.

  5. I think you make an excellent point here. The format is so different, and many books are ruined by film adaptations, but there are some that work even better on the silver screen. I haven't read Palahniuk, but I imagine I would like his work.

  6. I LOVE that movie–Fight Club. Never read the book though. I tend to treat books and movies as two separate things. I don't even expect them to tell the same story anymore. If I expect them each to tell a slightly different story then I'm not disappointed if one turns out to be better than the other. Some books are just so good and so classic, they simply are not meant to be adapted into a movie. Of course I can't think of any examples right this second. I haven't seen The Help yet but I just can't imagine any movie doing that book justice, no matter how well it's done or what fabulous actresses are in it.

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Guess I have a bunch of movie buffs reading! There's definitely a lot of depth and internal dialogue in books that you just can't get in a movie. Instead, you rely on the actors and actresses to reveal the emotions via facial expression, voice, movements. I have seen some remarkable performances in this regard. For some reason, I keep coming back to Nick Nolte in the Prince of Tides, which is going back 20 years at least. There's a scene where his face conveys so much in just a few seconds, without saying a word. Wow.

    Regarding Harry Potter, I loved the books and was prepared to be disappointed in the films, but I think *most* of the movies were done really well (It helps that the kids developed into pretty good actors themselves. Emma Watson was perfect from the get-go, but Daniel Radcliffe was pretty shaky; he has gotten so much better). I know there were times where I sat in the theater and thought, "Hey! They skipped…" but it mostly didn't hurt the films.

    Nancy: glad to do it, hope it helped. Carrie, thanks for the link. Thanks again, everyone.

  8. I used to love reading John Grisham novels. Back when every single one of them ended up being made into a movie. I got to the point where I'd read the novel AFTER, because then it didn't feel like they ruined the moive– it felt like I got all the insider information that the movie didn't share.

  9. Frequently. And there's a handful of times I prefer the movie over the book. One of those was Jaws. I much preferred the more simple storyline of man against beast. I hated the affair between Brody's wife and the oceanographer or the references to organized crime in the book.

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