You may know that we are big readers here at we heart this; and we certainly keep up with all things pop culture – movies, music, fashion, etc. So it may surprise you that one of the things I most hate to hear about a beloved novel is that someone is turning it into a movie. It’s not just because I fear they will rewrite the ending (who decided to make Less Than Zero a morality tale on the evils of drugs?) or horribly miscast a character (I never was won over by Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview with a Vampire) or just generally turning a fabulous read into a pretty blah movie (looking your way Running With Scissors).
Mostly, I hate that seeing a favorite novel on film messes with the mental pictures I’ve already created in my mind. When I really love a book, I have a vivid picture of its characters and their physical appearance and mannerisms as well as defined images of the setting, such as the style and layout of the home. I hate when a mediocre movie messes with those visions in my head. Even when I thoroughly dislike an adaptation of a novel I loved, the movie still colors my visions when I think of or reread the book.
Fortunately, there are some movies that are able to capture the real heart and soul of their written inspiration. The following are my (as always, completely biased and unscientific) Top 5 Movies That were as Good as the Book:
The English Patient – Quite possibly the most beautiful novel I’ve ever read; I also fell in love with the film version (9 Oscars don’t lie). The first time I read Michael Ondaatje’s novel, I would stop at the end of a page and go back to read it again – not because I needed clarification, just because it was the most lyrical and floating prose I had ever experienced. The movie is just as much a feast for the eyes, with sweeping landscapes and lush colors that capture this story of love and loss surrounding World War II. The best part is that the novel and film each center on different characters. So, you’ll feel as if you discovered something new by trying the other medium. (That means, “Hey you, read the book!”)
To Kill a Mockingbird – Here’s an example of a time the film version moved me to read the novel (thanks for nothing junior high). There’s a reason that both are considered classics (besides being a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and an Academy Award winning film.) Both tell an inspirational story of honor and justice while capturing a time and place (the post depression era of the American South) vividly for future generations. Watch the movie for Gregory Peck’s riveting portrayal of Atticus Finch, the Southern lawyer who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape. And if you need a new copy for your bookshelves, check out this beautiful paperback edition.
High Fidelity – This one broke all my rules. My thoughts at the time? They’re moving the location from London to Chicago? Choosing an American to play quintessential British guy, Rob? And what’s this about casting rock Lisa Bonet and that guy from Tenacious D? But, I was completely wrong with my misgivings, and this screen adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel rocks. Even with the huge changes to setting and characters, the film completely captures the cynical hilarity and earnest sweetness of the story, and is able to let the music seep into the film, almost as another character, just as in the book.
The Color Purple – A harrowing and incredibly emotional book about the brutality of life and man and how love gives humans the strength to carry on and (maybe even) stand up for themselves. Not for the feint of heart, but well worth the read, the story of Celie will stay with you forever. You know they succeeded in creating a just as profound and riveting movie as soon as your mind stops saying “Hey, there’s Oprah!” and you fall into the film and it’s characters entirely. PS Bring tissues.
Election – This novel perfectly captures the life and times of the students and teachers of a suburban New Jersey high school with a crisp, biting style I adore. High school angst, teenage sexuality and politics all come to a boil during the election of the school president. Read the book to marvel at how Tom Perrotta so clearly and descriptively tells a fast moving story with the briefest of sentences. Watch the movie, to see Reese Witherspoon’s spot on portrayal of the overly ambitious, hyper driven Tracy Flick – you’ll love and loathe her at the same time.
Bonus: the entire Harry Potter Series – Oh, how I love watching Rowling’s world of wizards, Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Dementors and Voldemont come to life on the big screen. I worry for the future of Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe since they embody the characters of Hermione and Harry so well. And I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the final two books to finally hit the big screen.
So, what am I missing? Tell us which movie you love that was as good as the book it was based upon.