Saturday, July 7, 2007

The book vs. the movie

For Father's Day this year, my daughter Cassie presented me with the first volume of the Harry Potter series and two CD audio sets: Stephen King's "Blood and Smoke" and Gregory Maguire's "Wicked." (While she shares my fondness for reading, she leans more toward fantasy and horror than crime fiction, a genre she dismisses as shopworn and tedious.)

Now, I had started on Harry Potter a couple of years ago to see what the fuss was about, but put it aside because it seemed, well, just too childish. Cassie was horrified when I said this, and insisted I give the series another chance. And so, because I believe that using a gift is a token of affection to the person who gave it to you, and because my daughter would never stop asking about it, I am now reading "The Sorcerer's Stone" all the way through.

Two reactions: The writing still seems a little childish, but that's the demographic and J.K. Rowling is an excellent storyteller. Secondly, I really wish I hadn't seen the movie before reading the book. Instead of conjuring the faces and places in my own imagination, as I grew up doing with Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys, I could not shake the images of Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson and all the various CGI effects that have come to dominate the film versions of these books. For me, the suspension of disbelief that is so necessary to all fiction was completely lost.

It was too late for me, but thank God that for most Harry Potter readers, the book came first. Thank God the books always come first, and kids still stand in line to read them. Think if J.K. Rowling were selling her vision straight to the studio. We'd be left with a generation of kids with no imaginations at all.

But it got me thinking about the timeworn debate about books versus movies. Relating to crime fiction, one of the best movies made from an excellent book was "Gorky Park," with William Hurt and the great Lee Marvin. One of the worst? Maybe "The Black Dahlia," based on James Ellroy's excellent noir of the same name. (I don't know who cast Josh Hartnett in that film, but it couldn't have been the hard-nosed Ellroy.) I'm sure I can think of other examples. Can you? Let's hear about them.


Maxine said...

Well Da Vici Code was a not good movie about an even worse book, so that isn't a correct answer to your question.

I didn't much like the Elliott Gould version of Philip Marlowe but it is years since I saw that. I am afraid I'm a bit out of touch with movies these days. I am sure I have seen many an awful film version of many a good crime fic book, but I can't call any to mind just now.

I did see a couple of good movies by Claude Chabrol from the "Nicholas Blake" crime novels (pseudonym of C. Day Lewis). Again, many years old, I'm afraid.

Peter said...

How about the oddest stage adaptation of a movie version of a book? I nominate the recent (and maybe still current) London production of The Thirty-Nine Steps as a farce. For more on this odd subject, see:
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Dave Knadler said...

I confess to reading the DaVinci code. I passed on the movie -- how do you improve on such a masterpiece? (I'm kidding)

I am opposed to stage adaptations on principle.