Friday, September 14, 2012

10 Book to Movie Adaptations I Read But Never Watched

This is a follow up to 21 Memorable Book-to-Movie Adaptations  -- I'm talking about books I've read which were adapted to screen but I never saw the movie. I may do a separate post on films I've seen which were based on books I never read.

1. One True Thing

Ellen Gulden returns to her childhood home to help care for her mother, Kate, who has cancer. She believes her mother's pain is bearable, so she doesn't give her the overdose of morphine that kills her. Nevertheless, she is tried for this alleged mercy killing.

This is sort of a coming of age story about a young woman getting to know her mother for the first time as a human being and not just "Mom" and reassessing her assumptions about her parents' marriage. It also explores the pain of losing a parent, as well as her difficult legal battle afterward, and her troubled relationship with her dad.

I really liked this novel by Anna Quindlen, and it has stayed alive in my memory for a long time. She has a gorgeous writing style and a knack for delving into the complex layers that comprise relationships. However, I balked at seeing the film, even though I really like both Meryl Streep and William Hurt (I'll never forget his performances in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Children of a Lesser God). After really liking a novel, I find it nearly impossible to appreciate the film adaptation on its own merits. I wonder whether it's worth seeing, especially now that several decades have passed since I read the book?

2. Cold Mountain

This 1997 historical novel by Charles Frazier, based on events in the life of the author's great-great-uncle won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and holds a special place in my heart as one of my all-time favorite civil war novels. Near the end of the American Civil War, W. P. Inman is a wounded deserter from the Confederate army  He spends months crossing North Carolina to return to his fiancee, Ada, in the mountains.  Ada, a minister's daughter from Charleston, recently buried her father. Despite her city breeding, she must learn to survive and run a farm on her own. She is helped by Ruby, a tough and edgy mountain native.

On his journey, Inman risks starvation, extreme weather, and the efforts of the home guard to track down and shoot deserters. This novel does a beautiful job of capturing the ravaged state of North Carolina at the end of the brutal War Between the States. It also eloquently explores the psychological effects of war on both soldiers and civilians.

I loved this book, and I was afraid the movie would be underwhelming, especially since I'm not particularly a fan of any of the lead actors (though I remember Jude Law as having been quote good in a few movies, including The Talented Mr. Ripley). I haven't heard much about this film, actually -- is it worth seeing?

3. Twilight

I've mentioned several film adaptations I've skipped because I loved the books so much. Here's one I skipped because it was based on a novel I hated. My daughter and I plodded through this whole novel, because we we determined to give it a fair shot. After all, there must be some reason for its phenomenal popularity, right? We weren't expecting an epic work of fiction, but surely it must be a good read, eh?

After hundreds of pages of Edward's smoldering looks and alabaster skin, we were still waiting for it to get good. It never did. The bottom line: if I want to read about a vampire, I'll find one who's a real man, not an angsty, creepy bloodsucker who sparkles. And Bella, sweetie? I understand that you have hormones, but your helpless fragility in the face of this hot, dangerous vampire who lurks outside your window? It just set the women's movement back to the 1950s. And I have no intention of wearing a girdle and lecturing my daughters about their hymens.

I've seen snippets of the movies, and all I can say is that I didn't see any acting going on. Maybe it got better, but the bits I saw were in no danger of being anybody's Oscar reel. I do like the "bad lip reading" video, though.

"Dude you slapped a fish." "Wow ... how dare you...that cake was most bestest creation"

4. Fahrenheit 451

451 degrees Fahrenheit, as we all know thanks to Ray Bradbury, is the temperature at which paper bursts into flame. This wonderful classic novel describes a future in which independent thought is discouraged and "firemen" burn books. The population is sedated by wall-to-wall interactive but mindless television and mood altering drugs. Even in an era when dystopian fiction has become a whole genre unto itself, this groundbreaking book is beautiful and rich with food for thought.

I am curious about the film adaptation by Francois Truffaut, but I haven't seen it. For one thing, I've read that the mechanical hound owned by the fire department doesn't appear in the movie. Seriously? Fahrenheit 451 with no mechanical hound?

5. The Devil's Arithmetic 

I bought this novel for one of my daughters when she was immersed in learning about The Holocaust. I read it one day, while the little people were napping, so I could discuss it with her. I found it pretty brutal. Not as painful as it could have been, of course, given the subject. But I was surprised it was marketed as a young adult novel. The descriptions of the deaths of children had me in tears.

It is a wonderful book, though.  In a wibbledy-wobbledy timey-wimey manner (thank you, Doctor!) a young girl goes back in time and witnesses the taking of an entire Polish shtetl to a Nazi death camp and the events that follow.

One of the reasons I was never tempted to see the movie was that, until recently, I didn't take Kirsten Dunst seriously as an actress. But I thought she was great in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is one of my favorite movies. And I heard she delivered a fantastic performance in Melancholia, which I haven't seen. (I'm still on the fence about Lars von Trier). I don't know -- is this one to skip?


 6. Anna Karenina

Holy Mother Russia! There have been a lot of adaptations of this timeless novel of unhappy families and adultery, and there is another in the works.  I didn't read Tolstoy until I was in my early 30s -- I remember reading while my son nursed. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but he wanted to breastfeed a LOT. And it's Tolstoy. This novel is just as wonderful as everyone said it would be.

I am looking forward to the new adaptation with Kiera Knightley, and maybe I'll give at least one of these others a go.

7. War and Peace 

I loved this even more than Anna Karenina, but I've never seen the movie. Though with Audrey Hepburn as Natasha, I'd say it's a must-see.

8. Family Pictures

I dearly loved this novel by Sue Miller, who also wrote The Good Mother, when I read it in my early twenties. It focuses on a large family and how they adapt to the middle child, Randall, who has autism. Randall's father, David, is a shrink by trade. In an era in which the "experts" are taught that cold, unresponsive mothering -- Bettleheim's "refrigerator mother" -- causes autism, Lainey, the warm, affectionate, quirky, and over-burdened mom, finds herself under her husband's scrutiny. Needless to say, this doesn't bode well for their marriage. The novel also follows the children into adulthood, as they try to make sense of their family and their lives.

I don't know much about the T.V. movie starring Angelica Huston. I missed it when it came around, and I never had the urge to track it down.

9. Cujo

The only book and movie ever made where you actually ROOT FOR THE DOG TO DIE. The novel, by Stephen King, was heartbreaking but very well crafted and nearly impossible to put down. I never had a desire to see the movie.

10. Blood Work

Michael Connelly is one of my favorite mystery authors, and while this novel isn't as good as his Hieronymous Bosch series, it was very difficult to put down. I wasn't tempted to see the movie because it's a very plot-driven story. Once you know what's going to come down, from beginning to end, there's no sense in paying for the DVD rental.

So, what do you think?
  • Are any of these movies worth checking out? 
  • When you've read a novel, how do you decide whether it's worth seeing the movie too, or vice versa?
  • What is your favorite book-to-movie combination, in which you loved both the novel and the film?


  1. You read Michael Connelly, too? Yay! The Bad Lip Reading video is hilarious! :)

    And though I have to admit I skimmed your post (I'm sleepy), the book is 99.9% of the time better than the movie. Just MHO :)

    1. Michael Connelly is one of my favorite mystery authors.

  2. The Devil's Arithmetic was my FAVORITE book for a while when I was in elementary school--I must have read it a dozen times--and I have never seen the movie, mostly because I'm afraid it will be bad! (That and, like you, I kind of didn't like Kirsten Dunst...but maybe?)

    1. That is a good book, isn't it? I wouldn't have thought it was a novel an elementary schooler would enjoy. I guess that shows how wimpy I am. ;-) I read it in my 30s, and I still cried.

  3. The Devi's Arithmetic - I actually did not know that was based on a book. I'm going to have to read it. I've been a huge Dunst fan since I was a teenager, and I really liked her's and Brittany Murphy's performances in it.

    Twilight - I too tried to give that a fair shot, but holy crap it was horrible. Bella Swann has to be the worst female character ever written.

    Cujo - I cry every time I see a dog die on screen..except for Cujo.

    1. Since you liked the movie The Devil's Arithmetic, maybe I'll give it a try. I probably under-rated Kirsten Dunst because I haven't seen her in enough roles.

  4. Interesting that you never see Twilight :) most people (or women) really want to. You may do a right thing there by not watching, because when I did all I do was criticize it (sometimes it's fun).

    1. Sometimes watching a movie and criticizing the film-making and acting can be fun. :-)

  5. Fabulous post. I watched One True Thing and had totally forgotten that film until just now. I didn't know it was a book. The movie was good, but then again I never read the novel.
    Ahhh...Cold Mountain, I love that film. I bought the novel soon after watching it, but have yet to read it because I enjoyed the movie so much. I do think it's worth watching.

    I read Cujo after watching the film. I have to say, the book is better.
    I have to admit, I fell into Twilight mania. I read the books first, then watched the films. I can't wait for the final film to come out, even though I found them poorly acted.

    1. I have several friends who like the Twilight books and movies, although the acknowledge the acting is bad. :-) We all have our guilty pleasures! Thanks for the thumbs up on One True Thing and Cold Mountain -- maybe I'll give those movies a go.

  6. Cold Mountain the movie is so-so but it has amazing cast and pretty much everyone delivers amazing work - hell, Portman practically stole the show with 5 minutes she was in it and I don't even like her.

    1. That does sound encouraging -- if the acting is that good, it's definitely worth my time, even if the script and film making is just O.K.

    2. I agree on the acting in Cold Mountain. See it for the performances because they're the best attribute of the film.

      Oh, and don't waste your time watching Twilight. (I did, by the way.) ;-)

    3. Thanks, Josh. I will see Cold Mountain for the acting. And you're a brave man to sit through Twilight. :-) As a serious film reviewer, you have to watch all kinds of movies an open mind -- that's a good thing. But, damn! That's a few hours of your life you can never have back. :-D Who am I to talk? I actually stuck in out through the novel. What was I thinking? ;-)

  7. I would like to read Anna Karenina before seeing the movie this fall, but I doubt I'll get to it. Kiera Knightly sort of drives me nuts when I watch her, but the trailer looks really lush and interesting.

    1. I know what you mean. I thought about re-reading it and decided I don't really have time. I actually like Kiera Knightley -- I've liked her since her little-known role in Bend it Like Beckham -- but many people don't. :)

  8. Hmm, I haven't read any of the books you mentioned, but Cujo is pretty wild, and Blood Work is... okay. I'm not a fan of Cold Mountain at all, but I'd be interested to hear your take on how faithful the movie adaptation is.

    Nice list here!

    1. The novel Cujo definitely sticks in my mind, even a after a zillion years. :-) Just curious -- why didn't you like Cold Mountain?

  9. Of these 10 the only one where I've both read the book and seen the movie is Fahrenheit 451. If you liked the book I wouldn't bother with the movie. Yes, it's directed by Truffaut, but it doesn't really capture the heart of the book. As for the mechanical hounds, or really anything else futuristic, this film was made in the 1960s and was limited by the technology and budget of the time. It's been quite a few years since I saw the film, but the only thing futuristic I can remember is the authorities flying around on these silly looking platforms with railings on them.

    1. Thanks, Chip! When I realized it was directed by Truffaut, I wondered if I should reconsider watching it. But it really does sound like a disappointing adaptation. It would be cool if someone would remake this, in a way that's faithful to the heart of the novel, using modern special effects. It would be a great tribute to Bradbury.


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