As much as I love reading, I also really enjoy movies, and I’m always excited to see film adaptations of my favorite books. Although movies seldom live up to the book, I believe there are certain circumstances where the movie is equally as enjoyable as the book, or in some rare cases, even better than the book. Below are three of my favorite books compared with their movie counterparts.
Savages by Don Winslow
“Just because I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it. This could all be pre-recorded and I could be talking to you from the bottom of the ocean. Yeah, it’s that kind of a story. Because things just got so out of control.”
That is the opening line of the movie Savages starring Blake Lively, which was instantly one of my favorites of all time when I saw it for the first time about a year ago. Directed by Oliver Stone, it follows the story of two Laguna Beach kingpins / surf buddies- Chon, a cutthroat war vet and Ben, a laid-back botonist- whose first class marijuana business gets them tangled up with the Baja Cartel. After the cartel kidnaps their free-spirited blond lover- O (short for Ophelia)- it turns into a bloody war fought by savages where the only way to win is by outsmarting the opponent, as well as a vivid representation of what people will do to protect the ones they love. I adore the movie because of the perfect cast (John Travolta even plays a DEA agent who takes bribes from Ben and Chon) and its borderline-cheesy lines (“You can’t change the world, the world changes you”).
However, I read the book by Don Winslow after seeing the movie multiple times, and found it to be pure genius. The writing style is interestingly unique- chopped up sentences, a narrator reminiscent of a stoner valley girl, and a twisty plot making it impossible to put the book down. It was one of those rare reading experiences where I was legitimately sad when it ended- I could have stayed locked in the story forever. I was especially blown away by how perfectly Winslow slips into the mind of O, given that he is a male but still capable of depicting her complex female psych.
This may be a a cardinal sin as a book enthusiast, but I honestly love both the book and the movie Savages equally, but for far different reasons. Maybe it is just because I fell in love with the movie before reading the book, but I actually do not even think a side-by-side comparison is warranted. The two are totally different experiences and the stories skew slightly different ways, evoking different emotions. While the movie did a fairly good job at staying true to the book, I believe the biggest discrepancies to be the character portrayal of O, and, of course, the ending. In fact, if I had read the book prior to seeing the movie, I have a feeling I would have hated the movie just because these were two key elements of the entire book that I feel Oliver Stone did not quite get right. I also thought it was interesting that the book uses a third-person narrator while O narrates the story in the film.
I highly recommend reading the book and seeing the movie because they are both fantastic and the two different endings are guaranteed to blow you away- or at least leave you scratching your head. I won’t give anything way here.
The Beach by Alex Garland
A very young Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the 2000 movie The Beach, which has been one of my favorites for years and years. Set in Thailand, the movie opens with Richard (Leo) traveling alone in search for the unfamiliar, an escape, if you will, from commercialized tourism and resort culture.
“For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”
The story begins by Richard meeting a crazed man in a Bangkok hostel who gives him a map to a beach that he claims to be heaven on Earth- beautiful and uninhabited. After the man commits suicide in the hostel, Richard recruits a young French couple, Françoise (with whom Richard is instantly infatuated) and her boyfriend Étienne, to accompany him on his quest for the beach, hoping to leave behind social evils in search for something far more beautiful. When the trio finally makes it to the beach, they find it settled by a group of likeminded travelers and and their leader Sal (played by Tilda Swinton), perfectly organized and living in harmony with one another as a community. They soon settle into a life led by the constant pursuit of pleasure, and it seems nothing can go wrong. As the story unravels, however, the beach turns out to be far more of a dystopia than the tropical bliss they had imagined, and their pursuit of pleasure evolves into a grim struggle for survival and sanity.
Just like Savages, I saw the movie adaptation of The Beach several times before reading the book. I actually did not even know the movie was based on a book until about six months ago. Written by Alex Garland, author of 28 Days Later and The Coma, The Beachis a subtly complex allegory about the effects of popular culture and a modernized Lord of the Flies wrapped up into one gripping mind bender of a novel. I thought the movie was good, but it doesn’t even close to the intensity of the book. The plot gets dark and twisted, pulling you into an unescapable nightmare before catapulting you back to reality. After reading the book, I see why some critics see the movie as a “shallow adaptation of the novel”- it just doesn’t take the story as far as it can go. In addition, the movie does follow the general idea of the book, but it takes a significant amount of liberties with the details. For example, the book-version of Richard is English whereas Leo’s portrayal is American, and Francoise becomes his girlfriend in the movie but stays his unattainable fantasy in the book. These discrepancies are disappointing because I find the raw, yet not dramatized, details of the the story to be what make it mouthwateringly good.
That being said, I still appreciate the movie for what it was, even if it is a bit more superficial than the book. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for cinematography (and, hello, Leonardo DiCaprio). It is definitely a must-see for travelers, or just people who don’t like to read. But I have to say that Alex Garland’s book is a riveting page-turner that I highly recommend (and don’t make my mistake of seeing the movie first).
Extremeley Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I may be a bit biased because the novel Extremely Loud and Incredible Cloud by Jonathan Safran Foer is my favorite book ever (written by my favorite author ever) but I literally almost walked out of the movie theater the first (and only) time I saw the movie adaptation. Even thought the movie stars Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, I almost expected it to a disappointment because the way the book the written is what makes it brilliant, which is simply not something you can translate onto the screen.
The book follows the story of an imaginative, gifted nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell who loses his dad in the 911 attack on the World Trade Center. He subsequently embarks on beautiful, heart-wrenching journey to uncover the mystery of a key he finds in his father’s closet a year later, meeting a bevy of strangers along the way. His journey exposes him to other stories of pain and loss as he tries to come to peace with his own internal grief. While most of the book is told from the perspective of Oskar himself, his narrative is broken up by letters from his loving grandmother and absent grandfather, set in a completely different time and place but offering the reader a vivd glimpse into the poetic suffering of others. The book is also sprinkled with colorful illustrations and photos- “clues” Oskar collects in his journal as he tries to make sense of the death of his father, an extremely heavy burden for a 9-year-old to bear.
Every generation has a tragic historical event that significantly alters their perspective of the world- the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Cold War, and for my generation, 911. The difference with this tragedy is that the “enemy” is not easily identifiable- terrorists could be anyone, anywhere, attacking at any time. While the effects of 911 on the country as a whole are significant, it is difficult to imagine the every day effects the tragedy had on family members of the 3,000+ victims. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close sticks you directly in the mind of an 9-year-old dealing with this tragedy on a tearfully personal level, striking extremely heavily on your heart chords. However, the way Jonathan Safran Foer crafted the story did not fill me with sadness. The beauty of his writing instead inspires melancholy insight into the fleeting nature of love and life. While the story is indeed sad, the way the book is written suggests that there is beauty in suffering.
The movie, on the other hand, seemed to leave out the beauty of the story, leaving viewers with only irrevocable sadness. The movie is a message of healing, relying too much on people’s response to 911 instead of the universal theme of suffering. Furthermore, the portrayal of Oskar’s character actually made me question whether the director had even read the book- instead of depicting him as a highly clever and imaginative young boy intelligently attempting to make sense of tragedy, the movie depicts him as a manic and bratty nutcase of a child (in my opinion). Furthermore, the movie completely eliminates that subplot of Oskar’s grandparents, which I believe to be a very important piece of the story. While critics praised the ending of the movie because it was more uplifting than the novel, it left me extremely disappointed because it changed the dynamic of Foer’s story.
In retrospect, I do not think Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close should ever have been made into a movie because it is not the content of the story but the way it is written that makes the book a work of art. Please do not waste your time on the movie and instead pick up a hardcover copy by Jonathan Safran Foer (and read some of his other books while you’re at it). I promise you will not be disappointed.
What are your favorite movies based on books? Are there any movies you enjoy more than the book, or that you found to be huge disappointments?