Why Is The Book Always Better Than The Movie?

June 20, 2012

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It’s a common scene – you’ll come out of a movie and someone will say “It was OK, but I liked the book better.”  It’s far less common to hear someone say that they liked a movie better.  Why is this the case?  There are several reasons.


White House Front

Cost to use this house as the setting for your novel? FREE!

Writers can just make up shit with no regard to any sort of budget.  Want a fighter jet flying over a, erupting volcano and having the pilot eject before it crashes into the ocean?  Give a talented writer a thousand words or so, and she can set this scene and you’ll be able to visualize the scene in your mind.  Total cost to the writer?  $0.  It doesn’t matter if the main character lives in a weather-beaten shack or a huge mansion – the cost to use the home is the exact same to the writer.  

Additionally, the writer is actually offloading a big chunk of the work onto your brain.  She’s making use of your own imagination and prior knowledge.  You already know what a jet, volcano, and ocean look like.  There’s not need to spend time on the most basic descriptions. 

On the other hand, the movie is a visual (rather than abstract) presentation.  The director can’t simply describe the jet, the volcano, and the ocean.  He needs to actually procure the use of a jet, get footage of an erupting volcano, and find a way to fake a crash landing into an ocean.  This costs money.  In modern film making, an even bigger cost is special effects.  Effects that a novelist can describe with a few pages of well-crafted text can cost millions of dollars to bring to life on the screen.

In the end, the film maker is forced to make some concessions.  To bring every single detail to life could cost hundreds or millions – or even billions – of dollars.  At some point, a line has to be drawn in the sand.


When Tom Cruise was selected as the actor who would portray Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character in the upcoming film One Shot, many Reacher fans were aghast.  Reacher is a big guy – 6’5″ and 200+ pounds of pure muscle.  Tom Cruise is officially listed at 5’7″.  It seems to not be a great fit for the role.  Lee Child’s comment on the selection was that Reacher’s size was more of a metaphor than to be taken literally.  One can’t help but wonder if financial considerations came into play.

We’ve all seen movies where actors were a bad fit for a role – or simply had poor acting skills.  Again, a novelist offloads work to your brain when it comes to casting.  While every novelist will describe physical features of a character – some more than others – no author is going to describe every single aspect.  Much will be left to your imagination, and your can mold the characters to fit your preferences.  With a movie, you’re stuck with the bums who were cast for the roles.


Finally, the book has the element of surprise on its side.  While I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Hunger Games and even enjoyed the casting, I definitely wasn’t surprised at various twists and turns during the movie.  How could I be?  I had read the book, so I always knew when they were coming.  In fact, I used my knowledge of the plot to time my mid-movie pit stop (long movie + previews + large soda) so that I didn’t miss any good parts.  When I read the book, these plot twists were just that – surprises.

I’ve come to accept the fact that most movies are not going to be as good as the book – through no fault of the director.  If a movie is “almost as good” as a book, I consider it to be a pretty good movie.


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The Best Movies Of All Time

February 8, 2012

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OK, OK.  These are my favorite movies of all time.  You’re not going to see the same old movies that pepper everyone else’s All Time Best list, and this list leans very heavily toward movies from the last 20-30 years (sorry, Charlie Chaplin).

Without further ado, my top 9 list.  (Hey, who says the list has to be 10?)

The Last Supper I have a fondness for dark comedies, and this is one of the most bizarre ones you’re likely to encounter.  A group of politically active college students take their rhetoric a wee bit too far.  A young Cameron Diaz is in the cast.  Also, the movie is set in Iowa, which gives it a bit of a boost for me.
8 Airplane I picked a bad week to quit explaining the obvious.
7 Planet of the Apes I love the premise of this classic film.  But for a few quirks of evolution, this might be our reality. Bear in mind that when this movie hit theaters (1968), Neil Armstrong had not yet set foot on the moon.
6 Office Space I work in information technology, where this flick is a legend.  Of particular interest to me is that fact that the computer is the movie are running a hybrid operating system that never existed in the real world (yes, I notice these things in movies – constantly).  I’ll never buy any stapler other than a Swingline (although mine are black).
5 War Games I list Matthew Broderick as my favorite actor, and War Games is the major reason why.  I’ve also always been opposed to nuclear war (OK, I doubt too many people are actively FOR nuclear war) and enjoyed Joshua’s brilliant deduction – the only way to win is not to play. Obviously, the computer technology from a 1983 movie is going to be a bit dated – but note the nice bit of social engineering David uses to get the password to the school’s system.
4 Jurassic Park Living, breathing dinosaurs in a theme park!  If Jurassic Park really existed, I’d be first in line for tickets.  I’ve watched the entire trilogy, but the original is the best of the lot.
3 Field of Dreams It’s a baseball movie that was filmed ten miles from my house.  What’s not to like.  Seriously, how can you not choke up a bit when Ray asks John if he wants to have a catch.
2 Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker How did a Chinese movie with English subtitles pop up on the list?  I was going through a foreign film phase in the late 90s and found this movie incredibly enjoyable.  The plot does have some holes, but the fireworks will keep you on your feet. 

This movie is incredibly hard to find for a fair price (thus the reason why you’re probably seeing an insane price on the Amazon widget).  I finally tracked down a copy on DVD.  The only problem?  It doesn’t have the English subtitles. 

I was also amused at the amount of detail on the back cover.  Nearly every element on the plot is included in the summary – surprises and all.  By far the most text I’ve ever seen on the back of a DVD case – probably 500 – 1000 words.

1 The Thirteenth Floor The movie came out the same year at The Matrix.  The Matrix garnered a lot more attention and made a lot more money, but it was The Thirteenth Floor that blew me away.  A simulation company has created a virtual San Francisco, circa 1937.  One of the scientists is savagely murdered immediately after returning from a trip to 1937 – and his friend needs to go into the virtual world to look for clues.

 Which movies are on your top 9 list?  Any obscure films among them?

Spare Time Fun

January 30, 2012

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Now that I am officially tired of the political ads, reports, coverage and analysis, I have to find something to do with my spare time.  If you have read some of my previous posts, some of what I am going to right is not necessarily new.  Actually, none of it is new, but it may be presented in a new light.

The NFL Pro Bowl

My annual rant on the NFL Pro Bowl.  It is supposed to be a show case of the best players in the NFL.  Since the league has move the Pro Bowl to the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, we do not actually get that show case.  The selected players from the two Super Bowl teams opt out of the Pro Bowl for obvious reasons (practicing for the Super Bowl, avoiding possible injury, losing focus, etc).  Although I am not a New England Patriots or New York Giants fan, I would like to see all of the best players, not just the ones who have nothing else to do.  I will give credit to the league for moving the game back to Hawaii.  This is supposed to be a reward for greatness.  Having the game in the Super Bowl city in the week leading up to the Super Bowl is almost rubbing in the fact that these players are not playing in the really big game.

Productive Activities

As I have written before, I have taken up crochet again.  It has been a productive year already.  I have finished two single bed blankets, one for each of my college age children, and a shawl (see photo) that I will be donating to a local elderly care center (this is part of a church group activity where I am younger than all of the other members by at least 20 years).  I am currently working on another blanket, this one for my niece.  I have found that this hobby is cheaper than most of my other entertainment options such as going to movies and it results in something others can use.

Motion Pictures

Since I mentioned movies as entertainment, I have to comment that “The Iron Lady” is a great movie.  It is not the typical Hollywood production, so some people do not like it.  The story is compelling even if you did not live through the events as I have.  The acting is also very good.  I plan on going to see both “Red Tails” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.


You would think that with my refocus on more productive use of my time, that I would be more productive in my writing attempts.  Sadly that is not the case.  My writing has languished since before Christmas, except the short story that I published last week.  I certainly hope that the rest of you are progressing in your writing.


What Is Up With Movies These Days?

July 19, 2010

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I watched two movies with my wife this weekend, both good, but very different in quality.  The first we found in the sale bin at the local Wal-Mart; Doctor Zhivago.  The second we watched at our local second run theater; Iron Man 2.  In the classic, so much more attention was paid to the grand vista matched with equally grand music.  The modern concentrated on flash and boom.  Now I admit that these two movies represent more than just different eras, but also different genres as well.  There were plenty of action films made back in the day, but I would argue that there was a greater effort put forth to create a larger picture which integrated with you other sense of sound and feeling.

In the classic film, there were plenty of times where literally nothing was going on.  This allowed you to recover from previous action or think about the previous scene before leaping into the next event.  Remember the Doctor Zhivago is set during World War I and the Russian revolution, so there are battle scenes and explosions, it is not just a love story.  Iron Man 2 also attempts to have a love story entwined with the action, so there are similarities.

Doctor Zhivago is also a truly feature length film of over 3 hours.  Modern films seldom pass the two hour mark.  (Dr. Zhivago actually has an intermission for bathroom breaks that is even on the CD with music and there is a prelude with music as you get yourself situated in the theater.)

Many would say I shouldn’t complain.  If I don’t like the modern methods, I should not go to see the movies.  Well I do like the latest releases from the film industry, it just seems that they are concentrating on the visual only right now.  There are movies made for the full spectrum, but those are not widely distributed.  The Last Station is a good example.  It is the story of the last days of Leo Tolstoy and was not available in my home town until it came out on CD.  I do not believe that our local video store would have gotten a copy if my wife had not specifically requested it.

The last general consumption movie that I remember that had the whole package from my point of view was Silverado, at least the opening scene was panoramic.  It is easy to pick on some films, which are concentrating on the special affects to the detriment of all other facets of film making.  Transformers is one such movie, where there are spectacular battle scenes that just suddenly happen.  If you have not watched the cartoon, you don’t even know who the participants are.

I believe that Hollywood can merge art, action and special affects.  The original Star Wars films had magnificent music to set the mood of every scene.  Even the latest Star Wars and Star Trek films are still filling the story before leaping to the next event.

I once complained to my grandmother that there were no good movies like when she was young.  She assured me that on the good ones were replayed now and she had seen plenty of losers in her day.  I am sure that is true today.  If there are only 2 good movies each year, that is 50 good movies just since I was a teenager.  And I am sure that there have been more that 2 good movies produced each year.  Here is a short list on movies I think would be on that list, add your own if you please.

  • The Thin Man Series (6 films) – actually made before I was born
  • The Quiet Man
  • The Princess Bride
  • Hopscotch
  • Silverado
  • Patton
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Midway
  • True Grit
  • The Star Wars Series (6 films)
  • The James Bond Films (most of the 17 films)
  • The Lord of the Rings (both live action and animated)
  • The Star Trek Series (most of the 11? Movies)
  • Most Mel Brooks films
  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • The Last Station
  • Young Victoria
  • Most Pixar Films
  • The Bourne Series