News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Thursday, March 10, 2016

When the book is better than the movie

When the subject of books-into-movies comes up, almost everyone I know favors the book over the film. The most often cited reason? The book offers more depth of character and plot.

That’s not surprising when you do the math. Most books run 250 to 350 pages. The typical movie script is 100 pages long.

All the same, there’s an exception to every rule. Below is a short list of movies I think are better than the book. Have a different opinion? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Forrest Gump

I found the novel by Winston Groom rambling and bizarre. In the book, Forrest is a stereotypical lug-of-a-lineman at Alabama who becomes an astronaut and has an extended relationship with a chimpanzee. Thank God the film’s producer kept the title and little else.  

The Legend of Bagger Vance

I’m a fan of Stephen Pressfield’s historical novels. But the film adaptation of his golf-themed book is more focused and richer in character. An outstanding performance by Will Smith really helped. I was also pleasantly surprised to find Robert Redford’s direction less treacly than usual.

Get Shorty

I am messing with a demi-god in dissing Elmore Leonard. Over 20 of his novels were made into films—and I’ve loved many of them. But Get Shorty on the page seems slow and stale compared to its screen adaptation. Chili Palmer could be John Travolta’s best role ever—although that’s not saying much.

The Martian 

My hat is off to Andy Weir. Rare is the contemporary science fiction writer who hews to the laws of physics and resists invoking mystical forces. Still, the novel’s dialog and narrative are stilted at times. Ridley Scott transformed Weir’s well-intentioned effort into a captivating film.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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