Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog article on films that were better than the book on which they were based. In that time I’ve come up with several more. What do you think? Agree, disagree? Let me know in the comments about the following books.
There are spoilers ahead – you have been warned!
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Book 3)
Something about the book always felt off. The disjointed beginning that finds Katniss already in District 13 that didn’t allow that particular subplot to unravel threw us straight into the quagmire. But it wasn’t that, not really. All three of these books are part social commentary on a variety of things including celeb culture and reality television. The third book changed that plan, focusing on news reporting and the presentation of allies and enemies in the media. It was about the media war – something much more familiar to us now than at the time of writing. Only the visual medium of film could effectively construct the impact of media in war and conflict, fake news and “alternative facts”. The book didn’t quite get there. It was obvious that this is what the book was about, it just didn’t manage it quite as effectively as it could have done. With more visuals, the directors had more scope to explore that aspect of it.
Life of Pi
This bestseller perhaps only became a best seller because of the film’s release. Life of Pi is a spirital exploration of a boy trying to find his own way in life through the application of understanding religion. Religion is a sensitive subject for some and an indifferent one for many others. The film covered this theme but cut back much of the bloated narrative and character’s self-congratulation, making his personal journey a more sympathetic one, less frustrating and far less about his virtue signalling. The film contained humour that the book lacked and perhaps portrayed the message much better than the book. Visually it was spectacular which added to the mystique of whether or not the events took place as the boy described. The supporting characters had more depth and therefore the viewer had more emotional engagement too.
I have a love-hate relationship with Robert Heinlein’s work but the book Starship Troopers seems hopelessly outdated on many accounts now. His attitudes towards imperialism and race, gender and militarism may fill most of us with deep unease. Breaking it down though, the book is essentially a coming of age tale and not a particularly great example of one. I read the book some years after the film and felt totally disappointed with it. Contrast the book with the film and you see a celluloid conversion that was highly relevant in the 1990s and is probably just as relevant today in the era of Brexit and Trump. But why? It’s a satire on the very things that Heinlein was apparently lauding: nationalism, jingosm and xenophobia, the glorification of militarism and their recruitment drives, and wartime propaganda news reels.
Woman in Black 1989 (Not 2012’s Daniel Radcliffe Version)
The 1989 TV version is considered the definitive version of all adaptations although it is much closer in content to the stage play than to the book. There are several key changes between the book and the film that make the story more compelling and the emotional connection that much more harrowing for the viewer. In the book (and the play) it is Alice Drablow that dies in the marsh with the child. In the film, it is Jennet herself. This simple change makes all the difference as the child cries “mummy, mummy!” while he dies. This forces Kidd to ask which mother he was crying for, his actual mother (in the cart with him) or the woman he believed to be his mother. This is a great plot device, allowing Jennet’s vengeful spirit to return to haunt first Alice and then the house.