The latest cover of Entertainment Weekly is of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel to the Harry Potter series. When I saw it, my first thoughts were a) was this prequel a book I somehow missed, and b) do I really need to read it? (The answers are yes, sort of, and no, I don’t.) Turns out it was a Hogwarts “textbook” written by J.K. Rowling and published in 2001, which is how it ties into the Harry Potter world. Since there’s essentially no plot (it’s just an encyclopedia of creatures), J.K. Rowling offered to write the screenplay for the new film and it will still feel very-much in that Harry Potter universe, I imagine. (You can read more about it here on EW.com.) I have to admit I’m a little relieved to not have to read anything before the movie.
I’m a big fan of reading the book before the movie as often as possible. Sometimes the movie is equally good, but more often than not it’s a letdown after you’ve created the world in your head with your own casting and sets, etc. Others argue that you can skip the book altogether and still enjoy the movie, which has been the case for me a few times. The debate is endless. Because I love a good list, here are my thoughts on which was better for several popular books-turned-movies from the last decade or so, plus a few coming soon that I’m eager to see. It’s a long list, grab a beverage.
2 Touching Memoirs:
Eat, Pray, Love – Book. Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir was a very special book for me, and the story resonates with millions of readers for a reason. I recently saw an interview with her on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and she talked about how this book was like a “permission slip” for women to take this journey of self-discovery and finding meaning in their lives. I found that book at a low point in my life and it meant so much to me, so I was frustrated that the film came off a little too candy-colored. I love Julia Roberts, but she felt completely miscast, and it just came across as “champagne problems”–it seemed like all of the messy, complicated stuff was removed and the tone was changed.
Wild – Book. I thought Reese Witherspoon gave an amazing performance, and it’s beautifully shot, but I prefer the book, simply because this is a journey that should be savored via nightly reading, not quickly in a two-hour film. It’s another one that came at just the right time in my life (isn’t is amazing how books can find you when you need them most?) and I think Cheryl Strayed’s story makes more of an impact when you really feel like you’re on the trail with her each day/night. The film is definitely worth seeing and captures the essence, I just think the book is more meaningful.
Drama, drama, drama:
Gone Girl – Both! David Fincher captured the dark tone of this novel so well, and I think I would have enjoyed this movie just as much if I hadn’t read the book first. You know the “reveal” (no spoilers here!) is coming if you read the book and it’s certainly a gasp moment, but I think you’d be just as shocked if you only saw the film. That’s a case of, is it just as delicious if you know it’s coming or is it better to be in the dark?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Movie–the 2011 Fincher version AND the 2009 Swedish version. Again, David Fincher kept the wonderfully dark plot of the novel and all the key ingredients, complete with excellent casting. And the 2009 version was such a hit because of the great Swedish actors, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, both of whom are having excellent Hollywood careers now. For me, the novel was a bit too tedious and the endless descriptions of the weather (I get it, it’s cold!) made it hard to trudge through, but I did like the mystery and the characters, which is why I prefer the film versions.
Fifty Shades of Grey – Neither? Kidding. This one’s tough. I only read the first book in this fan-fiction trilogy, and the critical reviews of how awful the writing is are well-known. It is indeed hard on the eyes, but it was just meant to be fun Twilight fan-fiction, and the fact that it took off the way that it did is still amazing to me. It would obviously be difficult to get stars to sign on to do porn, so the sex scenes are not nearly as graphic in the film as they are in the book, but they still get the job done, so to speak. It’s pure fluff, so I can’t take the book or the movie too seriously.
Young Adult Series:
Harry Potter – Both! I think these films did an excellent job of keeping most of the book in tact and changing the tone of each film to fit the tone of the book. (For example, the first two fit fine into that Chris Columbus aesthetic, but they get progressively darker, as the books get darker and the kids get older.) Where there were changes, they didn’t stand out glaringly, and the world felt spot on to the one created in my head. (Speaking of that “world”, if you ever have a chance to go to the theme park in Orlando, it is well worth it. The attention to detail is insane!) This is even one case where I felt it made sense to split the final book into two films, because there was so much great material. (Many young adult series have borrowed this technique since and I don’t think it’s warranted–it feels a bit greedy, trying to eke out one more film.) My niece is getting to an age where I desperately want to push this charming series on her, but I would be happy even if she skipped the books and just saw the films–and that’s a rare endorsement.
Twilight – Book. Regardless of how you feel about the content (no sex before marriage, kids!), the books were far better in this series. The films usually got the content right, but some of the actors took the roles far too seriously, in my opinion, and the special effects and “look” of the films got more ridiculous as the budgets grew with each installment. The first film felt like the closest thing to the author’s vision, and it’s the best one, in my opinion.
The Hunger Games – Both. So far, they’ve gotten almost everything right from the books. And Jennifer Lawrence is at the top of her career right now and she stills seems invested in the character, so I commend that. (I’m sure it would be easy to tap out after winning an Oscar.) My only complaint is splitting this final book in the trilogy into two movies.
Divergent – Movie. I’ve only read the first book in this trilogy, but I’ve seen both films so far. I enjoyed Divergent equally between the book and the movie, but I think I actually enjoyed the second movie, Insurgent, more, without reading the book. Shailene Woodley was a great choice for the heroine, Tris, and it’s a solid cast overall.
All of these young adult series have very vivid worlds, and I think the films for each franchise have consistently gotten the visuals right, at least.
Films I Loved…but I didn’t read the book!
The Martian – Matt Damon’s best performance yet. This movie and Sicario are my favorites of the fall, and should absolutely be up for numerous awards come Oscar season.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Such a great cast, so much teen angst.
The Notebook – I’ve never read any of Nicholas Sparks’ novels, but of all his novels-turned-films, this is my favorite. You know what you’re in for with these movies, even if you don’t read his novels (the sappiness is epic), but Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling have amazing chemistry that just pulls you in. I like a few others (Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Lucky One) but most of them feel really formulaic to me.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – I loved this weeper of a novel. Emilia Clarke isn’t who I pictured as Louisa, but I’m eager to see what she does with the role.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – The best thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl, and I know it gets a lot of comparisons to that novel, despite not having much in common. The casting is perfection across the board so far, with Emily Blunt as the lead. I’m hoping they’ll keep the London setting, but it’s hard to tell with this mix of British and American actors.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan – Confession: I did not watch Kate & Will get married. I’m a proud Anglophile, but the Royal wedding mania went a little overboard here in the U.S. and veered on tabloid madness, so I was surprised by how much I adored this novel. The writing is so witty and fun and I thoroughly enjoyed imagining this alternate world of what the Royal couple might really be like. Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman are adapting it for the screen, and I can’t wait to see who is cast…not to mention, if the Queen gives them clearance on about a million things!
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates – Ron Howard purchased the film rights to this college thriller set at Oxford University, and I’m just starting the novel as we speak.
This is just a small sampling, and there are numerous lesser-known books/film adaptations out there as well. Right now, I’m excited to see Room and Brooklyn, both currently out in theaters and based on books I haven’t read.
What do you think? Did I leave any of your favorites off the list?