By The Book: Introductions


We are currently in the Season of the Sequel, the Age of the Adaptation, the Reign of the Reboot.  While the entertainment world has always relied on the written word (and perhaps over-relied on sequels and reboots), we are smack dab in the middle of a boom of quality films and television based on other work.  The conventional wisdom is “the book (or the original) is better;” but is that always true?  Find out what I think after the break.

Hell no!  If I thought that, I’d call this column “Buy the Book!”  The truth is, a book and a movie are often opposite sides of the same coin.  Remakes and reboots provide the opportunity for other directors to offer different perspectives on old material.  And sequels allow creators to expand their universe and explore new characters and events.

..for example, Friday the 13th Part III is really about how societal pressures make us...never mind, I just can't...
..for example, Friday the 13th Part III is really about how societal pressures …never mind, I just can’t…


Within this space, I’ll discuss a movie (or show) every two weeks and compare it to its source material.  It could be an adaptation from a novel, or a remake of an old classic, or maybe a little bit of everything.  I hope to keep it light (of course) and fun and that you’ll join in the conversation!

To get things started, I thought I’d share my 5 favorite movie adaptations (that I won’t be writing about in future posts):

To Kill a Mockingbird:  Harper Lee’s little book is one of the most important pieces of American Literature ever published, and the faithful adaptation starring Gregory Peck captures the message of compassion and hope perfectly. A young Robert Duvall made his movie debut as the misunderstood Boo Radley, and child actors Mary Badham and Phillip Alford stole the show as Scout and Jem respectively.  If you’ve never seen or read this classic, put it on your to do list right now!


Gone Baby Gone: Dennis Lehane is a master of writing taut, intense stories about the denizens of the Boston underclass, so it’s really no surprise that fellow Bostonian Ben Affleck wrote and directed a pitch-perfect adaption of Lehane’s best work.  Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan ARE Kenzie and Gennaro, I simply can not  imagine anyone else in the roles.  Most impressively, the movie manages to follow the twists and turns of Lehane’s plot without becoming muddled or overlong, and the end perfectly captures the impossible choice Patrick Kenzie must make to do what’s right.


Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows P1 & P2:  I can probably dedicate a year’s worth of writing to the incredible adaptions of JK Rowling’s seminal series.  Four different directors brought Rowling’s magical universe to life over the course of eight movies, and – with some missteps – helped bring both a new wave of literacy among children and young adults as well as a surge of copycats and knockoff.  And while I can’t say the Deathly Hallows is the best of the movies (that honor goes to Prisoner of Azkaban), it’s my favorite Potter adaption.  The movies capture both the dark and the light, the madness and the maudlin of Rowling’s huge and complex final novel.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy:  At one point in Fellowship of the Ring – specifically when Gandalf lit up the darkness and revealed the Mines of Moria in all their dwarven splendor – I realized exactly how limited my imagination was.  For nothing that I’ve imagined in multiple readings of Tolkien’s work matched Peter Jackson’s incredible vision.  The sheer scale of these movies, the detail,  the dedication to getting each shot correct was unlike anything I’ve ever watched and left me breathless.  Jackson, along with screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens trimmed every ounce of fat from the novels, added some much needed feminine presence to the old Englishman’s boys’ club, and gave us something spellbinding.


The Shawshank Redemption: This is a perfect movie.  There’s no other way to put it.  Frank Darabont took a very good Stephen King novella, tweaked some scenes, combined some characters and made a movie so good it’s the number 1 ranked movie on IMDB.  It’s a channel-stopper of a movie, meaning when you’re flipping channels and come across it, I stop and watch it, and every time I do I’m struck with how perfectly Darabont boiled down King’s plot, how he weaves those themes of hope and despair, greed and friendship throughout scenes that I’m always surprised to find weren’t in the novella because they are so perfect.


That’s my list.  What do you think?  Any you disagree with?  What are your favorites?

I’ll see you again in two weeks with more By the Book, when we talk about The Magnificent Seven!


3 Replies to “By The Book: Introductions”

  1. For years I’ve been telling people that it’s simply not true that “the book is always better than the movie.” I can come up with a dozen movies off the top of my head that are way better than the book. I’ll be following the column with intense interest, trust me. Good luck!

  2. Kick-ass project, James, and I’m excited to travel through the book shelves with you and Biff Bam Pop

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