What if the Movie is Better Than the Book? Egads!

If you’re a reader (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), then you know the feeling when your favorite book is made into a movie.

First, the excitement. They finally recognize the genius of My Favorite Author! I wonder who they’ll get to play the MC? Oh, it better not be So and So, because I will just die if it is. And that one scene, they have to get that right, or . . .

And then the doubts come marching in. OMG. This is one of my favorite books. What if they screw it up? What if they cut my favorite scene? What if the actor they get to play the MC doesn’t have the right color eyes!? (YES, this matters!) And if they change even ONE WORD of the dialogue, I will SCREAM!!!

And by the time it’s ready to be released . . . well, you’re 100% convinced that this movie will suck and it’ll get everything wrong and there is no way in hell you’re going to go see it. Ever.

Well – maybe. There’s really two groups:  those of us who believe the movie must remain as faithful as possible to the book, and those who don’t mind if there are changes, so long as those changes are good. The problem is, who determines which changes are “good?” I still despise Alfonso Cuaron for what he did to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Seriously, how hard is it just to make a Patronus that looks like a freaking stag? For crying out loud, you’re doing all this digitally! Just get it right, damn it!

But what happens when you don’t read the book first? Instead, you watch the movie? And fall in love with the movie?

I did this with Practical Magic. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I love the characters, the dialogue, the actors. That’s why, when I found a copy of Alice Hoffman’s book last week, I decided I’d read it, to see how it compared.

I’m on page 65 and ready to give up.

It’s not just that the book and the movie diverge so radically from each other; it’s because those changes are what make the movie so great. (Oh, I see the villagers with the pitchforks and stones coming to get me now!) But as I run away, let me explain why:

Sally is a much stronger character in the movie. The movie is told from her POV, which draws us into the story immediately and makes us sympathize with her. Gillian, likewise, is a strong woman – a bit too eager to fall in love, but we see how strongly she loves her sister, and that makes her a likeable character. The aunts are fantastic, and the little girls are wonderful. Sally’s #1 goal – to be normal – is jeopardized when Gillian calls for help in getting away from her crazy boyfriend. Because Sally is take-charge and loves her sister, she chooses to help, and things spiral downward from there.

I think what I like most about the movie, though – aside from the characters – is that the supernatural elements are so very, very present throughout. This is a true paranormal movie. You can’t have Ghostbusters without the ghosts, and you can’t have Practical Magic without the magic. All the problems stem from the magic – unlike the book, where all the problems seem to stem from who knows what. If there’s any magic to be found in the book, I have yet to discover it. Maybe it’s past page 65? If so, that’s a long time to wait.

I also can’t stand how the book is written. It’s almost omniscient. We get varying POVs on the same page – a HUGE no-no for any writer. And it’s all telling, not showing. You know how fairy tales are told? “Hansel and Gretel were greedy children, and one day they decided to go for a walk in the woods because they’d heard all about this magical house made of candy. But they didn’t know a witch lived there!” Blah blah blah. This book is written exactly the same way. I though maybe the first 30 pages of this were just exposition, world building, background. But no. Here we are, page 65, and we’re still enduring it.

Here’s a good example of what I mean. These paragraphs are from pages 63 and 64:

Sally sits down. She’s a little woozy hearing all this information about her sister’s life, and the concrete stoop is cool and makes her feel better. Gillian always has the ability to draw her in, even when she tries to fight against the pull. Gillian sits down beside her, knee to knee. Her skin is even cooler than the concrete.

Gillian eyes the house, unimpressed. She truly hates being on the East Coast. All this humidity and greenery. She’d do almost anything to avoid the past. Most probably, she’ll find herself dreaming about the aunts tonight. That old house on Magnolia Street, with its woodwork and cats, will come back to her, and she’ll start to get fidgety, maybe even panicky to get the hell away, which is how she ended up in the Southwest in the first place . . .

It’s crazy how many rules of fiction writing this novel actually breaks – and how many the movie gets right. Because of the way the book is written, I’m removed from the characters. I’m watching them from the outside, and I don’t care about them. I’m not sucked into the story, the way I am with the movie.

That’s why, even though everyone tells me I need to read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I adore that movie. I adore the characters. I adore the dialogue. I adore the gritty reality of it. I adore Minnie and her pie. 🙂 I adore Celia and Johnny. Will I hate the book? Maybe. Maybe not. But why risk it? The movie is so perfect.

Usually, the book is better than the movie, no doubt about it.

But sometimes – every now and then – the movie is actually better than the book.

Crazy, huh? 🙂 Especially for a writer.

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