Revisiting The Collective: Movies That Were Better Than the Book

(CS: I'm slowly transporting my old Collective Publishing pop culture columns on to this site, so that they have a home again, since the old site is no longer online. As always, I add in a few modern thoughts. 

So, this piece was written because pop culture lists were all the rage in 2012, and since this was only the second installment of my weekly pop culture column, I was also in heavy justifying the weekly paying gig mode and trying to write stuff that would gain big numbers. I found out a little after this that my columns were some of the most popular pieces on the site but considering the site went under after only three years, you can decide what 'popular' really means.)

The highly anticipated Hunger Games comes out in movie theatres this weekend (CS: Since I had yet to come up with the brilliant idea of offering myself as a film critic for the site, I didn't see this one in theatres but did end up reviewing it later for The Movie Breakdown. I have also now read the books and rewatch most of the series with Everett.). I am not sure how it will do in the box office, but based off the popularity of the series, it should rake in a decent amount of money (CS: It was the third highest grossing movie of 2012, so I'd say it did better than decent). I do know that there will be several people walking out of the theatre muttering, “The book was better.”(CS: And people whining Rue was black, even though the novel makes it pretty clear that she was)

 It is a line that I’ve probably heard about a thousand times in my lifetime. I admit that half the time I am the one saying it. Even though it has become cliché to say the book was far better than the movie, in most cases it is the truth. A film can never compare to the visions and imagination that form in your head while the book sweeps you away to a far-off land. But a book really isn’t always better than the movie. Here are a few examples where the film adaptation captured the story much better than the original novel.

Die Hard: I’m sure many of you read this and screamed out, “What? Die Hard was a novel?” One of the greatest action movies of the ‘80s was based off a late ‘70s novel by Roderick Thorp titled Nothing Lasts Forever (though I wonder if they’ll ever stop churning out sequels to the film version?) (CS: A Good Day to Die Hard answered that question, and sadly, Bruce Willis' medical condition sets it in stone). The novel is a fine suspense story, but it lacks a wise cracking Bruce Willis, big loud explosions, and John McClane’s famous catchphrase (Yippee Ki Yay. . .). This has to be one of the most watched “Guys' Night” films in history, while most people still doubt me that there was even a book. (CS: Ugh. I hate that "Guys Night' line, especially since Emily may love action movies even more than me. I should have just said Die Hard is one of my favourite movies and left gender alone)

Forrest Gump: Winston Groom’s novel is a fun and easy read. Let’s be honest here, the story of a dim-witted male stumbling upon some of the most historic moments of the ‘60s and ‘70s is pretty far-fetched and unbelievable. It is Tom Hanks’s amazing acting that draws you into the film and makes the story relatable. Without that powerhouse performance, the story gets exposed for its silly premise and you’re stuck rolling your eyes rather than getting your heart warmed. To really put things over the edge, the novel has even more crazy events like Forrest blasting off into space with an ape, becoming a professional wrestler, and being stuck on an island with a tribe of cannibals. (CS: I actually don't even remember liking the book, so not sure why I described it as fun)

Jaws: The novel written by Peter Benchley changed society’s perception of sharks and turned them into monsters of the sea in many people’s eyes. The novel is a significant piece of pop culture history, but its impact gets swallowed by the blockbuster film directed by the iconic Steven Spielberg. Benchley fills his novel with several subplots about the mafia and adultery, but Spielberg realizes this story needs to be all about the shark. The film brought us classic scenes, unforgettable lines (“You’re going to need a bigger boat.”) and a legendary score. The film Jaws was responsible for the creation of blockbuster films, and despite being over 30 years old, is still one of the most thrilling film experiences.

The Hunt for Red October: I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of Tom Clancy’s novels. I realize he sells millions and millions, but I’ve always found his writing style to be formulaic and overly technical. (CS: Sorry, what did you say? I fell asleep thinking about Tom Clancy novels) The film version is filled with tension and has brilliant pacing and contains great performances from both Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery. This will likely be the choice many will disagree with me on, but I think the film is a great thriller that stirs up emotions and excitement far better than the book.

Psycho: The novel by Robert Bloch was creepy and disturbing, and still contains the legendary twists and surprises. But the shower scene is one of the most unforgettable moments in all of pop culture (not just film), and probably has caused several people to peak around the shower curtain just in case. Alfred Hitchcock took the great material from the novel and turned the story into an instant classic and one of the most copied and “homaged” films ever.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Disney took a gritty detective novel in Gary Wolf’s Who Censored Roger Rabbit? and turned it into one of the funniest and most whimsical films ever. The film is only loosely adapted from the novel, because I don’t remember the scene where Roger gets mowed down by a machine gun. The novel is off the wall and bizarre, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The film creates a much more compelling and engaging world, and the visit into Toontown is still one of my favourite scenes in the film. This is one of the rare cases where Disney’s mass altering of a story to be more kid-friendly was for the better and created the tale the way it should have always been. (CS: Meh, now as a father of two kids, I'm pretty happy with how Disney has altered most of the classic stories to be more family friendly)

 The Godfather: I really like Mario Puzo’s novel. It was one of the first real explorations into the underworld of gangsters and mobsters. Puzo’s novel is really good, but Francis Ford Coppola’s film is one of the greatest works of art ever. Coppola changed our vision of the mafia, and most of what we think we know comes from this epic film. Everything about this film is memorable. The film does a masterful job of presenting shades of grey, and you can feel the struggle and emotions as Sonny battles with his destiny. (CS: I am pretty sure I meant to say Michael) Much like Benchley’s Jaws, Puzo complicates the story by adding subplots that we never need, like detailed chapters about a woman dealing with the size of her private parts. (CS: Chapters? Try pages) The mood and atmosphere in the film is unsettling, but you still get thrills watching the Corleone family leave their mark. The range of emotions and storytelling unleashed in the movie is something that almost no other film has ever been able to achieve. This is another case of where the novel is really good, but the film is iconic. (CS: In retrospect, this was a pretty click-baity piece, and I don't feel it is fair to compare different mediums against each other even if based on the same stories. But I had to come up with something different each week that I was confident would bring in new readers, as I was already aware the site was struggling to get sponsors and money)