Written by Rachael Cheeseman
Calm down. I know what you're thinking. I know we've all had our hearts broken when our favourite stories that swept us up into beautiful new worlds and made us wonder and feel beyond anything we believed was possible were turned into third-rate movies that played fast and loose with storyline, hired actors who looked nothing like the characters and traded intricate detailed moments for yet another action sequence that wasn't even in the damn book! Believe me, I feel your pain, I really do. But sometimes, just sometimes the right director gets their hands on the right script and the right actors show an interest and the whole thing comes together in a way that actually surpasses the source material. It's not that the book wasn't good and it's not that the film is better in every way, it just means that it tells the story in a way where we can go back and watch over and over and over again while the book gathers dust on the shelf (or gathers some virtual kind of dust or decay within your kindle).
1. Jurassic Park
Try and argue with me, I dare you! Jurassic park was, and will always be, a phenomenal film. From the minute it starts, through Sam Neil terrifying snot-nosed kids, and Samuel L Jackson playing the calmest character of his entire career, and Richard Attenborough sparing no expense, and Velociraptors being all-round clever girls, the movie never leaves you wanting. It doesn't matter that Jeff Goldblum takes longer to deliver a line than I take to do the Times crossword. It doesn't matter that we all know that if you touched a live electric fence you would actually find yourself fused in place, not sailing 15ft through the air. We forgive the film for these moments because it's just spectacularly entertaining.
Now, don't get me wrong, the original novel by Michael Crichton is very good. It gives the characters so much more depth and is a great read throughout. I would recommend the novel to anyone. But the film works so beautifully on every level: the acting, the soundtrack, the perfect blend of CGI and animatronics, with the result that it has aged incredibly well. The book is good but the film is iconic.
For the moment, we're sticking with Spielberg here because, boy does that guy know how to bring a book to life. Peter Benchley's book is a brilliant little thriller. The tension throughout is palpable; a feat that is not easy to achieve with nothing but your words and the reader’s imagination. However, once again, it was the film that made this story iconic. The movie is a contender for a spot on this list for a lot of reasons. The portrayal the actors give of their characters reluctant camaraderie for starters is simply beautiful. Not to mention the suspense from seeing only fleeting glimpses of the shark that builds to a wonderfully excruciating climax. But we all know there is really one reason and one reason alone why, in this case, the film surpasses the book:
That awful, tense, bloody brilliant, ‘Dear God, don't go in there!’ music. If the book had come with that theme tune it would be much harder to see the film as competition. But the perfectly executed paired association of that orchestral glory and the flashes of shark fin, teeth or shadow moving through the water made this film what it is. And what it is, is a brilliant piece of cinema that gave shark phobia to an entire generation.
3. 50 shades of Grey
Before you say anything, no I don't think 50 shades of Grey is a good film. In fact I think it's just about one of the most boring, gimmicky, badly acted pieces of trash to ever grace the screens. I could have happily gone my whole life without seeing Dakota Johnson's bedroom eyes (which are so vacant it's actually a little haunting) or Jamie Dornan's surprisingly bushy happy trail. But as much as this film felt like torture to both my intellect and my libido it was still better than book. The movie, for one, does not feel the need to give us endless glimpses into Anastasia's vapid thoughts and thankfully doesn't once mention her inner goddess. The film also manages to cut out a literal ton of awkward clunky dialogue. Now, granted, it does replace this dialogue with long wistful silences and brooding looks but, believe me, that is the lesser of two evils. The biggest reason the film wins out though is simply because it's quicker to get through. The movie will steal significantly less of your precious time and boasts a couple of okay songs on its soundtrack.
4. The Silence of the Lambs.
This is more like it. I love The Silence of the Lambs. Book, film, spin offs, spooky Anthony Hopkins filled dreams that leave you strangely aroused (just me?). Basically if Hannibal Lector is in it I want to know about it. Thomas Harris' book is excellent. Gripping and sinister, a real page turner right from the off. But once you've heard those immortal lines, dripping off Anthony Hopkins tongue like honey, and seen the haunted look in Jodie foster's eyes as she recounts her ordeal, how can you go back to the book? The film wins out because the chemistry between Hopkins and Foster is unbelievably gripping. He masters the quiet intensity and elusive charm of Lector and she beautifully portrays Starling's untried bravado and almost naïve sense of right and wrong.
5. The Princess Bride
This one is tough for me. William Goldman's quaint and endearing little tale is one of my favourite books. I have read it more times than I can count and take it with me almost everywhere. The book is so unrelentingly charming that every page is like being sucker punched by Simon Bakers' boyish half smile. It isn't a story that will rock your world view or lead you to any startling moments of self-reflection. But what it will do is fill you with that warm, hard-to-define feeling that someway, somehow everything is going to work out okay. As such, it genuinely hurts me a little bit to say that this is one of those times when the movie was better than the book. If you have never watched The Princess Bride go and do it. Right now. Seriously, right this very second.
If anything, the film actually manages to be more charming than the book. It is literally stuffed to bursting with throw-away jokes, cheeky one-liners and ridiculously polite fight scenes. Once you factor in Cary Elwes acing the part he was obviously born to play and Mandy Patinkin's spot on performance as Inigo Montoya, then you consider the wonderfully over dramatic soundtrack, the brilliant cameos, and, of course, Andre the flipping Giant. There's nothing that isn't brilliant about this movie. They just got it so right.
I will never advocate for watching the film instead of reading the book. Books are the best thing the human race ever created (yes, I know that's a ridiculous claim but I'm standing by it). And part of me will never forgive Hollywood for the amount of beautiful stories they have utterly destroyed with their total lack of subtlety and constant mis-casting. However, as I wrote this article, I was genuinely surprised by how many examples there were of when the movies got it right: Blade Runner, Labyrinth, Total Recall, The Godfather, The Graduate, Die Hard, Psycho, Shawshank Redemption. It turns out that the film studios get it right more often than we give them credit for. Maybe the problem is that when they get it wrong, they get it so very very wrong. But I guess we shouldn't give up on big screen adaptations just yet.