The Book is Better

Books and movies are often linked. For many blockbusters, a book will be written to be released with the movie. Many popular books get made into movies (note to movie studios reading this, Aristeia would make a great set of movies).

Whenever this happens, you will hear people say either the book or the movie was better.  In most cases, this applies to whatever form the story was originally conceived for. This makes sense. Writing a screen play and a novel are two completely different types of story. A movie presents things visually and you don’t have a characters internal dialogue to move things along. Books allow you to present a lot more information and detail than you can in a movie but you’re dependent on the readers imagination to paint the picture.

So when a book gets made into a movie, its natural that aspects of the story need to change. The later books in the Harry Potter series, for example, were made into fairly good movies. The major plot elements were kept but a lot of the subplots and characters had to be dropped. These subplots were important parts of what made the stories so engaging. They kept you turning the pages but there were just to many to keep in a movie anyone would want to sit through.

What boggles my mind, however, is why when a book gets made into a movie they elect to change things that are unnecessary. We recently started read (listened) to the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. It was very good and an engaging mystery. We decided to try out the movie, because, why not. James Bond is in it.

(Spoiler warning here on out)

Now, before I get into my rant, I will say that they stuck to the story surprisingly well. For as along and convoluted as some of the book is, they left out very few pieces.  They changed the ending a bit, moving Harriet from Australia to having her be in Britain, living as Anita. Now, since she really had taken Anita’s identity in the book this was relatively minor and it allowed them to wrap it up quicker than sending Blomkvist on a trek through Australia.

They also cut out all the parts with Salander’s mother, which is also fairly reasonable. Those scenes helped flesh out Salander’s character, and establish that she does care for some people, but you can get away without them. And Blomkvist’s relationship with Cecilia, which also worked okay being cut.

Beyond that, the major plot elements were there. They had terrible pacing, making the whole thing feel rushed. Hard to avoid when condensing a book into a movie. But they didn’t really take any time to develop the Blomkvist/Salandar relationship at all. At one point they both say they enjoy working with each other, but it felt like they had been on the screen together for 5min.

Their characterization of Salander was also terrible. The girl they had playing her did not look right. She looked like a punk, not a social outcast. Salander was introverted and just didn’t care about fitting in with society. They played her instead as belligerent.  She spoke far to often. That was her main form of protest, just not talking. They had her arguing in the movie way to much.

All of those things can be chopped up to different interpretations and constraints of making the story fit in a movie.  What boggles the mind is the decision to ADD things to the movie that weren’t in the book. Things that spoil parts of the second book.

For instance, they added Salander visiting her former guardian. She thought he had died in this book. They added her following up with her new guardian, Bjurman, after she threatened him. And they had her telling Blomkvist, that she was a ward of the state, something the character would never do, and that she had set her father on fire.

Now, I’m only part way through the second book and had not learned that detail yet. What happened in her past was a big part of the mystery for this book. It had no purpose other than to spoil the next book, as it had no impact on the story. It was just added to the book for no apparent reason.

Without that addition, I would have called this movie a poor translation from book to movie, but at least something that tried. But with that addition, they crossed the line into “WTF were you thinking Hollywood?” territory.

I here the Swedish movies were actually pretty good, so we might give those a watch sometime.

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One Response to The Book is Better

  1. Jedi_Rabbit says:

    One instance where I noted the movie was better was “The Godfather”, though the movie was better for completely different reasons (acting, cinematography, direction etc.). While it kept the same basic plot and stuck to it almost exactly, many subplots were omitted, which would have added probably 2 hours to an already long movie, and one of which they put into the Godfather Part II (De Niro’s flashback scenes of Vito’s rise)