One common conversation among bibliophiles is how film adaptations so often fail to live up to the books from which they are derived. Words like “depth”, “nuance”, and “characterization” are usually included in any comparison, with the film nearly always on the short end. So, it was with some interest that our Flick Buddies topic for August was literary adaptations.
There were two films that I thought demanded a special shout-out because I think they are better than the book from which they were derived.
The first one is Jaws, which is such a tremendous and landmark film that I imagine most people don’t even know that it was originally a novel. It is probably my favorite film, period. I’ve posted about it a couple of times, here and here. My guess is that I’ve probably watched it from start to finish a dozen times, so it’s hard to think about it with someone like Bekki’s fresh eye.
The other film is Contact. It was my selection for the month because I figured that my Buddies might not have seen it. Contact follows the story of Ellie Arroway – an astronomer working on identifying signals of intelligent life from space. One day, she finds it. Or she thinks she finds it.
The film is an excellent exploration of the co-existence of religion and science, belief and reason. One thing that I appreciate as a scientist is that the scientists in the film actually behave like people and not the caricatures you find in so so many films. It was funny to re-watch it last week, because Contact takes place in pre-internet/pre-cell phone world, so I kept thinking about how I might adapt it to a modern backdrop.
Like Speilberg, who cut some unnecessary elements out of Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Robert Zemeckis did a fine job pruning Carl Sagan’s original novel, which had been published in the 1980s – notably making Ellie and Palmer Joss younger and trimming the scientific jargon and machinations to something that I think translates better to a wider audience. Also, Zemeckis tidied up the ending in a way that I thought improved on the novel. As a film, I liked the pacing and thought that excellent performances were turned in by Jodie Foster (something I often think) and Matthew McConaughey (something I rarely think).
I hope my other Flick Buddies enjoy watching this movie, I think it’s a very thoughtful examination of a fascinating topic and one of my favorite science fiction films of all time.
Those are my two. What other films do you think are better than their literary counterparts?