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Summer (blockbuster) reading

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5 examples of "The book was better"

One can never have too many recommendations when it comes to books. It's always nice to have a few recommendations to work from when you're picking out your next beach read. However, there are plenty of books out there that may never catch your attention because you think you already know the story.

You saw the movie, you see.

But sometimes, seeing the movie is no indication of the quality of the book. Sometimes, the story gets altered or rewritten or occasionally outright ignored. Occasionally, the only resemblance between the two will be a title.

Here are five books that warrant your attention this summer, along with the five movie versions of said books that are inferior to their source material. This is not to say that these films are all bad - though many of them certainly are that - so much as that the books that inspired them are so very much better.

Forrest_Gump_Cover'Forrest Gump'

It might seem a little weird to be including this one; it's a really good movie. It won a fistful of Oscars (in hindsight, how it managed to beat out both 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Shawshank Redemption' is a bit tough to figure). It's a wonderful story that follows a simple man swept up in an extraordinary destiny.

But the book is better. All that crazy stuff that Forrest does in the movie? He does all of that and then some in Winston Groom's 1986 novel. Alabama football, Vietnam, shrimp entrepreneurship; it's all there. However, in the book, Forrest Gump does even more crazy stuff. He spends time as a folk musician, a professional wrestler, a chess mastereven an astronaut. He even has a monkey best friend at one point.

You see, while Robert Zemeckis's 1994 film version was in many ways a light, feel-good story, Groom's novel is much more of a social satire. There's a very real darkness in the novel that gets whitewashed out of the film. And Groom's Forrest is a physical Adonis, 6 and a half feet tall and 225 pounds of pure muscle; nothing like the affably good-natured Tom Hanks.

'Forrest Gump' is an absolutely wonderful book; a personal favorite. One final note: The novel is written exclusively in Forrest's voice - it may take a reader a bit to adjust to the dialect, but the reading experience is well worth it.

PrayerForOwenMeany'Simon Birch'/'A Prayer for Owen Meany'

Everything you need to know about this particular book/movie pairing is contained within the fact that John Irving, author of 'Owen Meany,' asked that the film not be named after the book. Irving's long-standing claim was that the novel could not be successfully made into a film.

He was right.

'Simon Birch' is basically the first half of 'Owen Meany' with a smattering of stuff from the end of the book - they even changed the ending. It's a meandering, lukewarm 'inspirational' movie that also features some casting decisions that seem sadly gimmicky. It's no surprise; many of Irving's best works have failed to properly transition to the big screen ('Cider House Rules' being a notable exception).

It's unfortunate, because 'Owen Meany' is an absolutely phenomenal book. In the novel, Owen becomes far more of a rounded, real person than Simon Birch ever does. The tonal shift of the second half of the novel contributes to an overall development of Owen's character that is largely absent in the film. The character of John Owen's best friend (the book's narrator) is much more of a central factor in the novel.

The ending of 'Owen Meany' is incredibly visceral and its emotional impact is extremely significant. The ending of 'Simon Birch' is typical of the film - bland, cloying tugging of heartstrings. Some might have been turned off from the book by the terrible movie; they would do well to allow themselves to read John Irving's novel and experience the story that Irving intended to tell.


Any fan of Michael Crichton had to know that his name was going to appear on this list eventually. Few authors have the consistent kind of disconnect between the quality of their books (pretty good) and the quality of the films adapted from those books (almost always terrible) that Crichton does. Any number of Crichton projects could be named here; however, to my mind at least, one stands head and shoulders above the rest.

'Congo' is the only movie that I have ever walked out of.

Whether it was the foolish-looking gorilla suits, the cardboard cutout characters, the stilted dialogue, the convoluted story or just the ubiquitous (and ridiculous) Styrofoam prop rocks - or some combination therein - 'Congo' was a bad, bad movie. When neither Bruce Campbell nor Tim Curry can save your film, you've got problems.

It's too bad, because 'Congo' is actually pretty typical Crichton. No one will ever mistake Crichton's canon for great literature, but the guy told interesting stories in interesting ways. 'Congo' is a story of adventurers making their way through a hostile jungle in search of lost cities and untold fortune. It's got that same sort of pulpy sensibility that runs through most of his oeuvre.

'Congo' makes for an excellent read; it's first-rate pop literature. Unfortunately, when director Frank Marshall made the film, he sucked all the fun out of the proceedings. When your movie about talking apes takes itself overly seriously, you've made some bad decisions.

IRobot'I, Robot'

Full disclosure: I enjoy Will Smith. He's goofy and cheesy and a prime example of how people become Hollywood-ized, but I like what he brings to the table. His charm often fits nicely into these sorts of science-fiction worlds. Stuff like 'Men in Black' and 'Independence Day' - even 'Hancock' or 'I Am Legend' - plays to his strengths.

But not 'I, Robot.' Nope. Not even a little bit.

'I, Robot' is one of the seminal works in the history of science fiction. That collection of nine short stories by Isaac Asimov first published in 1950 basically served as the blueprint of every fictional robot, android and/or automaton we see in books and films today. Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics set a simple, easily-understood baseline for robot/human interaction that also served as a wonderful commentary on our interactions with technology and with each other.

Meanwhile, Will Smith was selling shoes. Seriously - one of my primary memories of that film is how often our attention was supposed to be drawn to Smith's character's Converse sneakers. And aside from a few character names and attributes and a cribbing of the Three Laws, there was very little in the film that bore any resemblance to Asimov's works. The credits say the film was 'suggested by' Asimov's stories, but that's basically an excuse to steal the title and get the fanboys in before they realize they've been tricked.

If you watched 'I, Robot' and found yourself curious about the ethical ramifications of sentient machines rather than distracted by Will Smith's one-liners and Chuck Taylors, you would be doing yourself a favor if you picked up the book.

hitchhiker'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

This one makes me sad. Very, very sad. I love 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' trilogy - all five books (I'm still not quite comfortable referring to 'The Salmon of Doubt' as number six). I love everything about Douglas Adams his style, his tone and his dryness come together in a groundbreakingly hilarious take on the world of science fiction.

'Hitchhiker's' was some of the first humorous science fiction. It's the story of Arthur Dent, an ordinary Englishman who is thrust into a universe that is far bigger and far better populated than he had ever had reason to dream. It's the ultimate fish out of water story, only if the fish was some dude in a bathrobe. This book taught me how to be a hoopy frood and to always know where my towel is: easily two of the most important lessons of my entire life.

The 'Hitchhiker's' movie might be the most personally disappointing of any on the list. I - like so many others - wanted so desperately for this film to be good. We've been dying to see a screen vision of this story that matches the one in our head in terms of awesomeness. And by all accounts, we should have. The cast was (almost) entirely magnificent and Adams himself worked on the script before he died. Instead, we got a truncated storyline, a meandering pace and a woefully-miscast Mos Def as Ford Prefect. It should have been awesome. Instead, it was barely OK.

While I freely admit that I can sometimes get a bit geeked about this sort of thing, the simple truth is that 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' is one of the funniest books I've ever read. If you've read it before, read it again. And if you've seen the film but never read the book, please read it. You deserve to experience the story as it was meant to be told.

Last modified on Friday, 29 March 2019 17:06


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