Book vs Movie: The Kingsmen – What’s the Difference?

This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at The Kingsmen and it’s comic origins in Mark Millar’s comic.

While I can remember reading Mark Millar’s Secret Service, I can’t remember having enjoyed it. I’m not actually sure if I read the whole first run. I do remember thinking that it was an interesting if average take on the suave spy genre. 

Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised when The Kingsmen arrived in cinemas. Secret Service didn’t exactly strike me as worth adapting. Bond had been reinvigorated, Vin Diesel’s XXX had come and gone*, and Austin Powers had mined a couple of jokes to death over three movies. Did we need this movie?

Yes.

And it was a surprisingly good movie. Not to mention, it also manages to be an adaptation that, I think, improves upon the source material. I think the “Kingsmen” aspect, as mentioned in the video, was certainly part of what elevated the movie above the source material.

I think if there is anything to learn from Secret Service being adapted, it is that a good adaptation will fully realise the potential of the source material. That doesn’t require faithfulness, but rather an understanding of the themes and ideas.

* And then came back again. Why, I’m not entirely sure.

Book vs Movie: Snowpiercer – What’s the Difference?

This month, CineFix are discussing the excellent Snowpiercer and its comic book origins in What’s the Difference?

If you haven’t watched Snowpiercer then I recommend you do.

I kinda meant right now.

Go. Enjoy.

For everyone else, I think Snowpiercer did a number of interesting things. The first one was showing us Chris Evans looked good with a beard… I mean, that Evans could do more than Captain America. The second one was to usher in a mainstream filmic conversation around class and society that has been lacking in the public space despite a growing divide between the rich and the rest of us. The Occupy movement and the Global Financial Crisis fallout hadn’t been entirely ignored, but this did raise and further attention. The third was that a revolution is the only way forward out of a decaying system that Korean cinema is where a lot of interesting storytelling and action is to be found.

Once again I find myself with another book I have yet to read despite my enjoyment of the movie adaptation. If only there were more reading hours in the day.

See also: https://www.looper.com/108629/ending-snowpiercer-explained/

Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is taking the world over, but in 2013 the Korean filmmaker ended the world with his dystopian action masterpiece, Snowpiercer. Set on a train carrying the last of humanity around a planet in the midst of a self-made ice age, Chris Evans leads a revolution against the trains elite class. While the film shares plenty with the 1982 graphic novel Le Transperceneige on which it’s based, Bong Joon Ho aims his satire in a different direction. So tuck into a protein bar and find your place on the train because it’s time to ask What’s the Difference?

Book vs Movie: Dracula – What’s the Difference?

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Since the annual American lolly festival is almost upon us, Cinefix is covering one of the classics. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Francis Coppola’s 1992 Dracula.

Time for some straight talk. I don’t know how you discuss this particular adaptation without mentioning just how bad Keanu Reeves is in this film. Embarrassingly bad.

I actually tried to rewatch Dracula a couple of years ago and just couldn’t bring myself to sit through it all. Despite it being a bit of a who’s who of actors in the cast – and people like Tom Waits – it all feels so camp and silly. Even when I first saw it in high school, I remember Dracula being only average – with possibly the best visual explanation of the link between Dracula and Vlad the Impaler ever.

It is harder for me to talk about the book as I read it so long ago. And, let’s be honest here, I’ve since read way too many Anne Rice novels to not get the details confused. I read Dracula and Frankenstein at roughly the same time; because gothic horror novels are what pre-teen kids should be reading. Neither stood out for me as novels, but it is amazing how influential they have both been to genre fiction.

I wonder if there will be any modern equivalent. A novel that establishes an entire genre that is continuously reimagined, refined, and redefined such that we get analogues ranging from True Blood (coming out of the closet analogy) to Buffy (girl power).

Book vs Movie: The Lost World – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference from Cinefix compares the book sequel written because the movie adaptation was successful and the director wanted more source material to ignore. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

Honestly, I can never keep it straight in my head which parts of the novels ended up in which movie. As mentioned in the video, the opening scene of The Lost World was actually from the first book. There are other examples, like the “birdcage” scene in one of the other movies was in the first book… I think.

One thing is for certain: Spielberg knows how to make a film. He knows how to build tension, he knows how to establish sights, sounds, and characters so that sequences hang together, and he knows not to have a talking dinosaur in an aeroplane.

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Yes, this is an actual scene from Jurrasic Park 3. Take a moment.

But The Lost World is an example of one the worst reasons you write or film a sequel: because the first one was successful. I don’t know exactly what Spielberg’s motivations were for the sequel – maybe he was under contract, maybe he needed a new wing on his house – but the film was dull. It was trying to recapture the lightning bottled in the first film. The same can be said of the book. Crichton didn’t originally want to write a sequel and was only convinced by Spielberg saying he’d give him lots of money that he would be keen to direct a movie adaptation of the sequel if one were written.

I’m on record as not being much of a fan of Michael Crichton’s books. He has a tendency to write solid thrillers that act as vehicles for anti-science rants by a raisonneur or mouthpiece. There is nothing wrong with doing this, per se, but science is awesome, so make sure your criticism is on point. Or don’t, depending on whether you want to impress me or someone who thinks chakras are a thing.

Needless to say, I was a fan of the first film, less so the book. The sequels… Put it this way, I haven’t bothered watching the new ones starring Chris Pratt yet.

Book vs Movie: When the Book Is Better

'We are making a film of the book.'

PBS Digital Studios have a new video series It’s Lit! which is part of The Great American Read, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Featuring one of the premiere video essayists in Lindsay Ellis, this series should be brilliant.

The first video briefly discusses a topic I’ve frequently discussed here, what makes a good adaptation and why the book is so often regarded as better.

Lindsay has very concisely summarised why movies so often don’t make for good or faithful adaptations of the source material. But she also touches on why they can sometimes improve the book, or make an adaptation that uses the source material in an interesting way to tell a different story.

If you aren’t already subscribed to Lindsay or PBS Digital Studios, you may want to do so now.

Book vs Movie: Dr Strangelove – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix delves into one of the few Stanley Kubrick films I’ve enjoyed.

Everyone remembers Dr Strangelove but very few remember Red Alert, the novel that was the basis for Kubrick’s adaptation. Peter George’s book was an early nuclear war thriller and having got there first tended to be copied (or is that emulated?) by many other authors. This was an important point since Kubrick and George decided to sue the production of another movie based upon a nuclear war thriller that was deceptively similar to Red Alert. I’m not exactly sure why this was important as George teamed up with Terry Southern to change the super-cereal novel into a timeless satire.

Did you know that Dr Strangelove was originally going to end with a pie fight? Apparently, the farcical element involved in that was deemed too silly for a poignant satire, despite how metaphorical it was to the destruction of the human race. I guess many would have missed that point. Comedy needs to take itself more seriously if people are to get the point.

I think Dr Strangelove is a great example of a movie being better than the book. The way it does this is by not taking the source material seriously. What would have been another by-the-numbers thriller was elevated by satirising war. Landing not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film managed to capture sentiments of the absurdity of mutually assured destruction and the ineptness of the cabals of military and political elites deciding fates.

Plus, Peter Sellers.

Book vs Movie: Oldboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month in CineFix’s series What’s the Difference? they cover Oldboy. Live octopus not included.

Not having read the Manga, I don’t really have much to add to the above video. The film is amazing. It redefined “off-the-wall” and managed to make it compelling watching.

Let’s not talk about the Spike Lee remake. Because it wasn’t very good. Although, because it is an American adaptation of a South Korean adaptation of a Japanese work, it can be interesting in an intercultural sense. This article is very interesting in that regard.

Best Adaptations of All Time?

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In keeping with my monthly series of posts on book adaptations – Book vs Movie – I thought I’d share this CineFix video as my last post before the Festive Break. They cover a lot of great adaptations, even mentioning a few I was unaware were adaptations.

Thanks to my readers and commenters for dropping by this year. I hope you all enjoy whatever Holiday tradition you celebrate. Best wishes from me to you.

Now let’s argue over whether this video has missed any of our favourite movies based upon books.

Book vs Movie: Silence of the Lambs – What’s the Difference?

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Do you prefer a Chianti or an Amarone to accompany human liver and fava beans? This month CineFix ask the question in their What’s the Difference? on Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

I’m going to be controversial here and say that the movie, Silence of the Lambs, was better than the book. That’s right. I’ll give you some time to warm up the tar and pluck the chickens.

That isn’t to say that the novel is bad, far from it. In my original reviews of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, I noted that they were great stories, very interesting and layered (thematically, compositionally, etc), and gave us a charismatic villain for the history books. But I wasn’t a fan of the writing. Some passages were on point, especially some of the dialogue that was pretty much lifted straight into the movie, but other parts felt like they were letting down the team.

Compare that with the cinematic classic and you can see which one stands taller. The themes, particularly the sexism, are more subtle yet more omnipresent (camera angles and shot staging vs inner monologue). The tone of the film is brought to life, and how could it not be with Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter exuding menace and demonic magnetism, and the brilliant cinematography – the night vision scene is unmatched.

It’s a pity none of the movie sequels managed to capture the same magic. I’m yet to read the rest of the Hannibal Lecter novels, so it would be interesting to hear if they managed to continue the magic, or if they slowly drained of life with each thin slice.

Book vs Movie: The Sex of Game of Thrones – What’s the Difference

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This month CineFix do the episode of What’s the Difference? you’ve been waiting for. No, not The Game of Thrones differences. The sex scene differences of The Game of Thrones.

People are often surprised when I tell them I’m not a fan of The Game of Thrones. But after abandoning both the first book and first season, there isn’t much that could get me interested in coming back.

Some people have tried to convince me that there is plenty of nudity and sex in the books and show. I like to point out that 4% of the internet is porn. When I’ve tried pointing out that most of the characters either die or aren’t protagonists you want to follow, the response is always Tyrion Lannister is awesome…. So that’s one character. I can see why many people love both the books and TV show, but just not for me. Unless it is in a highlights reel format.

Thug Notes summary and analysis of A Song of Fire and Ice.

Wisecracks comparison to The Sopranos and Interregnum

Book vs Movie: Shawshank Redemption – What’s the Difference?

Nothing quite like comparing one of the best movies of all time with its source material. This month CineFix do with What’s the Difference? on The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s odd that I have read Stephen King’s The Body but haven’t read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, given that they shared space in the same collection. But then I don’t often read novellas and short stories, as I prefer novels. I often think that shorter stories make for easier movie adaptations as the filmmakers don’t have to trim material the same way. Of course there are two problems with that thinking:

  1. It assumes that filmmakers actually read the source material (see here, here, herehere….)
  2. It assumes that filmmakers aren’t quite content to stretch source material out to fill as much cinema time as possible, no matter how bad an idea that is. *cough* The Hobbit *cough*

I recently saw a listicle that suggested Shawshank was one of the movies you should have in your collection. That is clearly wrong. If you can’t turn on the TV and catch it on rerun then your TV is broken or you have found Die Hard on instead. Why own it? Which brings me to possibly the only real gripe there is to be had with Shawshank, and that is its over-popularity. Exactly how many times can it play on TV before people start becoming annoyed? At what point does the audience start to groan at what was once a great movie? Can great art remain timeless if you beat everyone over the head with it? I fear the answers.

Book vs Movie: A Clockwork Orange – What’s the Difference?

Time for some ultra-violence with this month’s instalment of CineFix’s What’s the Difference?

I can’t remember if I read the book or watched the movie first. A Clockwork Orange was a novel in my parents’ collection of novels, which is why I turned out so well. I do remember the novel wasn’t as easy to consume as the movie, mainly because you can interpret spoken language more easily than understanding the lexicon employed in Burgess’ written words.

This may be a somewhat shocking statement, but I’m not much of a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s films. I always found them somewhat bland, as though there were a lot of empty space on the screen. As such, there are parts of the film I find to be bordering on dull, and others that strike me as weird and hammy (such as the scene with Alex’s parol officer). Meanwhile, the book managed to be entertaining and yet critical of youth culture whilst discussing free will.

It is ironic that I would enjoy a book that is critical of “kids these days”. But the fact that it was written in 1962 only further proves my point that complaining about the younger generation has been a popular pastime for old people since the invention of young people. Oh, and free will probably doesn’t exist.

Book vs Movie: The Bourne Identity – What’s The Difference?

This month the Cinefix team are covering the differences between The Bourne Identity movie and book. So this will either be a super short episode or a super long one.

I read The Bourne Identity not long after seeing the movie. Yeah, I’m that guy. I’m frequently that guy. Anyway, I have always referred to the movie as being nothing like the book at all. Aside from a few names and the amnesia thing, there is virtually nothing similar about the two works. I have often wondered if the screenwriters got handed the book and only got as far as the blurb on the back cover before producing their screenplay. Let’s just hope Ludlum was able to cash his cheque* before he typed his last ‘The End’.**

Apparently Robert Ludlum was inspired to write a spy novel involving an amnesic because he briefly suffered from the condition himself. There’s a joke here somewhere about the screenwriters forgetting to read the novel, but I wouldn’t stoop that low. I mean, who is to say they even realised they were being asked to do an adaptation, this is Hollywood after all.

Most action fans love the Bourne movies. At a time when there was a move away from gritty and realistic action, Bourne came along and gave us a tense, gritty, and “realistic” action movie. The book is not heavy on the action and gives us a more traditional spy story about flushing out an assassin with counterintelligence and operations. Comparing the two is really quite unfair. But one area I think the book is superior is in the answer to “Who is Jason Bourne?” In the movie we see Matt Damon struggle to come to terms with not knowing and wondering what sort of man would have his skills. But we know. And he knows. The answers he finds don’t really give him any new information: yeah, you were an assassin dude. In the book the answers are more complicated and more satisfying for the hero: yay, I was bait to capture an assassin.

Without this film we would have not had Matt Damon bringing Mark Watney to the screen. Let’s celebrate by rewatching one of the best car chase scenes of all time:

*now there’s a saying that is appropriate to the time being referenced but is now as apposite and relevant as a broken record.

** Robert Ludlum died in 2001.

What I think of Dean Koontz

I was watching Odd Thomas, the adaptation of Dean Koontz’s novel starring Anton Yelchin, on Netflix and realised I haven’t read a Koontz novel in years. The last one I remember reading was Night Chills, which I read as a child. Probably the closest I’ve come to reading a Koontz novel lately is watching the movie Phantoms.

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Odd Thomas was an enjoyable movie, a bit cheesy, but entertaining none-the-less. Same could be said of Phantoms. Even though I read Night Chills over 25 years ago, I can still vividly remember a lot of it because of the interesting take on mind control and what it could be used for. So it seems odd that after having had no bad experiences with Koontz’s novels (and movie adaptations) that I wouldn’t have read more of his work. I mean, he didn’t become the sixth highest paid author by accident. And how many other novels do I remember reading that long ago?

Could it be that “no bad experiences” doesn’t exactly act as a glowing recommendation? Is it just that I’ve written him off as an inferior Stephen King clone? Or is it that whenever I think of Dean Koontz I think of this scene from The Family Guy?

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Of course, Koontz isn’t the only author whose career I seem to have glossed over. It is easy to miss an author. With so many great books by so many great authors, the issue becomes one of hours per lifetime. I’ve long held that a lifetime of reading doesn’t amount to many novels read. Don’t believe me? Allow me to mathetise you:

  • Let’s use two averages 50 books per year and 100 books per year.
  • Assume average reading lifespan is between age 10 and 80 = 70 years.
  • Assume you only read any one novel once.
  • Assume that you aren’t tragically hit by a car and can’t read.
  • Thus, in a reading lifetime you can read between 3,500 and 7,000 books.
  • There were over 300,000 books published in the USA last year. Over 8,000 in my home country of Australia.

So we do have to be picky about what we read. You can’t just waste time slogging through a book you aren’t enjoying: that’s valuable reading life you’re wasting! Not to mention your poor brain being haunted by the experience. Glossing over authors who could possibly be entertaining me greatly in service of finishing that award winning novel literature professors deemed important, is madness. Dying knowing that you had read all of the Harry Potter books would be far more satisfying that dying from sheer boredom in the middle of War and Peace.

Reviews and recommendations obviously become very important here. Being picky about what you read has to come from good advice. That’s why I post reviews of books I’ve enjoyed. Hopefully I’ll help others find something to read that won’t make them regret paying money for. Movie adaptations are part of this recommendation process. Despite the movies always being worse than the book (except when they aren’t) you do get an impression of the book and whether it would be worth reading. I mean, nothing like taking 15 hours of entertainment and squeezing it into 2 hours to help avoid bad books. Odd Thomas recommended its source material enough to make me question my entire accidental Koontz avoidance. I Am Number Four made me erroneously assume you couldn’t write a worse book. The Bourne Identity made me question if they knew it was meant to be based on a book.

Maybe I should read Odd Thomas, or one of the other hundred odd novels Koontz has written. Maybe I should see if the author who managed to write something that lingers in my memory decades later is able to leave that sort of impression again. Maybe I should see how faithful the movie adaptation was and how suited Anton Yelchin was to the role. 

Or I could continue to avoid reading Koontz’s books. You know, whatever.

Book vs Movie: The Princess Bride – What’s the difference?

A much loved book and a classic movie: this month CineFix tackle the differences between the tree and silver halide versions of The Princess Bride by William Goldman.

Many years ago my sister was kind enough to force me to read The Princess Bride. Of course I was a fan of the movie; despite never doing the fancy dress thing for parties I have worn an Inigo Montoya name badge, so yes, I was a fan. But for some reason at the time I had this strange idea that if I had seen the movie then there wasn’t much point in reading the book. I mean, how different could they be?*

Long story short, The Princess Bride is one of my favourite novels, ranking up there with Good Omens and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The What’s the Difference? video only makes passing mention to the style of the novel, which is as much about making an abridged version of the original S. Morgenstern novel, as it is about the adventures of Westley and Princess Buttercup. Having to edit out the endless chapters describing trees, the difficult negotiations required to secure the rights to do the abridgement over Florin native Stephen King (who ends up securing the rights to the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby), and generally only including the good parts, are key to the novel. Just about all of this was dropped from the movie, because meta-humour would be too confusing to audiences (trust me, people still don’t understand Inception for some reason). So the novel is quite different from the movie. Read it.

On the subject of the above video, it is interesting in this instance that William Goldman wrote the book and the screenplay. So we are able to see how Goldman has zeroed in on the important parts of the narrative to simplify the movie. Because movie audiences aren’t like us sophisticated book readers. In the anniversary edition of the book, Goldman notes how pleased he was with the movie, particularly the casting that brought the book to life. No mention was made of the budget blow-outs due to Andre The Giant’s alcohol consumption.

*Hence the reason I share this fantastic video series each month: it is my penance for such poor thinking.