See the Movie, Read the Book

I do a lot of reading. I always did. Sometimes I go through a book in a day. Sometimes I’ll wait for the movie. Most times I’ll do both.

Sometime over the past week among the books I read was an oldie but goodie, Hopscotch by Brian Garfield. You might remember this international thriller from the 70s. Or you might remember the movie with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson from the 80s.  If you saw one or read the other without reading the one or seeing the other then you really don’t know both stories. Even though they have the same characters, the same general plot, and the book and the screenplay were both written by the same man, they aren’t the same story. Not that one was better than the other, just different.

A more recent example is Silver Linings Playbook, a 2008 New York Times best seller and debut novel from Matthew Quick, and an Academy Award winning movie from 2012 (Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence). Again, if you just read the book you missed a great movie and if you just saw the movie you missed a terrific story. Both really good. And both really different.

Sometimes the differences between book and movie are very small, except they stop partway through. Sort of like the movie is an abridged version of the book. I first noticed it when Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford was released in 1975. A nifty spy thriller based on James Grady’s book, Six Days of the Condor. What happened to the other three days?

Redford pops up again in my list of movies that “follow the book closely enough but not necessarily enough of the book” when he starred in this year’s “Walk in the Woods” movie adaptation of Bill Bryson’s 1998 book of the same name. Just like the condor’s missing three days, this movie is missing half of his trek along the Appalachian Trail. What’s there is fairly close to the book (even though the characters on the screen seem to have aged the 17 years between book and movie release), it’s just that the whole book isn’t represented on the screen.

People or studios buy rights and get to do what they will with them. Most often they end up with a pretty good visual representation of the book or play or whatever it is that they bought. There are times when there’s nothing in common but fortunately those aren’t all that common. And every now and then they end up with a really great story that seems familiar but might be more of a sequel to the native version than an adaptation. And that’s not so bad. That way you can still read the book, or see the movie, and not always know how it ends.

That’s what I think. Really. How ‘bout you?

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