Books on Film: Golden Globes honor literary adaptations on the big screen
A favorite phrase uttered by bastions of pretentiousness the world over, “the book was better” is meant to separate the literate cinephile from the everyday filmgoer in one fell swoop. But no matter how unnerving this phrase can be, with many films adapted from books, it’s simply true. Many, but not all.
The Golden Globe nominations were announced today, and leading the pack in categories including best drama, best musical or comedy, best dramatic actor and best dramatic actress were critically acclaimed films such as “Atonement,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “No Country for Old Men,” all of which are based on books.
The jury is still out for most audiences on whether these critically-acclaimed films truly live up to their literary inspirations. I think we can all remember a few movies in the past that either surpassed the book on which they were based (“The Godfather,” anyone?) or else completely and horrifyingly missed the mark (need I bring up the great “Dune” debacle of ’84?).
I have hope for this recent crop of literary flicks, though. Admittedly, of the titles listed above I have only read the novel “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, and I haven’t yet seen the film. But I can certainly understand how the book would be perfect fodder for a good, solid British drama. Remember “The Remains of the Day”? “Howard’s End”? Not a lot of stretching for the cinematographer and screenwriter going on there. I think it’s safe to say, along with the rave reviews critics have given it so far, the film adaptation of “Atonement” lives up to the novel.
On the other hand, I recently saw the Cohen brothers’ version of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” without having first read the novel. How the book could possibly strike white-hot fear into my heart the way Javier “Crazy Eyes” Bardem did in the film as the serial killer Anton Chigurh is beyond me. Move over Hannibal Lecter, Chigurh is coming for you, and he has his giant, compressed-air tank in tow. (Seriously, just see the movie.)
This is actually one of those films that makes you want to go and immediately pick up the book, a triumph for those of us in the literary industry. Bloody, yet moving, bleak, yet full of rich characters, if “the book was better” is true in the case of “No Country for Old Men,” then…well, okay I wouldn’t be that surprised. Cormac McCarthy is the kind of author that other authors aspire to be. McCarthy is the type of author who grants an interview with Oprah, not the other way around. In fact, according to the Internet Movie Database:
“Contrary to most successful films made from books, much of the film's action is taken word for word from Cormac McCarthy's novel and to boot occurs in the same order of events.
Perhaps that’s why the film is so good in the case of “No Country for Old Men”—we have an author to thank. Many authors today may attempt to write books that read like movies to get that coveted film deal; but keep in mind, writing for the big screen is a screenwriter’s job. Just write something real, write something exceptional, and perhaps the producers may one day come to you.