You can’t go for too long into a conversation with a group of people about movies before someone will say, “The book is so much better….”
But when you think about it, the comment is a bit strange. We love movies well enough, don’t we? All you need do is try to park at your local cinema on Saturday night to feel that love. If the books are always better, why don’t people just stay home and read?
Being naturally curious about such seeming contradictions, over the last few years I’ve endeavored to take movie conversations in a different direction. I ask people whether they can think of any movie that, in their opinion, is as good as the book on which it’s based.
Most people look off into space and come back empty, but a few have offered, a bit tentatively, some candidates. Here are some I’ve heard so far:
Several folks have nominated To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-winning solo opus, which became the triple-Oscar winning 1962 classic with Gregory Peck, Brock Peters and a young Robert Duvall as Arthur “Boo” Radley.
Another nomination hit theaters exactly ten years later and also won three Oscars, The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola directed the movie version of Mario Puzo’s book. (Several respondents have told me the movie is actually better than the book.)
A third candidate, nominated by no one but myself, is Cry the Beloved Country. It lit the big screen in 1995, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. The movie is based on Alan Paton’s book, which was assigned to my son’s tenth-grade English class (and also to Oprah’s television audience). It’s about a young black burglar who murders a young white man who, ironically, was working for black equality in pre-apartheid South Africa. The scene when Jones and Harris, playing the two fathers, first meet is one of the finest scenes I’ve seen in the movies—both actors at the peak of their powers. And the book, too, is marvelous.
There are no doubt plenty of examples of good movies so different from their original books that there’s little point in searching for the original. In these cases, the movie is the thing.
In other cases, there never was a book. Casablanca, for example, was based on a play written in 1940 by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” which the playwrights, unable to find a producer, sold to Warner Brothers.
Plenty of good books should, by rights, make fine movies—but don’t. (I would put forth Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.) The reasons are multitudinous. Only rarely do stars align to create the double breathtaking book and movie combo.
We need a name for such rare double winners, so I suggest, with apologies to all lexicographers, the boovie.
Identifying boovies makes for more than just good dinner conversation, although that’s a worthy enough goal. The hunt for boovies can make for a deeper appreciation of our contemporary arts. We can argue the artistic judgments made in casting, acting, directing—what to leave out, what to create anew, why this or that element in the story works marvelously in print but can’t be done on the screen—and vice versa. That’s fun stuff to argue or agree about.
Boovies are rare for a few reasons. The story must be so compelling that screenwriters, directors, actors, and even business-minded producers become passionate about the project and are inspired to do their finest work. And then, on top of this, we have to get lucky. When we do get lucky enough to have a boovie, the book and movie can reinforce our enjoyment of the other.
The hunt for boovies gets people reading, and watching, and being moved by art—maybe even leading their lives in new ways.
So what do you think, dear reader and viewer? Can you nominate some boovies? Let me know. We’ll post the Levenger List of Most Popular Boovies, in order of most mentions.
Here, to prime your pump, are some more nominations:
Gone with the Wind
The Wizard of Oz
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Last Picture Show
House of Sand and Fog
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The English Patient
A River Runs Through It
No Country for Old Men
Pride and Prejudice
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Blade Runner
Rocket Boys/October Sky
Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Shipping News
Mystic River is a boovie candidate nominated
by author and friend Joe Finder, some of whose books—including High Crimes—have been made into movies. Click here to read more about Joe’s reading habits.