Flicks: Movies based on books always present a problem

John Meo

I’m always disappointed in myself when I learn a movie that captures my interest was a book first. It happened with “Fight Club,” which is probably my favorite movie. The book was better, at least the end made more sense and was more gratifying, but it’s not among my Top 5. Go figure. Incidentally, Chuck Pahlaniuk knows a lot of weird, weird stuff.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” caught my eye a few weeks ago. I wrote about it last week, and this week, I learned while reading the review by David Germain of The Associated Press that the movie is a lighthearted if disjointed effort to capture the essence of the book, which is darker and more coherent.


So, now I’m doubly disappointed. I still want to see the movie, because it will be funny and entertaining, but do I read the book first and go in with a level of expectation that may not be met? Or, do I see the movie first, then read the book, learn what was left out, and base my approval (or disapproval) on that?

Any movie-goer runs the risk of disappointment, I suppose. “Lord of the Rings,” “Troy,” “I Am Legend,” are all in my wheelhouse, all based on books, and all took liberties with plot points, narrative and so on. And I survived all of them.

I suppose the problem isn’t so much with what Hollywood makes of a book, for good or ill, but that the option to read something is/ was available. Movies are great and fun, but they’re also expedient, distilled or interpreted versions of a writer’s vision.

From Dickens

Consider “A Christmas Carol,” brought to you by the evilest of empires, Disney, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Charles Dickens wrote the novel, which Gannett News Service Chief Film Critic Bill Goodykoontz described thusly: “Dickens’ story is near-perfect, an insanely well-written parable whose brilliance makes film adaptations difficult at best.”

So, ask yourself: If such a book exists, (and I agree it does) why would you subject yourself to an animated jambalaya featuring Carrey, Carrey, Carrey and Carrey, who even in small doses is beyond obnoxious? Hopefully you won’t, because this movie looks absolutely dreadful, but this is a mostly rhetorical question anyway.

It’s true movies offer what the written word cannot. The media are vastly different in terms of delivery and sensory experience, it’s just a wonder to me that reading a book is gratifying and enlightening and fulfilling, while watching the movie based on that book makes me feel just a little bit dumb and lazy.

Also in theaters

Two-word review time!

“The Men Who Stare at Goats”: I’m transfixed.

“A Christmas Carol”: Zombie eyes.

“The Fourth Kind”: No. 2

“The Box”: I would.

John Meo writes for the Norwich Bulletin in Norwich, Conn.