A First in the Eternal Book-vs.-Movie Battle

h1 August 25th, 2006 by eisha


Hey. So, I just finally watched Shopgirl, that film based on Steve Martin’s novella of the same name. And I know this is “A Blog About Books,” but this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this and I think it’s worth noting: I liked the movie BETTER than the book!

The thing is, I love Steve Martin as a writer (and as a screenwriter, director, actor, stand-up comic dude in the ’70s, etc). I thought Pure Drivel was brilliantly hysterical, and I think L.A. Story is one of the most tragically underrated films ever. But Shopgirl… and I’m sorry, I can’t be very specific here, I read it when it first came out a few years ago… I remember I really wanted to like it, and it had some very beautiful descriptive moments, and some insightful commentary on communication between the sexes, but overall, I felt like there was a whole lot of telling and not nearly enough showing.

Which is why the movie is better. You get a bit of the wry “omniscient narrator” throughout, but mostly you actually get to see the characters doing stuff, instead of just getting a lot of exposition. And the cinematography is gorgeous – lovely use of color, and the lighting is very stylized, downright theatrical, even. Good performances, of course – couldn’t go wrong with that cast.

Okay, that’s it. I’ll go back to talking about books now. Thanks for indulging me.

9 comments to “A First in the Eternal Book-vs.-Movie Battle”

  1. interesting…now i’m trying to think of movies that were better than the books. i’m sure there are more….


  2. like i said, i don’t think it’s ever happened to me before. but there have been a very few movies that i thought came close to being as good as the book, like “fight club,” “to kill a mockingbird” and “harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban.”

  3. goooodness. The only time that’s happened to me is with the Hairy Puddle franchise… Some phenomenal filming, CGI, and (adult) acting, I thought. Alan Rickman and co brought such depth to such very shallow, poorly written roles!
    I’ll be very interested to see Shopgirl, now :> thanks!

  4. okay, since you mentioned it, eisha, two other movies i think come very close to being as good as the book — or at least do a fine, fine job of capturing the spirit of the books: ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘The End of the Affair’ (the ’99 one with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore — not the 1955 one, which I’ve never seen). now i wanna read ‘the end of the affair’ again. ooooooh, such a good story…. you were all apologetic for this not being a review, but i love the thread! — jules

  5. ooh, yeah, “the princess bride” was awesome! i haven’t read “end of the affair” but the movie was interesting…

    and sesq, yeah, i hear you on the h.p. films. ms. rowling has created an amazing world that i just love to visit, but she’s in desperate need of a serious editor, or maybe for warner bros. to get off her back about finishing the series before daniel radcliffe turns 30. the film adaptations do have all the great qualities you mention, plus the bonus of trimming down all j.k.’s subplots and secondary characters to fit into a film’s timeframe. but sometimes in doing so they end up feeling rushed, and i think non-readers come away confused (at least, my husband, who hasn’t read the books, always has a few questions after we see one of the movies). but oh, how i loved “prisoner of azkaban.” the addition of gary oldman and david thewlis, and the gorgeous cinematography, and the direction – even the kids were good!

  6. The movie I found better than the book-and so far it’s been the only exception I’ve seen–is 84 Charing Cross Road (w/ Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, 1985, I think). The book was a series of letters between Helene Hanff and a bookseller in England and was as dry as one of the rare Latin bibles the Limey bookseller was pushing. But the film was so full of passion, (for books), and friendship and heartbreak–I won’t tell you why, though you might guess–that it leaves the book in the remaindered section of the store (or in storage for us library types).

  7. huh… i have a very dim memory… i think i maybe read that. or at least shelved it once. thanks for the info on the film, though!

  8. i’ve got that book and like it. i’m a big ‘ol nerd. — jules

  9. “Election” with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon brings the Tom Perrotta book alive. Not a great read.

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