Once we’ve read a good book, we tend to look forward to a movie version. And we often are disappointed. How often does the movie measure up to the book?
I once taught an agricultural ethics course at the University of Illinois that originated at Texas A&M and was broadcast via satellite television to our campus and a few others, with live interaction among all the locations. The instructor did something I’d always wanted to do: He based the class on Steinbeck’s marvelous novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
Students were required to read the book, and we also viewed the movie. The book is still my favorite American novel and I still enjoy the movie—ancient as it is. A young Henry Fonda as Tom Joad was a great bit of casting.
Unfortunately, the movie makers copped out completely on Steinbeck’s hard ending. I suppose they felt it was a bit too strong for the silver screen. Instead, they offered an upbeat conclusion with Ma Joad proclaiming that “the people” will come out on top in the end. Steinbeck showed no such optimism.
There are good examples, also. I always called on my journalism students to study “All the President’s Men.” Either the book or the movie would do, because the movie was true to the book. And an even better example, one of my all-time favorite movies, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I loved the book so much that I waited in horror for the movie, expecting it to fall far short. It did not.
And although I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, I understand that the screen version of “The Bridges of Madison County” actually improved significantly on the book.
There are many other examples, more recent, both good and bad screenplays from both novels and non-fiction books. I suspect you have your own favorites.
So here’s what I’ve been wondering: Which of my four novels would make the best movie? I’ll give this some thought. See my next post to find out what I decided.