The Shining, horror, movie, film, Kubrick, Stephen King

Page vs Screen: Which Did It Better? (part 1)

Though it certainly feels like a modern trope to base every new movie on a book or some other original source, it’s actually a practice dating back to the birth of cinema (you know, before Hollywood completely ran out of ideas). Technically the earliest adaptation can be found all the way back in 1899, when magician/avante-garde filmmaker George Méliès made a version of Cinderella filled with his usual cutting tricks and pioneering special effects. Since then, filmmakers have been pillaging the literary world for new material they can turn into classic movies, and the results have often been surprising. Blade Runner, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Godfather, Mrs. Doubtfire, Die Hard, Forrest Gump, Slumdog Millionaire, Jaws and Psycho are all based on novels, to name a few.

Such extensive reinterpretation for the visual medium has led to that perennial argument over books vs movies. Like that of cats and dogs, people tend to pick their favourite and remain staunch – though honestly I’ve never found it possible to be just one or the other. Considering my current endeavors in screenwriting and running this site, you could say I’m technically a movie person, but that doesn’t mean I can always say movies are better. Quite often, actually, that’s far from the case.

It’s by examining on an individual basis a particular book and movie that can determine which is better – and that’s why I decided to write this little series of head-to-heads. So, without further ado, here’s Part 1 of Page vs Screen.

The Shining

Stephen King’s novel is far richer and in many ways more fulfilling than the film, and it’s perfectly understandable why the author famously isn’t a fan of Kubrick’s interpretation. The novel is a labyrinth of nuanced scares and layered characters, while the film arguably fails to understand what the book is actually about, choosing, for example, to portray Jack as an insane person who hates his family from the very start (as opposed to King’s gradual and elegantly depicted descent into madness). That’s what it ultimately comes down to; in the film, Jack is the villain from the outset, whereas in the novel it’s the Overlook Hotel itself, haunting Jack into submitting to his alcoholism and regurgitating the past, which leads to turning on his loved ones.

That being said, I still love the film for what it is. As an entirely separate entity, Kubrick’s The Shining is an undisputed masterpiece of horror cinema – but it must be viewed with its source material tucked firmly away in the back of the mind for two hours, otherwise it begins to look startlingly thin.

Winner: TIE

The Shining, horror, movie, film, Kubrick, Stephen King

2001: A Space Odyssey

Kubrick’s 2001, however, isn’t a masterpiece. Though widely regarded as such, and often as the greatest science fiction film ever made, I actually find it to be a remarkably cold film. While undeniably grand and operatic and impressive in a sensory way, it’s emotionally distant, and for that reason I find the book a far more rewarding experience. It deftly captures the conflicting thoughts and emotions of Bowman throughout his journey; the crushing isolation of his situation is at once haunting and visceral, and the wonder of the interstellar universe is skillfully carved in perpetually surprising and awe-inspiring words. Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark conceived the idea together and wrote the film and book in conjunction, but for me, Clark’s work came out well on top.

Winner: BOOK

Under The Skin

With the exception of maybe World War Z, you’re unlikely to find a more disparate interpretation of a novel in the entire history of cinema. I was initially reluctant to read it because I’d been left so utterly disillusioned by the film, which I found to be mind-numbingly abstract, cold and pretentious (I really didn’t understand the love it received). It was my girlfriend who eventually urged me to do it, and I’m so glad she did. Where the film is cold, the book is emotionally engaging. Where the film wanders aimlessly without a plot, the book has a really interesting central character with a motive. Where the film is about nothing, the book is about something.

Winner: BOOK

The Hobbit

What needs to be said about The Hobbit films has probably been said – they weren’t great, and there didn’t need to be three of them. I still hold a soft spot for An Unexpected Journey, which I felt was the one film out of the trilogy which at least remained close to the source text and tried to be a Hobbit film. But by the time The Desolation Of Smaug came along, Peter Jackson had veered off into his own desperate-to-replicate LOTR territory of unnecessary characters, time-wasting side quests and a general machete-ing of the novel.

He turned 293 pages of text into 474 minutes of screen time (542 in the extended editions), yet still had no time for all of it because he was more interested in including annoying love triangles with the hot dwarf and the entirely made up hot elf. To be honest, I find the most damning indictment of the trilogy can be found within a simple question: by the end of the third film, how many of the dwarves can you name?

I suspect The Lord Of The Rings films would win, but to my shame I’ve never read the books.

Winner: BOOK

The Hobbit, Martin Freeman, Peter Jackson, The Lord Of The Rings

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Call me tasteless. I enjoy David Fincher’s version more than the (admittedly very good) Swedish original, and I enjoy it more than the (admittedly very good) novel by Steig Larsson. I’ll admit that it’s partly down to Daniel Craig’s excellent winter wardrobe, but mostly it’s to do with how deliciously sleek this version is. While very similar to Niels Arden Oplev’s original in terms of which beats it hits, Fincher’s version is so polished and fine-tuned that it just can’t help but be a more enjoyable watch. This is also why Larsson’s novel, despite being a thumpingly good read, just misses out.

Winner: FILM


Part 2