Page vs Screen: Which Did It Better? (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of my Page vs Screen series. It’s already pretty apparent which side is going to win, but don’t let that spoil the fun…

Find part 1 here.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

It’s a real shame that the filmmakers decided to ditch everything interesting about Oscar Wilde’s classic Gothic chiller in order to appeal to a young, sex-obsessed audience with short attention spans. Among other things, the book is an elegant, philosophical, subversive and nuanced piece of work with interesting and flawed characters who talk to one another and reveal truths about the world. The horror of it is creeping and gradual; Wilde doesn’t overtly plunge the reader into terror but makes them aware of something lingering in the background.

The film, meanwhile, is about Jordan Belfort in the 1800s; a playboy drug addict who comes off as desperately annoying and unlikable from the very first frame, while occasionally checking on his moaning, maggot-spewing painting that’s actually the integral part of the story but is treated on screen like a hokey monster afterthought. Come on people, seriously? Why does the poster have to snarl and make squelchy noises? It’s so naff and cloying, and it defeats everything that’s unsettling about the novel. What a waste of good material.

Colin Firth is admittedly very good as Sir Henry, but he’s about the only thing holding it together.

Winner: BOOK


IT

IT is definitely one of my favourite ever reads, as well as being (in my humble opinion) Stephen King’s most accomplished piece of work to date. Though not for everyone, it can pretty much take its pick of superlatives. Epic in every sense of the word, it’s a chilling, heart-warming, surprising, funny, disturbing, weird, emotional and breathtaking piece of fiction which explores heavy themes like the loss of childhood and confronting our greatest fears. Delving into a 1,300 page book is always going to be a daunting task, of course, but King has us utterly hooked from page 1. The reason he’s my favourite author is that seemingly effortless ability to sweep the reader along with just a few sentences; I’m sure it’s not effortless, but he certainly makes it look so. I think what gives the work such life and magnetism is a genuine love of the craft permeating under every word, and nowhere is that skill more clearly realized than in IT.

While the miniseries has its share of love from the generation who first watched it, I felt the real problem (besides the terrible acting) was that it completely failed to interpret the text – as in, what the story’s actually about rather than just how the plot plays out. There’s always going to be elements lost from page to screen (particularly with a book this length), but this was literally a case of getting from point A to point B without any of the nuance, subtext or atmosphere which makes King’s book so endearing.

That being said, Tim Curry is magnificent as Pennywise. While I’m pretty certain that Andy Muschetti’s remake will be a much better film, I’m less convinced Peter Skarsgard will better Curry’s work as the demonic clown. Although to compare the two may end up being trivial as he appears to be going for an entirely different take on the monster.

Winner: BOOK


Dawn Of The Dead

A less common example, this, of a novelization of a film. Let me tell you right now: it doesn’t work. While you could argue that book to film adaptations don’t always work either (as this little series is already revealing), there’s at least more of a reason for it to happen. A filmmaker adapting a book for the screen is using the senses of sight and sound to create an entirely new experience, while a novelization is stuck either blandly copying the plot movements, or filling in gaps that don’t need to be filled.

A more skilled writer may be able to bring something interesting to the page, but Susan Sparrow’s version of Dawn Of The Dead is an embarrassing dud. The writing is abrasive and amateurish rather than its clear desperation to be stylish and edgy, with over description and constant superfluous tangents that serve no real value to the story. I’ll be honest: it was so rubbish I couldn’t even finish it.

Winner: FILM


I Am Legend

Perhaps you remember this Will Smith vehicle from 2007. It was okay. At the time, certainly, I rather enjoyed it, but my 16-year-old brain was more interested in the stuff about killing vampires in the apocalypse than the clear failings of the rest of the film. There are some really good things in it – the dog scene is devastating, and Smith carries the film with an emotional depth that he probably hasn’t matched since – but in terms of how well it interprets Richard Matheson’s superb novel, it’s quite a let-down.

The ending is the most egregious difference, which was changed from what’s in the book to something a bit more Hollywood (it’s worth seeking out the alternate ending which makes far more sense), but even the simple stuff like incredibly poor CGI let the film down considerably.

Winner: BOOK


Game Of Thrones

To be completely honest, I’ve sort of, almost, just about lost interest in reading these books. And that’s not a dig at how long it’s taken George R. R. Martin to write them, I just feel like after five years (since A Dance With Dragons) I’ve lost my emotional investment, and now that the show has overtaken it and diverged paths, I struggle to see much point in reading about characters who ultimately won’t have much impact on the finale. Unless the book finale and the show finale differ drastically, but that’s extremely doubtful. And yet, up to this point the books have been tremendous. Martin paints his world in such vivid colours, layering it with rich characters and history that’s so fascinating you’ll almost believe it was real, and instills a greater sense of excited nervousness in the reader with each passing page – there are few things quite as disturbing and mind-blowing as reading the infamous Red Wedding for the first time.

In terms of HBO’s show, I’m now enjoying it in a way that I hadn’t been able to until this point. For a few seasons it was just a case of waiting for things to happen – still a hugely enjoyable show, but it lacked that element of mystery which season 6 yielded, having motored past every plot line Martin has so far reached.

If pushed I’d have to choose the books, but ultimately I think both do their jobs as well as they can.

Winner: TIE


– Stay tuned for part 3 –

Page vs Screen Part 1