Wednesday, October 29, 2008

See the Movie First

This fall, I've seen two movies that couldn't possibly live up to the books, City of Ember and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

To use Eleanor's word, City of Ember is "cheesy." There was no reason to add huge, bloodthirsty animals except that it added some excitement to the movie. If you like that sort of thing.

There was definitely no reason to follow Norah's friend Caroline throughout the movie version of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist when she's out of the picture fairly quickly in the book, particularly as it led to one of my all-time least favorite scenes in a movie ever--the close-up vomit scene.

Luckily, I saw the Nick and Norah movie before I read the book, and that's the way to do it, if you want to enjoy the movie. (Isn't that pretty much the rule with all movies--are there any movies that are actually better than the book?)

The book is wonderful! It alternates chapters between Nick, written by David Levithan, and Norah, written by Rachel Cohn. Early on in the evening, Nick is trying to talk to Norah about where they could go next, and the conversation culminates in this exchange:
"Know any other bands playing?"
Tumbleweed blowing down the armrest between us.
"Wanna watch some nuns make out?"
Am I even speaking out loud?
"Maybe see if E.T. is up for a threeway?"
This time she looks at me. And if she isn't exactly smiling, at least I think I see the potential for a smile there.
"No," she says. "I'd much rather watch some nuns make out."

Later Norah refers back to the E.T. proposition in a charming way that makes you realize that she was, in fact, paying very close attention to everything Nick has said the entire evening. I also enjoyed the movie quotations they each throw out, to see if the other one recognizes them, especially this one of Norah's:
I stand up from the table and wiggle my index finger at Nick. He'll never get it, but I borrow from Heathers as I leave him to follow Tris. "A true friend's work is never done," I singsong.
"Bulemia is so '87, Heather," he answers.

There are several almost-sex scenes, including one from Norah's perspective, against an ice machine in a hotel, where they're discovered by an elderly couple and Nick says:
"would you be a dear and shut the light off again on your way back out?" and then the elderly woman says "Oh my"...but bless her heart, she does flick the light switch back off, but not before shooting me one parting look, and I swear in that last lingering second, I see that she recognizes my hunger because she's felt it at some point in her life, too, and she winks at me before they're gone....
I also like it that they don't end up having sex on this particular night, and that Norah says "I want him so very much, but it's too soon. I have to figure, with this many stops and starts, surely this train will pull out of the station eventually. What's the big fucking rush?"

The way the novel gets its title is also a nice part of the story, and Nick tells it. He's been writing a song for Norah, and says "I shouldn't want the song to end. I always think of each night as a song. Or each moment as a song. But now I'm seeing we don't live in a single song. We move from song to song, from lyric to lyric, from chord to chord. There is no ending here. It's an infinite playlist."

Many of us have songs that we associate with certain periods in our lives. Sometimes there's an interesting overlay, like how the music I was listening to in the car with Walker this summer--the soundtrack from Mama Mia--made me remember dancing to ABBA's "Dancing Queen" the year I was seventeen and also made me think of last winter, when I adopted the Scissor Sisters' "I don't feel like dancing" as my theme song during my recuperation from knee replacement.

So, two questions for you, dear reader. Is there a movie that's better than the book? And is there a song or musical theme you associate with a certain period in your life?


Libby said...

I saw the movie (N&N) first, too, and I'm glad I did, as I found it almost charming. But the book is much, much better and I would certainly have been disappointed in the film had I gone in expecting something that good.

It's heresy to say it, but I like the movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe better than the book. And the movie The Princess Bride is different from, but I think in many ways as good as, that original novel.

The music question could take me all day, so I'll just stop here and note that anything from REM's Life's Rich Pageant takes me instantly back to my second year in graduate school.

cschu said...

I think that there are a few (very few) movies that are better than the book they are based on. The most recent example is "The Prestige." I think that the book tried some plot complexities that just didn't come together. They fixed them in the movie.

I do have songs that remind me of specific times in my life. The weirdest one is that the instrumental "popcorn" reminds me of middle school. There are others. Lots of others. Gotta run to get your daughter for play rehearsal.

Joe said...

I'm with Libby - comparing the book and movie of The Princess Bride is a little like comparing a perfect crabcake with a perfect New York strip steak. I can't say which is "better" without talking about what kind of mood I'm in.

Similarly, Hunt for Red October is differently good on screen than on the page. I think this might be its own category in some neat way.

Shane and To Kill a Mockingbird are darned close. I think those films are so good that they make the books better.

Heh (looking at my rankings on Movielens) - Rising Sun is a _much_ better movie than book. Then again, Plan 9 From Outer Space is a better movie than Rising Sun is a book.

I almost feel that way about Dune... the movie is really awful, but it is mercifully shorter.

Jeanne said...

Oh yes, all good movies. The Prestige also makes me think of The Firm, because the reason the movie is better is that they fixed the ending.

I am curmudgeonly about The Princess Bride and To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved the books for too long before I saw the movies. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird only a couple of years ago, and under protest. But I do have to admit that The Princess Bride has its moments. I never imagine battle scenes in enough complexity, and the sword fight is so much better on film than in my head.

Ron Griggs said...

The Wizard of Oz is a better movie than a book, and I like the book.

It's a Wonderful Life is based on a sci-fi short story that I've read, and the movie is much better than the story.

Amanda said...

So I am way, way, way late to the comment party here, but since I've now read this review, let me answer the question:

Is there any movie better than the book? Oh yes: The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Crap book. Oh god. I'd seen the movie and loved it to death (it still is my favorite movie of all time) and what was more natural than to think, "The book will be 100 times better." And then I read it. Major disappointment. Terribly written, pretentious and false, ridiculously melodramatic, puke. I'm sure I felt more strongly about it because of my love of the movie, but even if I hadn't seen the movie, I would have though, "wow, this is a really good idea with extremely bad execution" and then lumped Cunningham in with the Dan Browns of the world.

that's the only one I can think of though. ;P

Jeanne said...

Hmm, I read the book about six years ago and still haven't seen the movie of The Hours. Guess it's going on my Netflix list!

Jeanne said...

The Hours is an interesting movie, because it condenses and highlights the importance of some of the relationships from the book. I'm glad I watched it, but don't know if I'd go so far as to say I think it's a good movie. Both the book and the movie meander a bit too much for my taste.