Rarely is there a case where a movie actually is close to a book, let alone spot-on perfect. However, I have been surprised to find several examples, usually involving short stories and short novels…usually mysteries.
It all began with The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I decided to read the book after having watched three different movie adaptations of his book and was a little intrigued to discover how close the book was to the final 1941 movie with Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. As I wrote previously, at times, it was like the book was the screenplay for the movie.
Of course, I don’t think the movie is too close to the book (though the parts that were close were less interesting to read then the new stuff that didn’t make it into the movie), but it reminded me of a similar experience. I love the 2001-2002 TV series Nero Wolfe with Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton, which are based on various short stories and novels by Rex Stout. Like Hammett, Stout writes detective fiction and when I tried to read the book, Over My Dead Body, I was amazed at how close it was to the two-part episode of the same name from season 1. In fact, it was exactly the same. It was so close that I got bored reading the book. There was nothing new, no surprises, no clarification of points or expansion of motives or characters. Once again, it was a bit like reading the screenplay.
And another example, only in reverse, involving another sleuth: Sherlock Holmes. When I finished reading Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I found Jeremy Brett’s episode on youtube of one of the short stories “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” It was exactly like the story I had just read – word for word. Nothing new, no surprises. Of course, in this instance I had read the book before seeing the movie, so I prefer the book to the movie as opposed to the other way around.
Perhaps this problem of movies being too close to books can only happen when the movie is based on a book that is a hard-core example of the dictum “show, don’t tell.” If all a book does is show, then the movie can follow it fairly closely. If there are lots of thoughts and emotions given the reader, or facts or the narrative provides information not directly seen, then the book has gone somewhere a movie cannot follow. This is also probably why mystery novels are so often the kinds of stories that are done accurately. Mysteries are not usually that long and cannot afford to betray character’s thoughts too much.
So, my question is: is it possible for a movie or TV show to be too close to the book that one or the other becomes obsolete or is that merely my own pet bugaboo? Are there people who like their movies to be exactly like the book, only on screen? Is it fun to watch something come alive in precisely the manner in which it was told or is it a little boring and you wish the director and writer would bring something new to it? I appeal to my readers. I would love to know what people think.