This year’s Oscar nominations are full of movies that started their lives as books. With so many adaptations being made, it gets a bit overwhelming to attempt to read everything first. There are so many questions. Is the movie any good? Does it ruin the book if I saw the movie first? Is the book worth reading if I already saw the movie?
Lucky for you, I’m here doing the dirty work of flippingthrough pages and munching popcorn to give you my honest feedback. I’ll compare the two and let you know how crucial the order is to give you the best experience with the story.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, film nominated for Best Actress ♦
Considerations: First thing this movie has going for it is that Flynn wrote the screenplay. I think films are almost always better when the author is able to adapt their own work. It also makes it feel less of a betrayal when things are different than the book, because the initial creator was still in control. I don’t have to feel defensive on their behalf. I will say, though, that the violence was a lot harder for me to handle on screen than reading it on the page.
Verdict: Read it and then see it. Both are excellent, but I find the way the plot unfolds more shocking as a reader and ultimately more satisfying than on screen. Reading it after watching is less fun since you already know the twists and turns.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed, film nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress ♦
The story isn’t full of shocking twists and turns or big events that can be spoiled. It really is about the journey, not the destination.
If you loved the movie, pick up the book. Since it’s a memoir, the firsthand account is much deeper and layered than the film. There’s a richness to the prose and emotion that just can’t be duplicated onscreen.
For book lovers, the movie has a lot of value to add to the story. First, Reese Witherspoon does an amazing job as Cheryl Strayed. Some of the pre-hike stories are embellished on screen to drive home Cheryl’s need to rediscover who she is. Also, the visual impact of the stark landscape and varied conditions brought something to the story I missed while reading. I unintentionally pictured Cheryl hiking through the Ozark Mountains or the Foothills because of my experience in Arkansas and Colorado. The shots of Cheryl’s tent on the trail in the desert altered my understanding of the book in a way that made me appreciate her journey and isolation even more.
Verdict: Fine either way.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, film nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing ♦
This book is incredibly complex. If you’ve read Seabiscuit, you already know how much of Hillenbrand’s talent lies in her ability to weave dense historical information into a captivating narrative. There is so much detail about American life, the Olympics, and how unprepared the USA was to enter WWII in the novel.
Louis Zamperini’s story is also much richer than what the film has time to portray. I think Angelina Jolie did a fine job adapting the story, but a life as complex as Louis’ is simply too vast to simplify into one movie. Each piece of his story went by far too quickly in the film, but at 2 hours 17 minutes, it was long enough that I don’t see how she could have given more screen time to any season of his life. The film ends with Louis’ return home. The arc of the book, though, is entirely different. Louis’ struggle with PTSD, his marriage, and faith are huge pieces of the book and his life. Hillenbrand’s discussion of how hard it is for Loius to return to civilian life was the most compelling part of the story. By ending the film where it did, I feel Jolie lost the most emotional pieces. His recovery and ultimate redemption offered resolution and hope to the brutality he endured throughout the first half of the novel.
Verdict: Read it. Though the movie wasn’t bad, I could ultimately take it or leave it. If you’ve already seen it, go read the book anyway. There’s so much more to the story that the film doesn’t have time to tell.
I just finished another Oscar adaptation, Still Alice by Julie Genova. I haven’t yet seen the film, but Julianne Moore is up for Best Actress for the film and already won the Golden Globe. I cried repeatedly while reading the book, and I can’t wait to see the movie. I’ll update the blog once I see the film.
In addition to these four, there are three other book-to-film adaptions I haven’t seen or read: Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges inspired The Imitation Game (8 nominations), Traveling to Infinity by Jane Hawking inspired The Theory of Everything (5 nominations) and American Sniper by Chris Kyle (6 nominations). Have you read any of the other nominees? How do the books and movies measure up?