Before the movie, there was a book. Or, after the movie there was a novelization. Books and movies often tell the same tales. There are die-hard fans in favor of each, but I say why make a choice? Both are ways that people enjoy experiencing a wonderful story. I only describe the books, but with most of these examples, it is great fun to read the book AND watch the movie, to see how the stories change when told through different media.
Movie: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” September 18, 2009
The book takes place in a far away land out of a Grandfather’s bedtime story. Chewandswallow is a town like every other, except for the fact that the weather feeds the town three times per day. None of the restaurants have roofs, so the diners can catch their meals as they fall from the sky. One day, the “normal” weather turns wacky. The food turns nasty (try overcooked broccoli for every meal) and then becomes dangerous (huge donuts falling and crushing buildings). The townspeople must decide whether to abandon their city entirely or be overrun with too much food.
Movie: Disney’s “Tangled” November 24, 2010
Fairy tales are always worth a read “in the original”. Often the stories are changed so dramatically that it’s like reading a completely different tale. Take Rapunzel – although Disney’s “Tangled” was awfully cute, pretty much the only thing the stories have in common is a girl kept in a tower with insanely long hair. To read the traditional tale, you might try the beautifully illustrated books by Paul O. Zelinsky or Sarah Gibb.
Movie: “Because of Winn-Dixie” February 18, 2005
10-year-old India Opal has just moved to a brand new town with her father. Soon after her arrival, she adopts a huge, ugly, but utterly loveable dog she christens Winn-Dixie. It is through Winn-Dixie that good things start to happen for Opal. She makes friends with an eccentric cast of characters and slowly comes to terms with her mother’s abandonment years earlier.
Movie: “Hugo” November 23, 2011
Don’t be intimidated by the sheer size of this book. Because of the whopping 533 pages, Selznick is able to insert hundreds of beautifully illustrated pictures into the story. The charcoal drawings are incredibly detailed and zoom in and out much like a movie camera would. The orphaned twelve-year-old Hugo is scraping by in a train station, repairing clocks to make a meager living. When Hugo discovers a strange clockwork device, his life changes dramatically as he becomes obsessed with getting the little machine to function.
Movie: “Howl’s Moving Castle” November 20, 2004
This is another case where the book and movie differ in everything but the bare bones of the story. The plain, unassuming Sophie works in her family’s shop. As an eldest sister, she is resigned to an uninteresting fate. However, that is before the Witch of the Waste decides to take care of female competition in the area and turns Sophie into an old woman. In her new form, Sophie takes refuge in the moving castle of the dread Wizard Howl and begins to develop magical powers.
Movie: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” October 8, 2010
Craig Gilner, a teen living in New York City, voluntarily enters himself into a psychiatric ward after a frighteningly close brush with suicide. During his five day stint in the hospital, Craig meets an eccentric cast of characters as he wrestles with his depression. In addition to coming to terms with his depression and eating disorder, Craig also struggles with sexual experimentation, friendships and his own future.
Movie: “The Three Musketeers” October 21, 2011
Three fantastic swordsmen (Porthos, Athos and Aramis) who are loyal to the King of France face off against the scheming, evil Cardinal Richelieu with their protégé D’Artagnan. This book is a swashbuckling tale of high adventure with intrigue, romance and dozens of sword fights. Readers should be aware that while this book is a classic, it is also quite lengthy and can be slow in areas.
Movie: “Fat Kid Rules the World” 2012
Troy Billings is utterly convinced that he will never be cool. At 296 pounds, the 17-year-old is preparing to throw himself in front of a subway train when he is ‘saved’ by the high school’s resident punk-rock star Curt MacCrae. Curt offers Troy a place in his band as the drummer and hilarious adventures ensue. Troy speaks to the awkward, out of place person in all of us as he quests for acceptance.
Movie: “Dolphin Tale” September 23, 2011
This picture book follows the extraordinary story of Winter the dolphin. As a baby, Winter became hopelessly entangled in a crab net. After a dramatic rescue, the dolphin sadly lost her tail to a terrible infection. Conservationists in Florida managed to fit Winter with a prosthetic tail and taught her to swim with it. With great photographs and a theme of overcoming adversity, this picture book is sure to be an inspirational read.
Movie: “127 Hours” January 28, 2011
This is the incredible true story of Aron Ralston, who was trapped for six days between a boulder and a canyon wall while on a hike through the Utah Canyons. As people who have watched the movie know, Ralston had to amputate his own arm in order to escape his terrible predicament. Even though the circumstances of this book are brutal, Ralston’s prose is not overly gruesome. Instead, the reader is filled with the author’s joy in survival and awe at his ability to carry on.
Movie: “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” November 21, 1997
Esquire writer John Berendt pens a true crime classic that is as much about the city of Savannah and the characters that live there as it is about a single crime. A rich antiques dealer named Jim Williams is accused of shooting a 21-year-old ne’er-do-well named Danny Handsford. This book is a slow, savory appreciation of Southern culture and one magnificent city. One of the characters from the book makes an appearance in the movie, playing themselves with panache and flair.
Movie: “The Rite” January 28, 2011
In this fascinating examination of the rite of exorcism, a journalist follows a Catholic priest through the latter’s training and apprenticeship to become an exorcist. Baglio does dispel a few myths about exorcism during the course of the book. Readers can examine the line between faith and mysticism with this intimate look at an interesting topic.
Book: Jaws by Peter Benchley
Movie: “Jaws” June 20, 1975
This suspenseful thriller has just as much “bite” as the movie. Small town police chief Martin Brody is the only person at a popular seaside tourist destination who takes the reports of a killer shark seriously. As the body count and the hysteria rises, Brody, shark-hunter Quint and ocean scientist Matt Hooper must find a way to kill the deep sea monster...before it gets them. Beware, none of the characters are very appealing and you may be pulling for the shark to eat them all before the book is through.
Movie: “Chocolat” January 5, 2001
Vianne and her 6-year-old daughter Anouk arrive in the tiny French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. Soon after her arrival, Vianne creates a stir when she opens a luxurious and decadent chocolate shop during the season of Lent. This puts her at odds with the strict local priest, Father Reynaud. The book is both more sensual and a bit darker than the movie, but this simply makes the tempting novel that much more rich of a read.
Movie: “Girl with a Pearl Earring” January 9, 2004
The author of this book writes the fictitious story behind Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, following the life of the anonymous model. In Chevalier’s tale she is 16-year-old Griet, a servant who has just been hired to work for the Vermeer household. Chevalier writes as one would imagine Vermeer painted – with exquisite attention to detail and nuance.
Movie: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” November 18, 2011 (New version!)
George Smiley believes he has fully retired from the British secret service. That is until his superiors contact him with an astonishing proposal. There is a Soviet spy high in the ranks of the intelligence agency. Smiley must use his formidable analytic skills one more time to unmask the mole and help the British MI6 ‘clean house’. A spy thriller of the highest order, Le Carré will keep readers guessing along with Smiley until the very end.