Clappin’ the Book Slappers

If you have this thing called the interweb, you may have been exposed to virulent contagions known as “memes.” To date, the CDC has no known procedure for handling exposure to these infectious buggers, but one particular strain is on my mind.

Book slappers.

Yes, book slappers. The fictitious job in which a literary snob would strike a movie director with a printed novel, or perhaps a very durable e-reader, for the audacity of possessing creativity. As if movie studios exist for the express purpose of selling novels. Because many claim “the book is always better than the movie.”

Is it really? Are books always better than movies? Or are we justifying the many hours a novel requires against the runtime of a full-length film? Not unlike how we merely think expensive wines taste better?

Hahahahahah… I wonder how many of you actually considered that before.

I too used to think that the book always outshone the original source material. Until I became familiar with Director Zack Snyder. A promising creator, I enjoyed his re-envisioned Dawn of the Dead, as well as the shock-and-awe of 300. (I hadn’t read Frank Miller’s work at the time, but honestly I’d say they’re a tie for quality.) Yet in 2009, Snyder brought the “unfilmable” graphic novel to theaters with Watchmen, which I read in preparation.

That movie was the tipping point. Snyder’s promise as a director dimmed, but he also proved something. He was faithful to Alan Moore’s masterpiece, shockingly so. Even the single, major plot point he had changed (no spoilers) only served to better arrive at the desired ending.

A perfect adaption… and yet, the film was still flawed.

My perspective shifted after that. It was shockingly simple, like realizing a spent hourglass only awaits to chronicle the next hour if you turn yourself upside down. Why would we watch a movie only to be told the exact same story? There’s no need, and no point. We have the book. What is the value of an aesthetic echo? Should movies be nothing more than derivative work, treated as though they cannot transcend the source material?

I began a period of artistic retrospection, realizing the old motto wasn’t always true. There are films that triumph over their literary counterparts.

In college, I read Fight Club long after the watching the movie. Both are excellent, but there were bits of cleverness conveyed in David Fincher’s adaption that proved superior to Palahniuk’s take. Even the author himself said he felt “sort of embarrassed” of the book, although that’s not to say it wasn’t a great read. Which it was.

The Princess Bride is another example. The novel revolves around a busy father who tries to get a copy of a beloved book for his son, only to discover that his own father made up the tale from a boring source. So, our patriarch decides to write the story as it was told. This approach is fun given its “adult problems” angle, yet the movie chose to focus on a relationship between a child and his grandfather. It still maintained the curmudgeonly commentary, but never risked losing sight of its intended audience.

These films are examples of when directors are seeking ways not just to transform but enhance the experience. Other films took entirely new directions, creating appetites for the material that may never have existed. To be fair, this approach is questionable because it can really twist what the author intended.

Take Starship Troopers for example. Those who love the book are within their rights to hate Paul Verhoeven’s adaption. The former shines a positive light on militarism, while the latter is aware of its own fascist themes. The crazy thing is, both have had an impact on culture. The book gave us the inspiration for space marines and power armor, and inspired Tomino Yoshiyuki’s famous show, Mobile Suit Gundam. (For further proof, read the introduction of Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation.) Yet the movie has its own cultish fanbase, and its satirical observations of the military-industrial complex that have withstood the test of time.

For further examples, here’s a quick rundown.

Finally, there are scenes that would give even the most audacious book slappers contemplative pause. The dark comedy American Psycho, an adaption of Bret Easton Ellis’ unapologetically sadistic novel, decided not to include the disgusting rat scene. I also doubt that visuals for the children’s orgy in It would be well received.

The dirty little secret is that writers hack our audience’s minds, turning their imaginations into personal studios. We convince them that they are the director, and that we are producers with unlimited funding. Perhaps the readers cannot alter the script, but they are firmly within their power to handle the unmentioned details. The aesthetic, that lingering questions that aren’t answered.

While this flight of fancy is a lot of fun, it can sometimes create hubris. Many “book slappers” have yet to realize that even a perfect adaption does not make a perfect movie.

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