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Movies from Books (and vice versa)

June 23, 2008

Over the weekend I watched two movies that were either based on or the basis for last week’s audiobook listening.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Read my review of the book

Amazon: Book | Movie

Studio Ghibli movies have been a mixed bag for me in the past. I loved Spirited Away, didn’t much care for Princess Mononoke, and the first time I saw Howl’s Moving Castle (a few years ago), I thought it was okay, if somewhat incomprehensible. Most of Miyazaki’s movies are to some degree incomprehensible, and I usually just write off elements that I don’t understand as being due to cultural differences. Anyways, watching it again after listening to the book helped a lot. Some of the things that I had found totally opaque the first time through made a lot more sense after having read the book (Howl’s green slime episode when he’s sulking about his hair is actually in the book; I’d just figured that was some Japanese weirdness I didn’t get). On the other hand, other parts that mystified me the first time remained mysterious, because they were changes from the book – the entire “war” subplot was added for the movie, so the weird little birds/bombs/magicians/monsters are still a bizarre and creepy little mystery to me.

I’m not going to go through a point-by-point analysis of how the movie and the book are different; the war bit is not in the book, and I missed Howl’s womanizing and the bit about Wales… I can see why they were cut, but I thought both of those were bits that made the book fun, and put the rest of the plot into a different light – so the movie winds up a lot more serious than the book, I think.

One more thing that I think helped this time around was that I watched it in English instead of in Japanese with the subtitles (I can watch movies and knit at the same time, but not if I have to read subtitles, and I’m nearing the end of an afghan and wanted to work on it.) I almost never watch re-dubbed versions, but in this case I think it actually helped. The world of the story is based (and drawn) in a European setting, and maybe watching it in English helped ease some of the discordance I noticed the first time I watched it (in Japanese). The voice acting was great – Billy Crystal was a great choice for Calcifer – although Christian Bale’s voice was a little too deep and gruff for as feminine as Howl was sometimes drawn.

Overall: I understand the movie better for having read the book, and vice versa. If you like one, I think it’s worth checking out the other.

MirrorMask

Read my review of the book

Amazon: Book | Movie

Okay, so, I screwed this one up. Netflix recommended this one to me, I saw the words “Neil Gaiman” and immediately thought “Not until I read the book!” Turns out that this was actually a movie first, and the book that I was so anxious to read first was actually a novelization (the horror!). And, maybe unsurprisingly, it works a lot better as a movie. The audiobook (read by the actress who plays the main character in the movie) is actually shorter than the movie on which it’s based, and when you’ve got a movie heavily based on visuals, you can see how some degree of comprehensibility would be lost when it’s translated to words.

But, even though the movie makes more sense than the book, it’s still not something I would really recommend. The one time I did NaNoWriMo (four years ago? five? Yeesh.), I remember reading a discussion on the forums about dream sequences – how if you needed to pad your word count, just add in another dream! The problem is that, much like in real life, nobody really wants to hear about that crazy dream you (or your characters) had last night. (For the record, I only used one dream sequence in my NaNoWriMo book, and I kept it short – maybe 800 words, at most.) In any case, since MirrorMask is nothing *but* dream sequence, it gets old pretty quickly. The phrase “pointless imagination” springs to mind – everything is very, very pretty, and very, very imaginative, but it’s not really in service of anything. “Hey, there’s two stone giants floating over a giant field of spiral staircases! Cool, and pretty, huh? Why, you ask? Don’t ask pesky questions! Look at the pretty!” The entire movie’s like that, and it starts to feel kind of self-indulgent after not too long.

So, overall, the movie’s better than its novelization, but I wouldn’t really recommend either one if you want anything more than a very nice visual treat.

What about you guys? Seen any good books/Read any good movies lately?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. thekoolaidmom permalink
    June 29, 2008 10:24 am

    I loved Spirited Away, too, and recommend Kiki’s Delivery Service (Phil Hartman does the English VO for Gigi, Kiki’s saucy cat, and Kirsten Dunst as Kiki). I watched MirrorMask about a year or so ago and I really didn’t care for the movie itself, but I did love the visuals.

    Books-to-movies are dicey for sure. If the book is a mental one, a movie version doesn’t stand a chance, I offer The Kite Runner as a great example. However, if it’s an action-filled book, the movie is a perfect medium, and to that my proof is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. There are a few books-to-movies that don’t really compare, like I Am Legend. The book was written about 50 years before the movie, and the culture and science was different between then and now.

  2. June 29, 2008 8:20 pm

    The only movie that I can think of offhand where the movie was actually better than the book was The Prestige by Christopher Priest. The book was quite good as well, but they actually managed to add some layers to the movie that made it fit together more neatly.

    Oh, and I guess Brokeback Mountain was a better movie than book, but only because it was based on a short story, and the movie followed the short story almost word-for-word, except it had prettier people and prettier scenery (which I get to see in person next week!).

    Also, thanks for the rec, koolaidmom! I’m off to go add Kiki’s Delivery Service to my Netflix queue now.

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