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Book vs. Movie – Watchmen, The Thief Lord, and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

March 27, 2009

Since I’ve watched three movies in the past week that all came from books that I’ve read in the past month or two, you’re getting a three-for-one movie vs. book post! If you missed my book reviews, click on the titles to check them out.

I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as I can, but the super-spoiler-sensitive might want to look away.

The Thief Lord

We’ll start first with the one about which I have the least to say. Since I thought the book was geared towards too young of an audience to really hold my attention, I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising that the movie also hit a bit young. The movie was really faithful to the book, however, and I thought it actually improved on some things… namely, the movie did a better job of incorporating little hints of fantasy into the story from early on, and so when the magical merry-go-round makes its appearance, it’s not as completely out-of-left-field as it is in the book. The actors all did a nice job, although I can see why they made Prosper and Scipio a little older in the movie than they were in the book (15 instead of 12). Basically, the only things I thought the movie could have improved on were a few more establishing shots of Venice – it started looking a little sound-stage-y at times – and a little more development of Barbarossa. He’s in the movie, but not as much as he’s in the book, so it makes his eventual fate not quite as meaningful.

Verdict: A solid, enjoyable family film, and a nice adaptation of the book. It would probably be the biggest hit with kids in the 6-10 range; unfortunately, since I don’t have kids in that (or any) range, I wasn’t particularly bowled over.


I might actually have been the ideal viewer of Watchmen – for die-hard fans of the comic, no movie can ever live up to it, and I can’t imagine someone who’s never read the comic a) being willing to sit through three hours of film and b) understanding what’s going on at all times, and why we should care. But for someone who’s read but is not crazy-in-love-with the book, the movie was pretty darn impressive. (I’ll admit to nodding off for about a minute during some of the speechifying at the end, but in my defense, I was hopped up on allergy drugs.)

On the one hand, I was really impressed with how faithful to the book it was, to the point of duplicating some scenes panel-for-panel. They also did a good job of capturing the feel of the Watchmen universe and the visual style of the book, and it was a very pretty movie (in a cinematography sense of the word… although also in a Patrick-Wilson-sense of the word. It’s disturbing how attractive he is even with the terrible hair and shlubby glasses.) There was the one major change at the end, but I have to say, I actually liked the movie’s version better than the book’s. It made more sense to the story (the end of the book got a serious “…the hell?!?” reaction from me), plus I thought the fact that Dr. Manhattan directly (albeit unknowingly) contributed made it deeper and more interesting on a character level.

On the other hand, I don’t know that they needed to be quite as faithful as they were. I know that a lot was cut out already, but a lot was left in, and it was a THREE HOUR movie. Surely there were a few more scenes that weren’t really crucial to the story, and could have been excised… or at least trimmed?

I also thought that the filmmakers missed the mark a little when it came to the tone of the book. It’s a sad fact that violence sells, but I felt like the movie version over-glorified the violence. It’s not as if the book is pacifistic and non-violent – it’s not, at all. But most of the book violence is “off-screen,” or at least not *BAM* *KAPOW* in-your-face, and the movie gleefully disregarded that style in favor of extended fight scenes, and more close-up gore than I think was really called for. I also felt like it missed the point that the Watchmen aren’t superheroes – with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, they’re just regular people – and gave them more superhuman strength and speed than I could really believe would come just from training and practice.

Verdict: The movie was enjoyable, and a worthy adaptation, but I’m very glad I read it before I watched it.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

This is a hard one. Of the three, this was by far the least faithful to the book. However, since a lot of the book is about what takes place in Nick and Norah’s heads, it’s also the one that translates the least directly to screen. Staying entirely faithful to the book would have meant extended voice-over monologues, so I’m okay that we were spared that. (Staying entirely entirely faithful would also certainly have garnered the film an R-rating, excluding much of its target audience… the movie uses the F-word fewer times (only once that I noticed) than the average paragraph of the book.) The plot that gets added to round out the movie involves a long search for a drunken Caroline, who has escaped from the back of Dev and Thom’s van, thinking she’s being kidnapped. I think this was an okay addition, especially since it afforded Nick’s bandmates some more screentime, which they deserved. (On the other hand, if I wanted to listen to obnoxious-drunk-girl-WOOOOO!!!!-ing for an hour, I’d spend more time at the undergraduate bars.)

There were other changes that I wasn’t crazy about, too. Most noticeable was the character of Tris, Nick’s ex-girlfriend. In the book, she starts out as an obnoxious bitch, but actually gets some character development as the story progresses, and ends up being much cooler than you’d thought at the beginning. Not so in the film: she’s the one-sided villain, and the fantastic scene with her and Norah in the bathroom is completely missing. Also, it’s strongly implied that Nick and Norah… erm… progress a lot further in their relationship in the movie as compared to the book, which I think leeches away some of the charm of things.

Also randomly… despite what the Netflix blurb says, in the movie it’s Norah who asks Nick to be her five-minute boyfriend, and not the other way around. (It’s in response to Tris’s teasing her about being single… which doesn’t make a lot of sense, given what we find out later about her and Tal, but I guess we’re supposed to ignore that.) I’m not sure what prompted that change, but for anyone who knows the book, it just feels wrong.

I think that’s my main problem with the movie: the source material is so awesome, but so many of the wonderful moments are things that don’t translate to film. As a result, the scenes that they tried to lift verbatim from the book, like the tikkun olam conversation, wind up feeling out-of-context.

Verdict: On its own merits, the film is pretty good – sweet, funny, and well-acted (although as much as I like him, I think Michael Cera’s going to be stuck in George Michael Bluth roles for the rest of his life). It’s just that it’s difficult to take the film on its own merits when you know how incredible the book was.

What do you think, readers? Seen/Read/Both any of these?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2009 11:11 am

    I saw Watchmen last weekend, with two people who hadn’t read the book. I followed it just fine, but my friends were completely lost. They thought it was overlong, with too many confusing jumps and not enough action. I can definitely see where they’re coming from; even with the 3-hour running time, the story was missing a lot of the little connecting bits. I think it probably would’ve been better if the writer & director had chosen to adapt the material rather than remaining absolutely faithful to it. I wonder if the extended cut on DVD will help fill in the gaps.

    That said, I did enjoy it. The visuals were impressive, and I thought the soundtrack was awesome. It didn’t quite succeed for me, though.

  2. March 27, 2009 11:16 am

    Memory – I agree; I was definitely (mentally) making “move it along” hand motions at the movie, and I knew how all the pieces fit together. I can’t imagine going into it cold.

  3. March 27, 2009 12:31 pm

    –> I think that’s my main problem with the movie: the source material is so awesome, but so many of the wonderful moments are things that don’t translate to film. As a result, the scenes that they tried to lift verbatim from the book, like the tikkun olam conversation, wind up feeling out-of-context.

    I totally agree. I watched it earlier (borrowed DVD) and can’t get it out my head that the book is so much more awesome than the film. It’s like they took some of the fun dialogues in the book and then translated it on film but the magic wasn’t the same. Plus, I do like Tris in the book. She’s cool there but became a villain in the film. Oh well, can’t be too happy!

    Awww, for Michael Cera. And they’re doing a movie for Arrested Development I think. Hahaha!

  4. March 28, 2009 1:00 pm

    I haven’t seen or read and of them. But my husband saw Watchmen without reading the graphic novel (or knowing anything about it) and he really liked it.

  5. March 28, 2009 10:32 pm

    I have read The Thief Lord and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but I haven’t seen the movies of these books, and I’m not sure I want to. I’d like to see Watchmen, but only after reading the graphic novel.

  6. March 30, 2009 10:54 am

    Lightheaded – I know; I have the feeling that had I watched the movie without having read the book, my response would have been a lot more positive, but as it was, it just couldn’t measure up.

    Lenore – Well, so, your husband’s an exception to my predictions. :) I just felt like if I was getting impatient for them to get on with things, someone who didn’t know the point of all of the various pieces must have been driven to distraction.

    charley – I’d say both reading and seeing Watchmen are totally worth it – but in that order, of course!

  7. March 30, 2009 6:42 pm

    I really liked The Thief Lord but I haven’t seen the movie and I liked the Watchmen but I haven’t read the graphic novel. I haven’t seen or read the last one though.

  8. March 31, 2009 6:35 am

    I didn’t know that there was a movie for The Thief Lord! Not a big surprise… I never got a chance to see Watchmen. Have to rent it when it comes out!

  9. March 31, 2009 7:31 pm

    You are absolutely right about the age range for The Thief Lord film – my kids were 7 and 9 when we watched it, and they both loved it. Not only that, but the film has stuck in their minds where some just seem to vanish after a few weeks. I have read the other two, and enjoyed them, and I’m hoping to see both of the films soon. Thanks for the heads-up about Nick & Norah – it will be better, knowing a little of what to expect.

  10. April 1, 2009 4:30 am

    I haven’t read or watched the Thief Lord, but enjoyed both Watchmen and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. With the latter, though, my biggest question was “where’s the MUSIC!?” The other changes didn’t matter so much in comparison, to me. The book was full of music and bands I love, and when it came to the movie, Juno had better music (and more music talk).

  11. April 3, 2009 8:58 am

    Ladytink – Oh, definitely read Nick and Norah’s… it was fantastic.

    Kailana – I didn’t know there was a movie either… it wasn’t promoted well at all (and may have been straight-to-video?)

    Darla – I think going into Nick and Norah’s trying to think about the book as little as possible will make for the most enjoyable movie-going experience.

    marienko – Ah, I was totally unfamiliar with about 90% of the music in Nick & Norah’s, so I didn’t really notice the absence.

  12. September 8, 2009 8:32 pm

    I loved the book ‘The Thief Lord’, and I also really enjoyed the film adaptation (even at age 15, when I first saw it). It had its flaws, like all films, but the soundtrack was particularly impressive, and I adored the Scipio actor (Rollo Weeks), and can’t imagine him any other way. It was quite faithful to the book, which I was pleased with. :)

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