Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why do mediocre novels make great movies?

I've never been a big fan of moving pictures (better known as movies) all my life. However, this changed in term 5 thanks to a not-so-curious mix of boredom, lack of academic rigour and peer-to-peer networking software.

I stumbled upon one of the less well known Hitchcocks - Dial M for Murder, halfway through the term. It was probably the best thing I did in the term. Over the next couple of months, my movie education progressed very well! I watched close to thirty movies, most of them filmed sometime between the mid 30s and the mid 60s.

A few observations -

- The older Hollywood movies are far richer on dialogue compared to the more recent ones, but score low on cinematography. Expletives are conspicuous by their absence :)
In contrast to the present day Hollywood pictures that look better than they sound, the older movies sound better than they look.

- Most of the movies, including the really good ones that feature in the IMDB Top 250/AFI Top100, are adaptations of novels and short-stories. Interestingly, most of these novels/stories themselves are often very ordinary and fall under the category of 'Pulp Fiction'. However, the movie adaptations of the same are outstanding and have become all-time favourites!

Take for instance films like Rear Window, It's a Wonderful Life, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest or even Double Indemnity. All of them are based on novels/novellas that are nowhere near as acclaimed as the movies!

In contrast, attempts to adapt truly popular novels to the visual medium have failed more often than not. Has anyone succeeded in making a great movie out of any of Dickens' novels or for that matter even the popular books of an Agatha Christie or a PG Wodehouse? No.

Ofcourse, there are a few exceptions like Gone with the Wind/Godfather. But those are exceptions and not the rule.


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