The Book Was Better

Well, duh.

Though…

I watch a lot of movies. I also read a lot of books. I’ve watched a lot of movies inspired by books—and that’s my favourite way of phrasing it, because even a faithful film adaptation will differ from the source material. It’s the director’s vision, and the actors’ interpretation of the script. Like a game of telephone, the story is always going to change by the time it hits the end of the line.

There are instances where the movie is better than the book. Buzzfeed has a list of 39. I agree with numbers 8, 13, 18, 27, 29 and maybe 37, but only because I loved, loved, loved these movies. (Also, I always find Stephen King more entertaining when he’s been cut down to two and a half hours.) I could argue over a lot of the other entries on this list, but that’s another blog post.

This blog post is about two books that were made into movies. They’re both post-apocalyptic, because that’s how I roll.

Let’s start with The Girl with All the Gifts. This was one of my favourite books of 2015 for a number of reasons, the most important being that the story surprised me, more than once. I listened to the book on audio and had I not, I might have stopped reading somewhere near the beginning. It’s a slow start, and I had a hard time connecting with the characters, one in particular. Melanie, I loved. She kept me going while I slowly developed an understanding of the other players—the naive teacher, the obsessed doctor, the irascible sergeant. Then I got to the point where the book mattered more than food, more than air, more than living my own life. I couldn’t stop listening.

Then someone died. A lot of people die in the book. That tends to happen when you have zombies. But this character’s death left a bruise on my heart. I had to rewind and listen again, just to make sure it hadn’t been a mistake. That they’d really died. I’ve only ever done that once before with a book.

The book ended with an action I didn’t see coming, because I’m the naïve damn school teacher and, well, I’m just going to stop there before I give it all away. Though I felt wrecked by The Girl with All the Gifts, I recommended it to everyone who would listen because the story haunted me and I figured the only way to dilute the ghosts would be to… Heh. I just wanted others to experience the wonder of a book that is unexpected. I wanted to celebrate difference and say, “See! You can do this. It does work.”

In the movie, not so much. Had I not read the book, I might have enjoyed the movie more. I thought they captured Melanie’s character beautifully, and they also did a fair job with Sergeant Parks. But because the entire story—long, with a winding and necessary build up, was condensed into a couple hours, so much of the nuance that made this book for me was missing. I didn’t cry at that inevitable death. They tried. I saw glimpses of the journey that had wrecked me on the page (or through the superb narration of Finty Williams). But it wasn’t enough. I guess I wanted to be devastated again. I wanted to re-experience that amazing moment when a story feels real, when it reaches inside of you and matters more than those annoying people who want to know what’s for dinner.

Similarly, the ending landed with more a splat than a resounding crack. Maybe that was because I already knew what was going to happen. Dunno. That’s always the hardest question when you compare a book to the movie.

What about doing it the other way around? When you see the movie before you read the book. That’s how I did I Am Legend, so we’ll talk about the movie first, then the book, then the movie again, because I watched it again after reading the book.

I’ll begin by saying this is a tough call because the movie differs vastly from the book. Basically, they have the same name, the same main character and a dog. There’s a plague, but it’s not the same. One is an ancient bacteria, the other is a genetically engineered virus. One results in vampirism, the other, rabid zombies. There is a drive to find a cure. This journey results two wildly different destinations. The book is thoughtful, the movie is too, in a circumspect way.

I really enjoyed the movie the first time I saw it. Will Smith and an apocalypse? Buy me a ticket. I don’t need to know more. I found the story engaging and sad, and the ending hopeful. I loved the action sequences. I thought Will Smith did a great job playing Robert Neville, distraught widower and scientist. The zombies were truly terrifying. The fact Neville never took the time to wonder about their obvious evolution bothered me the second time through, though.

Mild spoiler ahead.

Why didn’t he question the fact they were setting traps for him? There was no evidence before then that the zombies could think in that way. Oh well.

End spoiler.

My biggest question regarding the movie is why it’s linked to the book at all. I mean, yes, they use the title and it’s a nice use, but it’s also… wrong. Because the title is the book is the title. In the book, the title is EVERYTHING. It’s not about Robert Neville making history by discovering the cure to the plague; it’s about Robert Neville being a piece of living history. With that thought in mind, the last line of the book is almost soul-destroying. It’s poignant and beautiful and utterly heartbreaking. In the movie, it’s merely an epitaph.

So, the book. The book is amazing. If you haven’t read it, go get it. I listened to I Am Legend on audio and really enjoyed Robertson Dean’s interpretation of Neville’s mental state, because it’s such an important aspect of the book. Neville is manic in turns, his words and thoughts fast and furious as he deals with the effects of being alone for months, then years. The last man on Earth, a man trapped in a world populated by creatures of myth and legend.

Legend. Ah, I loved so much how the book revolved around the idea of legend. What constitutes a myth, what is history, and how we as a species evolve through and beyond.

In the book, Neville is also searching for a cure, but he’s not trained in medicine, so his search isn’t purely scientific. His experiments sometimes work and sometimes don’t, and it’s through this trial and error, we learn about both the disease, and Robert Neville. His obsession is sometimes painful to listen to, but also admirable in a way as he spends months reading experimenting. Years pass, leaving Neville more enlightened and more desperate.

I’m not going to discuss the last quarter of the book because that would spoil the story entirely. All I will say is that what got me, and kept me, and made the book better than the movie, for me, was the unexpectedness of it. It gave the book a much deeper meaning than the movie, and ensured the story would stay with me for some time.

Though I really did enjoy the movie, just as much the second time through, I thought it was a shame they hadn’t incorporated more elements from the book, especially the vampirism and the origins of the disease. Because that was damn creepy. Even more scary than a vaccine gone wrong. But, hey, what do I know? I also really liked a movie called Zombie Strippers. I don’t think there was a book.

Have you read these books? Seen these movies? What did you think?

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