Tag Archives: book-based movies

The Martian v. The Martian

The Martian novel, written by Andy Weir, is a self-publishing success. In 2011, he self-published the book and it got enough attention to garner him a contract with Crown Books. In 2014, The Martian was re-released with the help of Crown and became one of the top selling books on Amazon.Com. And then it became a movie.

I started reading The Martian last year and, between applying to graduate programs, moving (twice!), picking up a few side jobs (on top of my main jobs), and all the rest of life stuff that gets in the way of fun stuff, it took me a while to finish the book. Mind you, I really enjoyed the book as I was reading it and I even got students of mine to read it as well.

Now that I’ve finally finished reading and watching The Martian, I can compare and contrast the two different media used to tell Andy Weir’s story of an astronaut left behind on Mars for your (and more likely my) amusement and declare one better than the other (because all things must be ranked!).

If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, this post contains spoilers. Though, if you’ve clicked on this blog because of the title, I’m assuming you kind of already knew that, but I thought I’d be nice and post a warning anyway.


2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in March and April

Read the book, watch the movie, or, if you’re like me, do both? With this guide, you can figure out which option you’d like to pursue.

Out March 13th, In The Heart of The Sea

If you like the tragedy of The Titanic (not to be mistaken for the love-centered movie Titanic) and the whale in Moby-Dick, then say hello to your new favorite book. This book is based on the story of the Essex crew, a ship that was captained by George Pollard Jr. and was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820. The story of the Essex is what actually inspired Herman Melville’s whale in Moby-Dick. Author Nathaniel Philbrick reconstructs the tragedy that happened to the ship along with the ordeal of the crewmen drifting at sea for over ninety days.

Out March 20th, Insurgent

This is the second book of the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. War is going on in Chicago between the different factions. Tris, the main character, continues her story from where it left off in Divergent. This time she is faced with a story that pulls her through the world of grief, love, politics, loyalty, identity, and forgiveness.

Out March 27th, Serena

George and Serena Pemberton are newlyweds traveling from Boston to the North Carolina mountains in 1929. There, they hope to start an empire of lumber. Serena proves herself a strong woman – both in the lumber camps and out in the wilderness, finding herself at comfort in command of crews or killing rattle-snakes. The story turns dark once Serena realizes she can’t bare children, and her husband George has fathered an illegitimate child with another woman in camp before her arrival. Ron Rash’s story isn’t necessarily a happy one about a strong woman.


Dan Hogan: Why I Hate Biopics and Love Raccoons…or Musings on the Oscar-Nominated Literary Adaptations of 2015

Dan Hogan teaches English at Fullerton College, UCI, and Norco College. I’ve known Dan for years, and one thing I look forward to every year is Dan’s Oscar predictions. This year, I’ve asked him to share his opinion on book-based movie adaptations that have been nominated in this year’s Oscars and he was more than happy to oblige.

The Online Free Dictionary defines “biopic” as a “biographical film, often with fictionalized scenes.” And therein lies my issue with such films: the word often. If I were writing the definition, I might opt for the word always. And that’s, more or less, why I hate biopics. In my graduate thesis, I examined how the concept of Collective Memory influences our understanding of phenomena around us. And in my freshman composition classes, I give a lecture on selective representation, specifically as it pertains to art. Simply put, the difficulty with biopics is that regardless of how hard a movie tries to give an honest, unbiased take on a subject—particularly a historical one—there is always some fictitious coloring and choices of representation. Even when movies do a really darn good job at being as vérité as possible, like Paul Greengrass’s United 93, it’s literally unavoidable that what’s on the screen will differ substantially from the “thing that happened,” to borrow the phraseology of one of my lit professors.

So what does this all have to do with the Oscars? It’s simple: most of the literary adaptations this year, particularly the ones nominated for Best Picture, are forms of selective representation. Not only that, they are based on biographies and autobiographies—so they are twice removed from the “thing that happened.”

Why does this upset me? It’s not that I can’t enjoy a movie on its own merits without fussing over the history—I can (which is why The Social Network was so enjoyable to me). It’s that it depresses me that most people look at the “movie version” of history, and it therefore enters the collective consciousness of the masses. When people will remember Chris Kyle, they will remember him going head-to-head against a Syrian Olympian rival sniper, even though that never really happened. When people will remember Alan Turing, they will remember Benedict Cumberbatch whispering to his giant machine, called “Christopher” after his childhood friend (which it wasn’t).

So when musing on the literary adaptations, I will not be judging them as works of history, but rather works of literature – fiction, if you will – because to a certain extent, that’s exactly what they are.

So let’s get started?

Gone Girl

The first literary adaptation I will mention is the one for which I have actually read the book. David Fincher and Gillian Flynn did something that I thought was impossible – they made a great movie out of a great book with the full cooperation of the original author. When I heard stories of E.L. James fighting for creative control of the abominable 50 Shades of Grey, I laughed hysterically at the darlings she was trying to save. Movies and films are very different media, and it’s hard to make a decent adaptation of a book. But Flynn did it better than I thought was possible. She killed her darlings, and she did it remarkably well. When I heard her interviewed, she said something to the effect that she stripped the entire novel down to its bare essentials and then started to add things back in – often at the behest of David Fincher. Gone Girl, with its unorthodox structure and convoluted plot, could have been utterly un-filmable. That same problem nearly sunk Fincher’s earlier Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which clung to the anvil that was the source material. The cuts Flynn made to her own masterpiece were smart, smooth, and efficient. Only a handful were ones that I—a lover of the book—even noticed, much less missed. While the phenomenal Rosamund Pike stands as the sole representation of this film on Oscar night, I feel that Flynn’s snub in Best Adapted Screenplay is one of the biggest of the whole ceremony.

The Imitation Game

This movie falls into most of the traps that typical Hollywood biopics do, and that’s the fact that I could tell that the movie was Hollywoodized—big time. While this film won the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild, I was baffled because I felt the writing was forced, contrived, and way too visible. What do I mean by this? While the subject matter of this film is fascinating – a brilliant outcast cracks an uncrackable Nazi code and wins the war for a country who would later betray him over his homosexuality. But I could tell when the writing was intentionally trying to make me feel things and squeezing history into its most pithy, quotable form. For instance, the aforementioned “Christopher,” the hulking machine that Turing creates is, in the film, named after his childhood friend and crush. Sure, that makes a thematic through line, tying Turing’s alienation to his work and also to his eventual fate, but I could tell it was a thematic through line, trying to tie a complicated story into a neat little bow. That example on top of oft-repeated lines, howling coincidences, and scenes seemingly written more for Sherlock than for Turing, annoyed me. In a way, the movie was too well-written, meaning I could see the strings, and it took me out of the film. I wasn’t convinced that half of the movie really happened, and when I did my research, I was annoyed that it hadn’t. I wish the movie had felt more real. Here’s hoping a fiction like Whiplash takes Best-Adapted-Screenplay over this Hollywood schlock.

American Sniper

Oh boy. I have found that the reaction to this film has more to do with the person reacting to it than to the movie itself. It’s like a political and cinematic Rorschach test – the right loves it, the left hates it, and much of the middle gets lost in the social media firefight that has raged since the movie hit screens. For that reason, I don’t wish to comment on the morality of the Iraq war or the personal character of Chris Kyle. Rather, I’d like to look at the movie itself. While Sniper suffers from biopic syndrome as well, as I mentioned earlier, manufacturing a villain out of a glorified footnote in Kyle’s memoir, it made for some compelling cinema (even though I could see the strings there too). What I appreciated about the film, however, was its characterization of Kyle. The film paints Kyle as a man who absolutely—100%–so-help-him-God—believed in what he was doing. Perhaps that’s why it opens itself up to so much controversy. For instance, some changes from the book to film, from what I have read, include adding more anti-war sentiment than the memoir had. For instance, loading up for a tour, Kyle meets his brother, who seems very disillusioned with the idea of war. In the scene, Kyle comes off as naïve for seeing the issue as black-and-white as he does (a simple “the enemy is trying to kill Americans, so I will kill them first” approach). Apparently that was a movie-only addition, and I think the film as a whole adds way more grey areas to the situation once the viewers can set aside their preconceived political beliefs.

Still Alice


2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in January and February

There are two kinds of people in the world: those that prefer to read the book before they watch the movie or those that prefer to watch the movie and then maybe, when they find time, read the book. Whichever kind of person you are, this list of book-based movies can give you the opportunity to either read ahead for the upcoming year or to put these books away and enjoy them in 2016.

Out January 16th, Still Alice

Lisa Genova writes a compelling story Alice Howland, a mother and scholar, and her early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The movie stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart.

Out January 23rd, The Mortdecai Trilogy

Kyril Bonfiglioli originally wrote this black comedy in the 1970s about Charlie Mortdecai, an art dealer with ties to the London underground. In total there are four complete books and one incomplete novel. The movie stars Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor.