It’s rare that I enjoy a movie more than the book. After all, taking all the details of a well-written novel and compressing them into about ninety minutes is a nearly impossible task. And that’s before taking into account the mechanisms that work really well in print which don’t translate at all into motion pictures. Throw in that the special effects inside your head are always a bit more vivid than the screen and it’s a recipe for disaster.
As with anything in life, there are always exceptions. And I ran into one this past weekend.
I was in search of coffee and something to pass the time with while waiting for my daughter’s ballet performance Friday afternoon. On a whim, I picked up Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s book All You Need Is Kill, which is the source for the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt movie Edge of Tomorrow. Over the next two days, I devoured the book and realized about two thirds of the way through that there was no way, barring a last-minute save by the author, that I was going to like the book better than the movie.
Thinking it over, I think it’s similar to why I prefer John McTiernan’s version of The Hunt For Red October more than Tom Clancy’s book. The movie leaves out a bunch of stuff that might be interesting to the hardcore audience but that, if not outright boring, would be not as interesting to the general public. An author certainly has to worry about losing his audience, but I tend to think that readers are more patient by nature than a watcher. That’s not to say superior, it just has to do with the initial buy in. Someone going to a movie is setting aside a couple hours to be entertained and then can get on with their life. Someone picking up a novel is making a much longer commitment. Every minute on screen is precious whereas pages come a little cheaper.
There’s also the matter of inner monologue and dodgy dialogue between characters. The thoughts of a character can be incredibly valuable and inform the reader about who that person is… or they can show just how thin the character really is. Same with dialogue between characters that makes a reader roll their eyes. It happens in both mediums, but I think readers will forgive a bit more just because of the investment.
Overall, I thought the book was good and the concept was really good, but it just works better as a movie. Some of the ways that they showed the main character’s progress throughout the day was illustrated so much better on the screen than the page. Also, there was a clarity to the goal that felt lacking in the book – even when the main character succeeds, I wasn’t totally sure why. The movie had a resolution to it whereas the book says “and then we kept going”.
Maybe it has to do with seeing the movie first. Reading the book, I couldn’t help hear the sergeant speaking in Bill Paxton’s deep Kentucky accent because the book never fleshed out the character enough to make me think any differently. It also doesn’t hurt that I think Tom Cruise was perfect for the role – he pulls off the smarmy jerk that you still want to root for really well.
Which is sort of what I want from this kind of story anyways. Give me a couple interesting characters, some decent spectacle, and hang it all on an interesting premise. It’s not the book’s fault that it should’ve been a movie the whole time I guess.