Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From Silver Screen to Printed Page

Often, when the subject of film adaptations comes up, we hear the familiar refrain “Yeah, but the book was better.” But what do we say when the reverse is true- when a book began life as a movie or a screenplay? Here are three such books that are well worth your time.

The Human Comedy, by William Saroyan:
Hired by MGM to write the screenplay for this project, Saroyan was eventually removed after refusing to compromise on the length. While Louis B. Mayer pushed forward on the film version, Saroyan raced to publish his longer version first, as a novel. It’s a short, breezy read… for a book, if not for a screenplay.

Dances With Wolves, by Michael Blake:
Kevin Costner fell in love with this spec-script sometime in the mid-eighties, but Blake had a hard time selling it to anyone. Costner encouraged him to turn it into a novel, with the hopes that it would improve his chances at a sale. Released as a paperback in 1988, Costner finally bought the rights himself. The rest is history. The film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 1990.

No Country For Old Men, by Cormack McCarthy:
Originally penned as a screenplay, McCarthy had little luck in selling this story to Hollywood. As an accomplished novelist, he didn’t need Kevin Costner to tell him to turn it into a novel, which he did in 2005. Enter the Coen brothers, who faithfully adapted the book back into a screenplay in 2007. Four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, were the result.

It’s an interesting subject. I know Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started life as a radio play. (The Infinite Improbablility Drive was Adams’s ingenious way of extending a story he thought was already over.) Certainly in the cases of Dances With Wolves and No Country For Old Men, I think it’s probably safe to say that “the movie was better than the book.” Anyone know of any others?


  1. This is probably heresey but I liked the movie Short Cuts better than Raymond Carver's short stories upon which it was based.


    1. I don't know how I've never heard of Short Cuts before now. I'll have to check it out. Thanks, Eugene.