Monday, April 16, 2012

A-Z Challenge: No Country for Old Men

I love to read.  I love to watch movies.  Watching movies made from books I've read...well, that is a different story most of the time.

No Country for Old Men has one major thing going against it, and one major thing going for it.  Both of those things are Cormac McCarthy.  His prose is so unique it brings immediate gravitas to all of his works.  Once I start reading one of his books there's a cadence to his words that is almost hypnotic; he is truly a gifted writer, and a filmmaker can work character motivations, dialogue, and general descriptions of scenery into a movie, but the language chosen for the overall narrative...that's a color that doesn't exist on a director's palette.

Fortunately for the Cohen Brothers, who directed No Country for Old Men, McCarthy's original intent for this was a screenplay, and with his mastery of language he wrote a book that is almost exactly like watching a movie.  The resulting film is one of the best book-to-movie translations I've ever seen.  I watched the movie first, and when I read the book it was like watching the movie all over again.

McCarthy's The Road is perhaps my favorite book, and that movie isn't bad, but it's no match for the book.  The Harry Potter movies are good, especially from a visual standpoint, but they had to cut so many things out and re-arrange the story that it's hard to watch those movies while the books are fresh in my mind (I finished reading the series about two months ago).  Perhaps time will dim the memory of the books and the films will serve as kind reminders of the main story lines.  I've only seen the movies through The Goblet of Fire (number 4) so we'll see.

Honorable mentions for adaptations go to:

- Stand By Me.  This movie, made from Stephen king's novella The Body, quite possibly ties for best adaptation.

- LOTR.  Even though I have my opinions on the change to the primary climax of the three books / movies, overall Peter Jackson did a better job than anyone else could have.  Of that I'm certain.  He took some major risks, not the least of which was shooting all three movies at once.  The things that work in these films far outweigh the flaws.  I own them all on DVD, have watched them repeatedly, and will watch them all again.

- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  This is a special mention because I think both film versions (the original Swedish and the recent David Fincher "American" version) are better than the book.  This is a rare case where the novel had a great story, but it was weighed down by hundreds of pages of needless backstory, which the movies cut out and effectively cleaned up the plot by doing so.

- The Sum of All Fears.  This is the worst book-to-movie adaptation I have ever seen.  Harrison Ford would not return to play Jack Ryan again, so they replace him with... Ben Affleck?  Nothing personal against Ben, he's a good actor, but they had to change the character from an older guy with decades of experience (that directly related to the plot of this book, a la his relationship with the Russian president) to a young analyst who just happened to write a paper on the guy so he knows exactly how he think s and how he will react when faced with the prospect of global nuclear war...I'm calling bullshit.  Clancy's books have a sense of verisimilitude that makes them great, and when you strip that away you have nothing but a stinking Hollywood cheeseball.  I'm just sayin...



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

LOTR was perfect for me. Really liked the film version of No Country for Old Men as well. Heard the book was an odd read though due to the lack of punctuation.

Rick Daley said...

Alex- All of McCarthy's writing is short of punctuation. It usually takes me about 5 pages to get into one of his books, but once I'm there, it's mesmerizing.

He's said something to the effect that he doesn't think a book should be bogged down with distracting little marks and that the words should convey enough meaning on their own that punctuation isn't necessary. Not many could get away with that, but his writing is strong enough that it works.

D.G. Hudson said...

Interesting post today, Rick, although I haven't seen all these movies.

The Road - The story is good, but it isn't my favorite. It's a very dark story and it ends in a way I didn't like. (It's hard as a parent to read a story like this.)

LOTR- translated well from book to movie. Loved both, and look forward to seeing The Hobbit. Bilbo was ready for an adventure, Frodo wasn't.

But Ben Affleck to replace Harrison Ford? Even at this stage of Harrison's career, he can still act the pants off Ben A. - Bad casting, IMO.

Rick Daley said...

DG- The Road is not for everyone. I have two boys, ages 10 and 7, and my older son was 7 or 8 when I first read it. I made a strong emotional connection, thinking of what I would do to protect my kids. In a dark way it's really a love story, the bond between the father and the son. The ending, while tragic and sad (I finished it on an airplane and held back tears) does give a breath of hope for the boys safety.

The Ford / Affleck thing mystifies me, too. It's not about the acting so much as the way they shattered the plausibility of the story.

Ruth said...

I didn't realize the movie No Country For Old Men was originally a book.
I haven't even read any of the books, but have seen most of the movies.

Christine Rains said...

I liked No Country for Old Men and The Road. Though, The Road was difficult to read because of the style. Yet there was a lot of emotion in it. The Harry Potter series remains my favorite films from books even with the differences.

Johanna Garth said...

I have to say that The Road rocked my world for almost a month. I loved it and hated it.