When the Movie Is Better Than the Book

Let’s be honest: the book is always better than the movie. Directors never get it quite how we pictured it in our heads, or they go completely off-book altogether and we walk out of the theatre thinking, “How was that based on the book I read?” In twenty years of reading books and seeing the movie adaptations of as many of them as come to theatres, I’ve recently found only the second movie I prefer to the book: the third part of The Maze Runner trilogy, The Death Cure.

Needless to say, spoilers below!

I expected the movie to at least keep some semblance of the book, which revolved around a counter-revolution, asking readers: in a dystopian world facing a ruthless force that hoards all the resources, how much resistance is too much resistance?

There was none of that in the movie.

The counter-resistance was brushed over. A contrived cliffhanger from the previous installment drove most of the plot. A lot of logic (and lack thereof) in the zombie-infested, plague-stricken, uncivilized world was taken for granted. It was a mash of all the things that make us think books are better than their movie adaptations. But amidst the action for the sake of action, there was a shining light: Teresa.

Where the movie almost completely pushed aside the “how much resistance is too much resistance” theme, it replaced it with making Teresa a real person. Movie Teresa is a much deeper, more interesting character than Book Teresa. Movie Teresa is intelligent, clever, and wants to do what’s right, and she recognizes that sometimes, she doesn’t know how. Movie Teresa knows her limits, what she will and won’t do, what she will and won’t tolerate. Movie Teresa is motivated by logic, and it was refreshing to watch after Book Teresa (and the previous two Movie Teresas) seemed to be motivated by taking it on herself to screw up the plot for any reason, even if there seemed to be no reason for her, as a “fully-developed character,” to do so.

It wasn’t until seeing Wonder Woman last July that I realized how flat and one-dimensional our movie heroines are, and now, it’s all I can notice. The Maze Runner as a franchize didn’t have a lot going for it in terms of being likely to give a decent amount of characterization to its female characters. It’s made up of action movies, a genre that by its nature relies on plot over character, and is typically regarded as a “manly” genre. A huge majority of its characters were men, so the odds that if only one–or even half–of the characters was/were fleshed out, it wouldn’t be the two women, three if you include the main antagonist. So for what it did, especially in an area of art where strong female characters of any kind are desperately needed, I give it major points.

Normally, I’m a purist about sticking to the book. But when the book drops the ball on writing badass female characters who make themselves the subject of the story instead of an object of the plot, the movie can throw the plot off an exploding skyscraper for all I care if it can pick up the slack. So sure, Teresa was only one character out of a dozen in a wholly plot-driven narrative, but to me, the sacrifice was worth it.

The Art of Great Film Dialogue

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending a women’s retreat with my church group.  At the brand new home of one our community’s members, we had a mega-sleepover with nail-painting, popcorn eating, and of course, girlie movie-watching.  While half of us watched ‘Phantom of the Opera’ upstairs, the other half watched the Southern, hairsprayed gem of sisterhood films, ‘Steel Magnolias’.

I had seen the film before, but forgotten its many gems of dialogue…

Though not every quote is serious or particularly life-changing, each line is true to each character and wouldn’t be caught dead in any other movie.  Only the pink crepe-paper wedding of a young Julia Roberts with an armadillo groom’s cake, would have a line like this.

Which made me try to think of other movies that have similarly spot-on dialogue, that serves more to establish character than anything else in the movie (hairstyles included).  Some other films that jump out from my immediate memory are ‘Fargo’ (which purportedly included every “Um” and “Yah” in the original script) and also ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ (Most memorable line: “Inside the lump…was my twin.”).  In television, Maggie Smith has gained fame as of late, for her delivery of the Grand Duchess’s lines, which also serve up fans with perfect balance of nobility, snobbery, and honesty.  Some other great films where dialogue takes center stage in terms of characterization are ‘Raising Arizona’ and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, both of which rely heavily on regional colloquialisms the same way that ‘Steel Magnolias’ does.

Character catch-phrases are an entirely different form of characterizing dialogue that can be generation-defining.  E.g. “I’ll be back” and “Oh behave!” have their respective fan bases, while “Here’s to you, kid” and “I coulda been a contender” each have their own as well.

On the flip side, one of the biggest turn-offs to me, is a film with flat, generic dialogue where the writers are making characters say things.  Like, “I’ve got an idea!” or “Why, you little–” that get the plot moving, but move characters like rusted gears, instead the fleshy, nuanced human beings they truly are. At any rate, my viewing of Steel Magnolias revealed to me just how much I appreciate good dialogue.  And how like a good man, good dialogue is hard to find.