Book: Annihilation (2014) - Jeff Vandermeer
Movie: Annihilation (2018) - dir. Alex Garland
Vandermeer’s novel, the first in a trilogy, is disappointingly undeveloped. At less than 200 pages, Vandermeer’s Annihilation doesn’t have much room for characterization, imagery, or intrigue. The film, starring Natalie Portman as a former soldier/microbiologist, more than delivers on the novel’s promise. The all-female cast (besides Oscar Isaacs) delivers a powerful performance at the government’s last-ditch attempt at controlling an anomaly of unknown origin. From the hauntingly beautiful special effects to the simple yet contemplative dialogue, Garland’s adaptation sticks with you; the novel just sits on the bookshelf.
Book: Fight Club (1996) - Chuck Palahniuk
Movie Fight Club (1999) - dir. David Fincher
We’re not supposed to talk about Fight Club, but just this once, we must. David Fincher’s crowning glory is probably one of the most famous films of all time. Palahniuk’s novel lacks a coherent timeline, not to mention the gallows humor and acerbic wit of the film. The book is confusing at times; readers can’t make heads or tails of what’s happening. The movie clears things up a bit but doesn’t give away the enormous twist at the end. Fincher sets up the film like dominoes destined to fall into the perfect shape. The twist is strange and unexpected, yet somehow inevitable. There can be no other ending, at least not one that would satisfy viewers. The ending also reasserts that Edward Norton’s unnamed character is the true protagonist, that the film is about his descent into madness, not just Tyler Durden.
Book: Psycho (1959) - Robert Bloch
Movie: Psycho (1960) - dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Anthony Perkins stars as the infamous Norman Bates in Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous creation and the ultimate horror film. Casting Perkins was a truly unexpected choice - Perkins was in 1960 what Michael Cera was in 2007. No one would expect such a mild-mannered, awkward guy to be a serial killer. That’s what made the film’s twist so intriguing. The book doesn’t have a twist. The narration constantly follows Norman; his victim, Mary, is a secondary character at best. Hitchcock places her front and center in the film. We become attached to her character, only to see her stabbed to death in the shower. The film would hardly be considered groundbreaking if we were warned ahead of time that Bates is a crazed psychopath. Even though we all know it’s coming, we cannot help but jump as we see the knife rise.
Book: Casino Royale (1953) - Ian Fleming
Movie: Casino Royale (2006) - dir. Martin Campbell
Casino Royale was the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, the world’s first glimpse into the life of a legendary secret agent with a thing for martinis and pretty women. The 2006 film revived the movie franchise and shocked fans by casting a blond man as the titular character. Like Annihilation, the novel is only around 200 pages. Characterization is sparse and the action is hurried; we aren’t given the time to truly enjoy the story before us. The film sophisticates both the plot and the characters; it delivers action sequences that a novel just can’t do. The film’s “Bond Girl" is unlike any other. Vesper Lynd (Eva Greene) is an active participant in all the action and chaos of the film. She has a wonderfully complex backstory and is the only woman ever to make Bond want to settle down. Plus, she holds a position of power in her job, while the novel’s Vesper Lynd was simply a pawn in a larger game. It’s also the first time American audiences got to reconnect with the wildly talented Mads Mikkelsen, a Danish actor known in America only for his role in King Arthur. Casino Royale made him one of the ultimate villain-actors, and he went on to play a ruthless yet sympathetic Hannibal in the eponymous TV show on NBC.
Book: Jaws (1974) - Peter Benchley
Movie: Jaws (1975) - dir. Stephen Spielberg
Jaws made us all scared to go in the ocean. It is the original oceanic thriller. It’s also a monster movie of sorts, focused on an enormous animatronic nightmare fish that feasts on unsuspecting children. But the book doesn’t pack the same terrifying punch as its film adaptation. In fact, the book is anti-climactic: the shark hunter doesn’t get eaten - he doesn’t even get to recount one of his most famous tales. The most disappointing part of the is the shark’s death. Rather than being blown up from the inside, the shark just dies without fanfare. The greatest difference, though, is the film’s most iconic line, which was improvised on the spot.