20 December 2011

When the movie is better than the book

No, this post wasn't an excuse to link to this picture.
But having written this post, I wanted to link to a pic
of Olivia Wilde, and so why not?
This is always a fun cocktail party game, at least until the pedantic jerk who insists "You can't compare them, because they're meant to be different" shows up and you're all like, "Yeah, we know, jackass, but they can't be completely different, because the book and the movie have the same title, and the same characters, and the same plot, mostly," and then someone quotes McLuhan and then someone else quotes Woody Allen and you realize that you're having the same conversation you had five years ago with a completely different set of people.

All of this, as a preamble for an unequivocal declaration that Cowboys And Aliens, the movie, is better than Cowboys and Aliens, the graphic novel.

I know C&A wasn't a great movie. I saw it, and I didn't regret that I'd spent the money, but I wasn't thrilled. But next to the source material it is an act of unparalleled genius, a tribute to the ability of editorial insight to find the hidden masterpiece, or at least journeyman's work, inside even the roughest chunk of marble.

What was alluded to in the movie (see, the aliens are displacing the indigenous Earthlings just like the cowboys displaced the Indians!) is blatant in the novel. What was interesting in the movie--why are the aliens here?--is rendered completely dry by some exposition given by the alien captain, who not only speaks (a lot) but (a) picks a feud with some local cowboys and (b) talks like a third-rate imitation Lensman villain. Think George Lucas dialogue, but less realistic.

Oddly, at least two Philip K. Dick works ("We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and "Second Variety") were similarly improved by their translation to the big screen. So maybe it's a genre effect.

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