Witches Have the Best Hair; or, Sometimes the Movie is Better.

(A Wee Disclaimer: this post contains numerous links and even more numerous digressions. Enter at your own risk.)

Those of us who read often agree that the movie is rarely as good as the book. At best, the movie leaves out huge chunks of plot, and some of the characters don’t look quite like we imagined them when we read the book. At worst, you have that dreadful Scarlet Letter movie with Demi Moore and Gary Oldman. (I knew it was going to be bad when the opening credits included the following phrase: “Freely adapted from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.” *shudder* Also, who has sex on a pile of grains in the barn? Can you imagine the places little bits of grain would lodge themselves? *double shudder* And, just to throw you a tangent within a tangent, read this review from the New York Times:  It will make you laugh. Especially if you saw the movie. If you DIDN’T see the movie . . . don’t. Unless you  need something to mock.)

Anyway, back to film adaptations of movies. Typically, as I said, they are inferior. But there are a few cases where the movie is far more enjoyable than the book. This usually happens for me when I see the movie first and love it, then read the book and discover that it’s nothing like the movie. There’s an exception to this, of course: I read Coraline before I saw the movie, and liked the movie a bit better than the book. But only a little bit better. Also I wasn’t completely wild about either one.

So then, here are my top three “I liked the movie way better than the book” picks. (Interestingly enough, they all involve witches as major aspects of the plot).

#3: Stardust. Now, I actually liked the book version of Stardust. . . I just liked the movie so much better. The movie, after all, had Robert De Niro cross dressing in a pink feather boa. It had Michelle Pfeiffer as a wicked witch (and wasn’t her hair AMAZING when she had magicked herself young?). Also, the movie had a sweet, cheesy happily-ever-after ending, which you all know I prefer. The book had a sort of bittersweet ending. Sorry Neil, I’m a shallow American, and I like the Queen Latifah ending. (My friend M and I started using the phrase “Queen Latifah Ending” after I saw Last Holiday. This was a supremely silly movie, with a completely predictable ending, and yet I felt all goofy happy when it was over. And there are many, many movies out there which are very fine films that leave me feeling HORRIBLE after I watch them. Friend M noticed the same thing, and so we’ve both taken to saying “I want the Queen Latifah ending Dammit!”) (Also, I don’t mean to diss Neil Gaiman. He’s a fine writer. It’s just that he doesn’t usually give his characters very satisfying endings, in my opinion. Lot’s of people LIKE that in a novel. Writing Buddy Laura’s favorite line about endings is, “Somebody has to die.” I imagine she would approve of Neil Gaiman very much. And even though we disagree on this subject, she is still smart and pretty.) (Friend M is also smart and pretty. Just sayin’.)
#2: Practical Magic. I loved the movie so so so so much. Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman with the world’s most beautiful hair! The most awesome house ever! Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as match-making, meddling, magical aunts! A “dracula cowboy” ex-boyfriend villain who comes back from the dead! And Aidan Quinn . . . oh how I love Aidan Quinn, with his “aw shucks ma’am I’m just playing this nice guy angle but did you notice I am also totally freaking hot, what with the Arizona cop tan and the pretty pretty eyes? Can I get that door for you? How about if I help your little girl make cactus-shaped pancakes? Does my slightly awkward earnest kindness make you weak in the knees? I thought so.”  (See, I may find the bad boys sexier initially, but at the end of the day I am really just a dorky chick from the midwest and what really gets me hot is the guy who is actually nice. Not the one who plays nice to get some nookie, but the one who is maybe kind of geeky and awkward but who is really, truly good inside, knows how to hold babies and make them laugh, brings you tea when you’re PMSing, etc. Aidan Quinn nails that role in Practical Magic, and mmmmmmmmmmmm it totally works for me. And another tangent within a tangent, Diana Peterfruend has an interesting discussion about good boys vs. bad boys over at her blog.) Now, I actually really liked the book version of Practical Magic, after I got over the fact that it wasn’t the movie. The book was darker, and the Aunts weren’t as awesome, and there was actually a lot less magic, but I still liked it. Just not nearly as much as I liked the movie. Practical Magic is one of those movies that I watch over and over and over. It’s excellent for knitting to. It makes me goofy happy.  The book just doesn’t do that for me.
#1: My number one movie-is-better-than-the-book choice is The Witches of Eastwick. I have made no secret of my shallowness and lack of literary sophistication, but if you had any doubts before–they will all be laid to rest now. I loved the movie. So I bought the book. And I HATED it. Hated, hated, hated it. The characters in the book are all awful, unsympathetic people and they do  horrible things and . . . YUCK! (It didn’t help that I read the book as I was coming down with a terrible cold/bronchitis thing, and after I finished the book I fell in to a feverish sleep where I had delusions that my illness was brought on by a curse from the witches in the story. Eep!). Also, the book, if I remember correctly, did not deliver a Queen Latifah ending. I can’t be sure, though, because my mind is a rebellious thing and refuses to remember many details about the book, except I think one of the witches kills a puppy with magic because it is making too much noise and bothering her. YUCK. I know I said that already, but . . . yuck!

Whereas the movie?! The movie had Jack Nicholson as “just your average horny little devil.” It had Michelle Pfeiffer as a woman who “could use your toothbrush and get pregnant.” It had Cher in weird 80’s outfits making sculptures of  “little booby dolls”.  And it had Susan Sarandon (who I adore) as a woman who goes from inhibited, tight-laced, respectable music teacher to wild-haired, braless sex goddess wandering the aisles of the grocery store eating pickles from the jar and buying lots of chocolate. (I also love that the witches are, respectively, a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead, and that their hair gets progressively frizzier and bigger as the movie progresses.) The movie certainly has it’s share of dark, disturbing scenes, but you actually care for the heroines and want them to triumph, and also you have sympathy for the devil. He may be evil, but he also shows them a good time and delivers one of the best feminist monologues I’ve ever heard. (I won’t reflect too deeply on what it says about the screenwriter that he or she gives the villain a feminist monologue. I want to keep loving the movie unreservedly.)

So what about you? What movies did you like better than the book?

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4 thoughts on “Witches Have the Best Hair; or, Sometimes the Movie is Better.

  1. What a great post! I actually agree with all of it, particularly the bit about Last Holiday. That movie is so heartwarming and uncomplicated, It’s the movie equivalent of a nice cozy blanket. It makes me SO HAPPY to watch it. I don’t care that it’s predictable and cheesy. It’s predictable and cheesy done RIGHT and there is certainly a need for that.

    Also, on Witches of Eastwick. I think that monologue is part of the complexity of Darryl’s character. In the end, he has to be stopped, but it’s because despite his monologue, he’s trying to control the women and they realize they have to learn to control themselves. So it’s actually a pretty empowering feminist ending, after Darryl backs off his feminism, even though he was the one who introduced the women to it to begin with.

  2. Such a good point about Darryl. He’s a really complicated character, and I kind of figure he really does believe he’s the good guy in the scenario. Interesting that he talks about the way marriage destroys women, without realizing that his need to control the women will destroy them just as thoroughly as he thinks marriage would. How’s that for a convoluted sentence.

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