Thursday, February 11, 2010

Buy the book AND the movie at the same time!

Strolling through a Barnes & Noble Wednesday, I came across a neat display of these new packages that allow you to buy a classic book and a DVD of the movie made from it, all in one box. Here's a link to the complete set.

The titles available were:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott/1994 film by Gillian Armstrong - The best film version of Little Women is the 1933 version with Kate Hepburn, but that's a Warner Bros. title and all the films in these packages are controlled by Sony. No matter. The 1994 film is also outstanding, with a terrific cast, fronted by Winona Ryder.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen/1995 film by Ang Lee - Normally I don't care for what a friend of mine once called "tea party" movies, but this film was an exception, with great work by Emma Thompson (who wrote the fine screenplay) and Kate Winslet.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton/1993 film by Martin Scorsese: With Marty at the helm, it's better than most any Merchant/Ivory movie. It has great visuals and fine performances, particularly by Winona Ryder (again). However, it has one very distracting flaw: voice-over narration by Joanne Woodward that I think is mean to capture details of the book but instead drains the movie's energy by seeming too emotionally detached.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley/Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Ideally this would be packaged with the great 1931 James Whale film with Boris Karloff, but instead we get Kenneth Branagh's 1994 version, which I really don't remember too well, except to say it was decent, if a bit overwrought.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle/1939 film by Sidney Lanfield: If I were to buy any of the collections, it would be this one. I've never seen that film, nor have I read that book. (In fact, I rather shame-facedly admit I haven't read any of the books in question - though I hasten to add I've read other works by Austen and Doyle). I would hesitate buying any of the others because I'm not sure what I'm getting with the DVDs - I'd hate to find out they were "fullscreen" versions. With the Holmes movie, that wouldn't matter, with the other titles, it would.

All in all, though, I thought this was a great concept. It can introduce movie-lovers to the books, and it can allow book lovers to take a closer look at how and why movies adapt books the way they do.

What I notice, though, is that all of these two-fers are classic literature combined with mostly well-regarded movies. I doubt anyone would have the gumption to do it, but I would love to see pairings of contemporary movies where the book and the film don't quite match in reputation.

For instance, I've never read The Bridges of Madison County, but a lot of critics said that for all its popularity, the book really wasn't all that great. I did see Clint Eastwood's film, which is quite good, and some say it greatly improves upon the book. I'd love to find out.

On the other side of the dust jacket, you could take a great book like The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe - and then package it with the 1990 Brian De Palma film to realize JUST how badly that movie blew up in everyone's faces. And as an added bonus, you could package it with Jule Salamon's The Devil's Candy, the outstanding nonfiction chronicle of the (un)making of that movie. (THAT I've read. In fact, I own copies of both Wolfe's and Salamon's books, but feel no great need to add De Palma's film to my collection.)

What other book/film collections would you like to see? Besides Holmes, which of the Barnes & Nobles sets would you recommend to me?

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