I'd tried this once before, back in the '80s with Sophie's Choice. The book was sittin' in the living room (my mother-in-law's copy) and I'd heard the movie was coming...so why not? I'd been writing and directing for a few years, so I figured it would be informative to see how the movie makers chose to handle the adaptation.
Well, William Styron's book is powerful and riveting—its central event a long-ago evil dilemma foisted upon a young Polish mother by a power-drunk Nazi. Many years later and half-a-world away, that same woman—Sophie—finally believes she has found happiness with a suitor. I don't know how it is, exactly, that a well-told tale on the printed page can embed itself so deeply into our souls. I've gasped audibly reading crime novels, I've teared-up reading relationship stories, lost track of time in a good business yarn. But I can count on one hand the number of movies that have undone me: Deer Hunter, Reds, Local Hero, Aliens, Raising Arizona and, well, guess I better use another finger for Toy Story 3.
Despite the presence of Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, the Alan J. Pakula screen version of Sophie's Choice didn't move me an inch. I learned nothing about either writing or filmmaking from the cross-media experience.
And now I've done it again. Having read the book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia a couple of weeks ago, I went this week to see the movie version. I have no way of evaluating whether the movie could get you to suspend disbelief and take a journey deep into the heart of Texas. My whole viewing experience consisted of waiting to see certain scenes from the book...and then being disappointed when they weren't in the film. How could I possibly tell you whether the movie "held together" when I spent its duration picking it apart?
I can, however, state this with certainty: there's no WAY the movie is as bad as the reviews I've read in the national press. I found the golf swing of actor Lucas Black entirely believable—partly because I know he is a scratch-golfer in real life. And of course Robert Duvall is terrific. Deborah Ann Woll is pitch-perfect as the love-interest, and the supporting cast adds genuine Texas flavor to the mix. Perhaps the ending sequence—which features real PGA golfers and several on-camera announcers/analysts from the Golf Channel—comes close to going over the top. At least the cliffhanger ending from the book stayed in the movie...as dramatically unsatisfying as it may be.
My conclusion: the compressed time-frame of a movie gives it less opportunity to burrow into your heart. If your brain still holds details of the book in fresh memory, the film doesn't have a prayer. Until you rinse the book out of your head—replaced by other, newer reads—you should wait to see the movie.
Next time, I may try reading the book after seeing the movie.