Why The Road Is Better As A Book


OK, there’s nothing worse than those people who bang on about how movies are not as good as books.

They say no filmmaker can ever match the detail and the richness and the characterisation, that no director could possibly visualise a world to compare with the one flickering before their bulging mind’s eye as they turn the pages…
Those people do not understand cinema.
They don’t get that the oh-so-perfect blend of images, acting, music and cutting can surpass the printed page.
They fail to recognise that the great directors are not directors at all: they are alchemists.
Or so I thought until I found myself traversing John Hillcoat’s The Road.

The problem is not that the movie is bad and can therefore be dismissed – it’s crafted with love, reverence and a good deal of skill, its bleak visuals cradling a committed performance from a haggard, hollowed Viggo Mortensen.

The problem is that no amount of grey skies, empty streets and sooty rain can evoke the cataclysmic power of Cormac McCarthy’s source novel.

Faced with post-apocalyptic landscapes rendered in prose so rugged it seems McCarthy has hewn his words into the faces of mountains, all Hillcoat can do is desaturate his palette.
Offered characters so ravaged and ravenous you can taste the dryness of their mouths, feel the throb of their joints, all Hillcoat can do is ensure Viggo goes skinny dipping to display the tines of his ribs.
Presented with mental anguish that runs deep and dark yet cannot stain the human soul, all Hillcoat can do is introduce a plaintive voiceover.

And let’s face it: just how the hell do you compress a tortuous journey through a broken world into 111 minutes without cheapening the pain, lessening the endurance?
No Country For Old Men aside (its thematic heft leavened by the thrill of the chase…), Cormac McCarthy’s novels don’t belong on the screen.

They’re too spare and sprawling, too simple and complicated, too small and big, and the one American filmmaker who could have wrestled with their beauty and their sadness – who could have tamed their grandeur by letting it loose - is dead. RIP, Robert Altman.

Maybe some books are better than movies, after all…

Do you have any adaptations you adore? Or are books best? Tell us!

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Total Film

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