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Series that shouldn’t have stopped (plus). July 18, 2014

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As we all wait…and wait…for “Game of Thrones” Season Five (and for “The Hobbit” and “Mockingjay” and… ), our friend Ben is picking up the theme from yesterday’s Silence Dogood post “Feel-good films.” There are some film series and TV series that Silence and I loved and feel simply shouldn’t have stopped, or should have swapped out leading actors. Here are a few that ended before their time, starred the wrong guy, or passed on the chance to star the right girl:

* The Conan movies. We love “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.” Rather than waiting until Ah-nold was too old for the role, then trying to revive the series with a younger man (Jason Momoa of Khal Drogo fame), they should have kept going while the going was good. (And kept Conan’s original sidekick rather than replacing him with that creepy little man.) Robert E. Howard wrote many Conan stories, so the filmmakers had plenty of material to work with. A missed opportunity for fun for all ages, more classic lines from Ah-nold, and campy entertainment for adults.

* The Tony Hillerman PBS “series.” Tony Hillerman wrote a shelf or two of Navajo murder mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, with a slew of great recurring characters, lots of Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni rituals and beliefs, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Four Corners as his setting. Robert Redford saw the books’ rich visual potential and filmed three PBS “specials” starring Wes Studi as Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Chee, and the marvelous Native American character actors Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than making a regular series, Redford made one episode a year, stopping after just three. He should have filmed all the books while the cast was together, rather than letting them drift and losing momentum.

* The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels that follow the adventures of the beloved Botswana detective, Precious Ramotswe, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, and a cast of gently humorous and unforgettable characters (shout out to you and your famous fruitcake, Mma Potokwane), calls out for a series. And it looked like it was finally getting one, with Anika Noni Rose giving a true star turn as Grace Makutsi, but it fizzled and died after just three episodes. No fault of the series or the actors—the director suddenly died. I’d have thought another director would have been brought in, but instead, the series ended just like the Tony Hillerman specials. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the Tony Hillerman novels both get a second chance.

* Master and Commander. Russell Crowe and the ensemble cast gave such a strong showing in the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic seafaring novel, showcasing everything from warfare at sea to natural history and Regency-era espionage, that it seemed a natural for followups based on O’Brian’s subsequent novels. Instead, no more were ever made. Silence and I are still waiting.

Moving on to casting:

* Sean Connery in “Shogun.” James Clavell wrote the lead character in his blockbuster novel Shogun with Sean Connery in mind, and Connery would have been perfect for the role. (He proved his range beyond Bond once and for all in “The Man Who Would Be King,” and gave his greatest performance, in our opinion, in “Rising Sun.”) Watching the series, if you picture Connery in Richard Chamberlain’s place, everything suddenly makes sense. What a wasted opportunity, since everyone else in the series was so good, and Sean Connery would have made it perfect. But in this case, it wasn’t the producers’, director’s, or casting team’s fault. Whoever played Pilot-Major Blackthorne would have had to commit to filming in Japan for two years, and Connery wasn’t willing to do that. Chamberlain was.

* George Lazenby as James Bond. Speaking of Sean Connery, there have been a lot of Bonds over the years, but none were so perfect in our opinion as Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who was chosen to succeed Connery. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby proved virile, resourceful, intelligent, educated, and—in the only instance known to Bond—capable of actually falling in love. (Well, it was Diana Rigg.) You could totally believe both his 007 and human sides. This is a depth of character missing from most Bond portrayals, and, as Silence is constantly pointing out, he was very easy on the eyes, too. Yet he just played Bond in the one film. Why? Because his agent told him that being typecast as Bond would hamper his career. No doubt that great advice is why we all know him as an A-list actor. (Sarcasm.) I hope that agent is now supporting himself as a Wal*Mart greeter. We think Sean Bean, who played villain Alec Trevelyan in another Bond film, “GoldenEye,” would have made a fantastic Bond, too, so much stronger than Pierce Brosnan.

* Liv Tyler as Arwen Evenstar. Peter Jackson brought back Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, but passed on the opportunity to bring the gorgeous Liv Tyler back to Middle Earth in his film trilogy “The Hobbit.” She was, in our opinion, the strongest character in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (sorry, Sean Bean and Andy Serkis, we loved you, too), and since they decided to simply stuff Orlando Bloom’s Legolas into “The Hobbit,” not to mention Galadriel, we don’t see why Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be there, too. We do applaud the choice of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, though.

Speaking of “The Hobbit,” which stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug, we are very concerned that the series “Sherlock,” starring Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as Watson, might go the way of the Tony Hillerman specials. As it is, you’re lucky to get three episodes of “Sherlock” every two years, and its stars, and even its co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series and now the Banker of Braavos on “Game of Thrones,” are becoming increasingly busy with other projects. They’re promising a “Sherlock Christmas special” in December 2015 and three more episodes in 2016, but gee, that’s a long way off, and a lot of inertia and dispersion can happen between now and then. Hey, guys, show some pity! We could be hit by a bus between now and then and miss the next installment… if there even is one.

In an ironic turn, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in all the Peter Jackson movies, is also playing Sherlock Holmes (at 93) in the upcoming movie “Mr. Holmes.” We look forward to seeing it!

Now it’s your turn: Tell us some we missed, or what you miss.

Sherlock fans, watch this! February 16, 2014

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Fans of “the great detective,” Sherlock Holmes, and his many film and television interpretations, including Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock,” you’re in for a treat. No, not yet another version of Holmes. Or, not exactly.

Holmes fanatics who know their history know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, got his inspiration for the character from one of his med school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. You can now watch a fictionalized version of Doyle’s apprenticeship with Bell, including an encounter with a young Jack the Ripper, and how Doyle learned Bell’s deductive methods.

The BBC production, “Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes,” stars Ian Richardson, who played Holmes himself in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Sign of Four,” as Dr. Bell. It also features strong supporting performances, especially from Sean McGinley as the Lestrade-like Inspector Beecher and Charles Dance of “Game of Thrones” fame as an arrogant, hypocritical aristocrat. (We could expect no less from Lord Tywin Lannister!)

If you’ve missed this, we strongly suggest that you check it out—it’s at least as good as and more interesting than most Holmes interpretations we’ve seen. We first saw it on Netflix, and it’s available through Amazon. We enjoyed it every bit as much on second viewing, and plan to add it to our regular (extensive) rotation of Holmes DVDs. Great background, great plot, great acting, plus Holmes! What more could a Sherlock fan ask?!

Did Sherlock do the right thing? February 3, 2014

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Having just watched the season finale of “Sherlock” last night, our friend Ben was unprepared to read an article this morning that attacked Sherlock for shooting and killing the villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen (a play on Charles Augustus Milverton, “the king of blackmailers,” in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story). The author of the article said that Sherlock should have been able to come up with a rational, non-violent way to defuse Magnussen without killing him.

I have no doubt that Sherlock could have, and did, think of these options. But that’s missing the whole point.

The whole point being that Sherlock is more than “a high-functioning sociopath,” as he often describes himself. More than a computer embodied in flesh. He is, in fact, a human being who is fiercely loyal to the few people who mean something to him.

The reason he killed Magnussen was not that he hated him for being a blackmailing bully, or because he couldn’t think of any other options: It was because Magnusson was torturing his dear friend Watson, and Watson was helpless to resist because of his love for his wife Mary. We saw another example of this in an earlier season when a thug had been hurting Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock, completely out of character, hurled him through a glass window into a dumpster two stories below. I feel certain that he would do the same to anyone who tried to hurt his brother Mycroft, his parents, or his colleagues Molly and Inspector Lestrade.

And let’s not forget that in “A Study in Pink,” Watson shot dead the man who was threatening Sherlock’s life. Nobody suggested that he was behaving badly by doing so; he was simply showing a very human loyalty and protective instinct towards his friend. Could one expect less of Sherlock himself, described by Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson as “the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known”? I think not.

“Sherlock” fans, beware! January 31, 2014

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In a report worthy of “The Onion,” we read that Tumblr’s new Terms of Service agreement specifically prohibited users from pretending to be Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the hit BBC series “Sherlock.” We don’t know if that’s because a majority of Tumblr users are pretending to be Benedict Cumberbatch, or because the Tumblr people pulled his name out of the hat as an example because he’s the male shooting-star equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence. (And why not use her?) Heck, Luddites that we are, we don’t even know what Tumblr is.

But whatever it is, if you use it, beware. Apparently it’s okay to pretend to be Martin Freeman (who plays Sherlock’s faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson), or Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, or, say, the actors who play Irene Adler, Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, or Professor Moriarty (“the Napoleon of Crime”). But Benedict Cumberbatch? Don’t even think about it! Unless, we suppose, you want to pretend to be Smaug…

Sherlock or Super Bowl? January 30, 2014

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Our friend Rob was asking our friend Ben how many people we planned to invite to our Super Bowl party this Sunday. “None,” I replied. “Silence Dogood and I will be watching the last episode of season 3 of ‘Sherlock’, the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The only super bowl we’re likely to be seeing will be filled with popcorn or nachos.”

At first, Rob, a rabid sports fan, looked completely taken aback. Then he began laughing. “I can picture it now: You invite 19 enthusiasts over to watch the Super Bowl. It’s the end of the fourth quarter, and the game is tied 21-21. Suddenly, it’s 10 o’clock, and Silence, grabbing the remote, announces, “It’s time for ‘Sherlock'” and presses the button. Do you know what would happen then?!”

“Of course I do.” Our friend Ben, having known Silence well for many years, is no fool. “Silence would boot all the football fanatics into the icy street and settle down in front of the TV. After, of course, making sure we had our popcorn or nachos and some wine, and asking me to make the fire up. To add insult to injury, while she was throwing the football fans into the street, she would probably tell them that they could catch the last few seconds on their smartphones and to have a nice night!”

“Oh. I guess I’ll plan on spending Sunday night with some guys I know,” Rob said. “We’ll have hot dogs, chili, wings and beer in front of the game, and maybe even pizza.”

“What, no guacamole? Silence makes great guac, and it goes really well with her nachos and fresh salsa.”

“Uh, maybe I can bring some storebought guac and chips to the Super Bowl gathering just in case.” Rob paused for thought. “Er, Ben, want to come with me? I’m sure Silence wouldn’t really mind.”

“Any other time, Rob,” I lied, a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fanatic who loves brilliantly solved mysteries (as opposed to murders) far more than sports. “Silence says the final episode shows Sherlock with a girlfriend. This I have to see!” I refrained from noting that Silence has already pre-ordered season 3 on Amazon, so we’ll presumably be able to see it as often as we want. But not as soon as Sunday, when the game—Sherlock’s, not the Super Bowl’s—is finally afoot.

Good old peas (and bees). May 17, 2012

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Our friend Ben was reading yet another article on the contradictions in modern medicine—this one showcasing a new study about the worthlessness of high levels of “good” cholesterol in preventing heart attacks—when I came upon this: “The paper used a method known as mendelian randomisation to compare heart-attack risk…”

Good old Gregor Mendel. It’s heartwarming for those of us who, like the gardening monk, enjoy the pleasures of the garden to know that he’s alive and well, at least in the realm of theoretical medicine.

For those whose high-school biology has gone the way of that whatchamacallit you know is somewhere in the garage, a little refresher, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Gregor Johann Mendel (July 20, 1822-January 6, 1884) was an Austrian scientist and Augustinian friar who gained posthumous fame as the founder of the new science of genetics. Mendel demonstrated that the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants follows particular patterns, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.” Like one of our friend Ben’s heroes, Sherlock Holmes, Mendel was also a beekeeping enthusiast.

Our friend Ben encourages all you gardeners out there to work “mendelian randomisation” into as many conversations today as possible. It’s so satisfying to be annoying in a good cause. And if you want to celebrate by serving up peas and honey (not together, though, please) at today’s meals, I’m sure Abbot Gregor would be proud.

Sherlock is back! May 6, 2012

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We’ve decided that May is Sherlock Holmes month here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. Yesterday, Silence Dogood found a new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Mulholland Books, 2011), at our local library. And tonight, the second season of “Sherlock” launches on PBS.

For Holmes fanatics like Silence and our friend Ben (who has actually penned a Holmes novel himself), this is very heady stuff. First off, Mr. Horowitz is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, and his novel has been authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate, the first time they have ever leant their imprimatur to a non-family member. We’re looking forward to a wonderful read. And tonight’s episode of “Sherlock” brings the World’s Greatest Detective together with his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, and “The Woman,” Irene Adler.

Mind you, we had a few issues with the series’s first season. We really enjoyed the wonderfully-named Benedict Cumberbatch—a name straight out of Dickens—as Holmes (though we still think he’d better as Dr. Who) and Martin Freeman as Watson. And we loved whichever of the show’s creators (alas, we forget which one it was) as Holmes’s older brother Mycroft. We thought the way the show depicted Holmes’s thought process was nothing short of brilliant, and we appreciated the way they kept the element of humor that made the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films so entertaining, but this time made sure it wasn’t at Watson’s expense.

On the other hand, we found the Moriarty woefully weak—a fatal flaw in any Holmes effort—and the plots far too transparent. We’re hoping for better things from this season, though we have our doubts about the decision to turn poor Irene Adler from an actress into a dominatrix. Thing is, she was the actual victim in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” rather than the king who enlisted Holmes’s efforts at protecting his reputation from her. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true in “A Scandal in Belgravia”!

Holmes lovers, check your TV listings and let us know what you think!

A woman’s worst nightmare. March 8, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. I was watching the 2004 Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives” the other night, which of course brought to mind the 1975 original starring Katharine Ross. I realized that this (the original) just had to be a woman’s worst nightmare. Not “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Not Freddy or Chucky or Jaws or Norman Bates or even Hannibal Lecter. No disaster or horror movie could possibly be more disastrous or horrifying than this low-key little tale of life in a secluded Connecticut suburb.

The plot, as with any great horror movie, begins innocently enough: The heroine, an aspiring photographer, and her family move to the sunny suburb of Stepford. This squeaky-clean suburb is notable for two things: wives who look like models (with mannequin-level IQs) and act like they had been transported straight from the ’50s, and the creepy Stepford Men’s Association, to which all resident men belong. The heroine’s husband is persuaded to join this men’s club, and soon he’s asking his wife to record a lengthy series of words and phrases to assist in the research of the club’s head, who’s supposedly doing an analysis of speech, or more specifically, women’s speech.

As the film continues, the heroine happens on a number of unsettling discoveries, which lead to the realization that all the Stepford wives are actually beautiful, complacent robots, with the voice recordings of the real women. This allows their “husbands” to realize the fantasy of perfectly subservient domestic help and enthusiastic sexbots who still look and speak with the voices of the women they married, but with no personalities or thoughts or needs of their own to add stress to the men’s perfectly comfortable lives. If this reminds you of anything, from ancient Greece to the Taliban, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. But I digress.

What makes the original “Stepford Wives” a true horror movie is that it proceeds to its logical conclusion. This is also what made the classic cult movie, the marvelous Christopher Lee/Edward Woodward “The Wicker Man,” so powerful and horrifying. In both movies, the action is slow and, at least to us moderns, campy to say the least. It’s easy to mock them, make jokes, criticize, feel oh so much more sophisticated than the poor saps in those movies.

But we’ve all been inoculated with the idea of the happy ending. Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from aliens in “Independence Day.” Weak, pitiful Frodo Baggins defeats the all-powerful Sauron, Lord of the Rings. Luke Skywalker and The Karate Kid come out ahead, despite their obvious weakness. James Bond and Sherlock Holmes always get away, no matter the odds against them. Keanu Reeves is not consumed by the machines in “The Matrix.” Arnold Schwarzenegger transforms from villain to hero in the Terminator series. Harrison Ford and Donald Craig whup the alien ass in “Cowboys and Aliens.”

So it’s movies where the good guys don’t win that are the true horror movies. What if one of the Bond villains blandly pointed a gun at 007’s head and fired, rather than devising some elaborate torture-and-death scheme from which Bond inevitably escapes? What if the Clint Eastwood cowboy was gunned down and butchered, rather than riding off into the sunset? What gives “The Wicker Man” its horrific nature is that, after several hours of hysterical fun as Edward Woodward, the rigid police officer, attempts to deal with the freewheeling, unpredictable, and definitely unruly residents of a remote Scottish isle and bring them back to the arch-conservative fold, he is burned alive, screaming in agony. In “The Stepford Wives,” we expect the heroine to triumph. Instead, she is murdered and her lookalike robot takes her place, since her husband has seen how much more smoothly his life will go if he isn’t encumbered by an actual human being with thoughts, needs, and dreams.

What makes this a nightmare for all women is that the heroine’s husband is portrayed as a loving, caring person who genuinely adores his wife. But once the men of the Stepford Men’s Association point out to him the advantages of replacing his wife with a robot, he’s all for it. So what if his real wife has to die? A small price to pay for his lifelong comfort.

Would men, would your man, really prefer the ox-dumb but physically perfect, obedient mannequin to you? 

Since the original film of “The Stepford Wives” came out in 1975, there have been several attempts to answer this question. One was the marvelous 1987 Melanie Griffith cult film “Cherry 2000.” In it, the hero’s supermodel-robot, the exclusive Cherry 2000, explodes during sex after touching water. Devastated, the hero is determined to replace her with another Cherry 2000, but finds that now they’re only available on the black market and require a very hazardous trip to the outback if you want even a remote chance of getting one. He hires a fearless pilot, a real, live woman (Griffith), to fly him out into dangerous terrain. Along the way, he comes to realize that he prefers the real, live, woman (Griffith), with all her flaws, to the perfect and perfectly boring robot.

In the Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives,” the film attempts to redress the inequity of the original film by having the heroine triumph, the other wives revive after computer chips in their brains are deactivated, and the mastermind behind the whole Stepford community be revealed as a woman, a brain surgeon (Glenn Close). And Kidman’s husband, played by the always-marvelous Matthew Broderick, comes to see the error of his ways and that he loves his real wife, so he helps her sabotage the evil Men’s Association. Really? I certainly hope so, and I hope it mirrors real life.

Another recent film, “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), chronicles the adventures of a disconnected young man named Lars who orders a lifelike sex doll named Bianca and persuades his entire hometown to accept the mannequin as his girlfriend. After a number of plot twists, he manages to transfer his affection from the sex doll to a real girl.

Gack!!! Every woman surely wants to believe that people in general, and their partners in particular, love them for themselves, not for how closely they fit some stereotype of perfection. If there’s a woman in your life, please take the time to reassure her that she’s the ultimate in your life. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

The joys of jellyfish. August 7, 2011

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“When was the last time you thought about jellyfish?” So begins an article, “Balletic Flowers of the Sea,” by Joel Henning in The Wall Street Journal (check it out at www.wsj.com). Our friend Ben would have to respond, within the hour. And not because of the article, either.

I’ve been interested in jellyfish since I first heard about them as an infant, and have been mildly obsessed by them since I was on our annual family summer vacation in Pensacola, Florida, at age six, and enountered a Portuguese Man o’ War on the beach. I’d been told that the sting of one of these jellyfish could result in an agonizing death. Gee! I just had to find out for myself. (Perhaps this early incident explains why our friend Ben has still not managed to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, despite years of ardent hinting and hoping.) Sticking my bare foot tentatively into the jellyfish, the youthful Ben waited to feel the sting. And waited. Nothing. Mind you, this might have been because the unfortunate jellyfish was already dead, or simply because it was beached topside up so I didn’t actually encounter any tentacles during my unsuccessful probe.

You might think this failure to endure an agonizing death would have turned our friend Ben off jellyfish, but not so. I have remained fascinated by them throughout life, examining them with obsessive interest whenever I’m fortunate enough to be on a beach where one has washed up, grateful to have the opportunity to observe it, but sad that its life most probably will end stranded just feet from its ocean habitat.

My interest in all things jellyfish multiplied exponentially after an ultraviolet encounter with some at the North Carolina Aquarium in Beaufort, NC. Watching the various species drift by, ghostlike, tattered shrouds trailing, illuminated like stars, in the night of the surrounding water, made an indelible impression. Their exotic beauty struck our friend Ben dumb, which, as Silence Dogood rightly points out, is perhaps the first and last time that will ever happen.

Returning to The Wall Street Journal article, which focuses on an exhibit of jellyfish at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, continuing through May, 2012. Our friend Ben has visited the Shedd Aquarium and it is fantastic; even without jellyfish, well worth a trip. But check out some jellyfish trivia from the article and you may want to visist the Shedd (or the North Carolina Aquarium, for that matter) for the jellyfish alone: 

* Jellyfish can range in size from a contact lens to a bus.

* Jellyfish, described by the article as “living lava lamps,” are among Earth’s oldest creatures, having floated in our oceans for hundreds of millions of years, preceding fish, insects, and dinosaurs.

* Some jellyfish can double their weight in a day. (Thank heavens humans can’t duplicate that feat, the battle of the bulge is bad enough as it is!)

* The world’s largest jellyfish, the lion’s mane, with a bell (as its top is called) 8 feet wide and tentacles 100 feet long, even features in a Sherlock Holmes adventure.

I suggest that you refrain from sticking your foot into a jellyfish, should you enounter one. (You may not be as lucky as our friend Ben.) But you should definitely check them out at a beach or an aquarium near you!

When the movie is better. March 24, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are great readers, but we try not to be book snobs. People love to belittle movies by comparing them, unfavorably, to the books on which they were based. (The Lord of the Rings movie series comes to mind as a justifiable example of this, reducing a wonderful trilogy to a two-dimensional endless battle sequence worthy of a video game.) But sometimes the movies are better.

Perhaps it was the death of Elizabeth Taylor, possibly the most beautiful woman who ever lived, certainly the most beautiful we ever saw, that brought the topic to mind. Or watching the first episode of “The Pallisers” last night, or comparing the recent version of “True Grit” with the original. But whatever the case, we challenged each other to name some movies that were far superior to the books that inspired them.

First on our list was “The Running Man.” The novella that inspired the movie was little more than a two-dimensional sketch by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). For whatever reason, the scriptwriters managed to flesh the story out with real characters, lots of color, and actual depth. Ditto for Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun versus the Sean Connery-led film “Rising Sun.” Silence would add the Timothy Dalton version of “Jane Eyre” and both the Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale versions of Jane Austen’s “Emma” to the list. Certainly, “Gone with the Wind” and “The Godfather” were far better on film than on paper. Ditto most of the James Bond movies and the Conan movies. “The Commitments,” the marvelous fleshing out of a very slight novella by Roddy Doyle. And “Slumdog Millionaire,” the brilliant bringing to life of an Indian novel called Q&A, a first effort by Vikas Swarup.

Plays are not immune, either. “A Man for All Seasons” and “Amadeus” are two cases where the film trumped the play; ditto “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” 

Sometimes, we feel that the film versions and book versions come out as a draw. We both love the Tony Hillerman mystery series featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. But we also really enjoyed the Robert Redford-produced dramatizations of the series. We feel the same for the movie “Smoke Signals” and the Sherman Alexie short stories on which it was loosely based. And we really enjoy both Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its TV adaptation.

Then there are the film versions that fall short. Besides the Lord of the Rings movies, there is the issue of Sherlock Holmes. Silence and I love Basil Rathbone as Holmes and respect Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of Holmes as a twitchy, ADHD-bipolar genius enormously. But we are still waiting for the ultimate interpretation, the one that truly lives up to the stories and books. Silence enjoys the various interpretations of her favorite Jane Austen book, Pride and Prejudice, from the BBC version to the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth film to “Clueless” and “Bride and Prejudice,” the Bollywood version. But she still thinks the ultimate interpretation has yet to be done.

And of course, there are the books that should be made as films but are still waiting: Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne and Tigana; Joan Vinge’s The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen; Sheri Tepper’s Grass and The True Game trilogy; Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting; Mary Gentle’s Ancient Light and Golden Witchbreed; Wendell Berry’s Port William novels; Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons and Falls the Shadow; Hope Munt’s The Golden Warrior.  Directors, producers, scriptwriters, where are you?!!!

Readers, we know you have additions to our various lists. Please share them with us!  And meanwhile, let’s take a moment to honor those often-invisible, overlooked entities, screenwriters, who can turn run-of-the mill text into great cinema.

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