Which Bond novels were better than the film version?
All of them.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Pretty much all of them, though I think GOLDFINGER is vastly superior to Fleming's rather plodding novel.
we have a thread somewhere called Which Films Improved on the Books?
I'll try to find it and post the link later
each one in some way or another makes some small improvements, some very large.
EDIT: here's one thread on that topic, not sure if its the one I remember as its very old
DOUBELEDIT: this is the thread I remember, it went on longer and was more detailed
I've read an interview with Fleming where he is aware and seemingly regretful he spent three chapters on one golf game in Goldfinger, thats the one most obviously improved. The book always bugs me because how late Pussy Galore is introduced, and I dont care about golf. But we were just discussing elsewhere how changes to the book's plot made some remaining scenes in the film illogical (e.g. gassing the mobsters after explaining his plans), so its not perfect.
I'd say in general, my personal opinion, all the books are better. Thats because I regard what Fleming wrote as definitive canon, and the films as adaptations, no matter how good those adaptations are. And Fleming himself complained about some very minor variations in the first two films. Though I think he understood the films had to be funnier than what he wrote.
I think it's hard to say which is better or worse with some, because some are doing slightly different things, even if they're all aiming to be silly pulpy adventure fun. Moonraker is one; the book is a nicely tense adventure affair, whereas the film is even bigger and sillier but still very entertaining.
It's been a while since I read them, but I think I remember Dr No being more enjoyable than the film (they're both aiming for the same sort of thing, and it's pretty much the only one where the book is bigger and sillier than the film). Live And Let Die hangs together a lot better in the book version too and is a much more thrilling affair. I'd say You Only Live Twice but that book is a bit all over the place.
Otherwise I've got to say that generally the films improve upon most of them. Better plots, the characters are generally better represented (Fleming has this weird thing where the baddies only seem to appear in the last few pages, and then Bond kills them!), much better jokes, better action etc.
generally the films improve upon most of them. Better plots, the characters are generally better represented (Fleming has this weird thing where the baddies only seem to appear in the last few pages, and then Bond kills them!), much better jokes, better action etc.
I think the general pattern is Fleming spends 150 pages on backstory, technobabble and character revealing dialogs, then all the action happens in the last two chapters, and in the film the proportion is exactly the other way round.
in the books Bond may only meet the villain in the last few pages, but theres usually a full chapter of backstory for each villain, which makes them more interesting characters. but cinematically we want to see the hero and villain interact.
I would say generally Fleming writes all the female characters better, with Pussy Galore and Eva Green's Vesper being the only two I can think of who were more interesting in the film. Most of the films that stuck close to the books were made in the 60s, and the female characters tended to be bikini clad damsels in distress who needed their dialog overdubbed. Fleming wrote persuasive human beings.
I'd say in general, my personal opinion, all the books are better. Thats because I regard what Fleming wrote as definitive canon, and the films as adaptations, no matter how good those adaptations are.
Yeah, that's fair enough. They are excellent adventure books. But then I tend to think James Bond moved beyond them a long time ago and so much was added by the films that neither the books or the films are the whole experience. I think it's apt that No Time To Die was named after a Broccoli film rather than anything to do with Fleming, because at this point in time Cubby Broccoli is as responsible for the icon of James Bond 007 as Ian Fleming was. Certainly we wouldn't all be here without the films, and when I look at the page of the most recent posts on this forum, this is the only one which is even tangentially related to the books.
And Fleming himself complained about some very minor variations in the first two films. Though I think he understood the films had to be funnier than what he wrote.
Which is kind of bizarre when you look at the film of Dr No and remember that it's the book version where Bond fought a giant squid and Dr No was killed by a pile of birdshit! 😁
They’re two different mediums so they can’t be compared. You can compare how the film was adapted, and in many ways the films were better plot wise than the books were - GF and TSWLM being the two main examples. As for adaptions, then OHMSS and CR (2006) are the best but most of them have taken the essence of the book and produced great entertaining movies, otherwise this site wouldn’t exist.
And Fleming himself complained about some very minor variations in the first two films.
From what I recall, he was irritated that the scene of Honey being menaced by crabs was cut from Dr. No (and to be fair, its replacement was rather lame). He was not the only one who complained, according to Fleming's letter to the Spectator:
“Spectator's Notebook”: Queequeg asks what happened to the crabs in the film Dr. No. Alas, they went the way of the giant squid, despite urgent representations from me and from one of the producers. The black crabs had not started “running” in Jamaica last February when the Jamaican scenes were being shot, but on my return to London in March I received an excited invitation to visit Pinewood and inspect a consignment of spider crabs obtained from Guernsey. A large tank was unveiled. All the crabs were dead. I asked if they bad been preserved in sea water and was told that, since none was available, they had been put in fresh water with plenty of salt added! After that the crab faction gave up.
Fleming however was very happy when he learned the sewer rats would be retained in FRWL. By and large though, Fleming was not very concerned about the scripts. As Richard Maibaum said:
I met Ian Fleming several times while he was still alive, but I did not speak to him about screenwriting. He didn’t seem very interested. He didn’t have script approval, but as a matter of courtesy we gave him the scripts to read. He would make minimal notes in the margin, in very tiny handwriting, that usually dealt with questions of protocol—what Bond called M in the office as opposed to what he called him at their club, things like that.
As for thread topic, here's my run-through:
CR: I can see why some would prefer the film, and Vesper is certainly more vivid onscreen. But for me the adaptation is overlong and waters down all of the book's best scenes.
LALD: The film was string of stunts with a weak climax; the book was a tight thriller with a magnificent, gory ending.
MR: No contest here. The book was a near-perfect thriller; the film was an enervated, shallow spectacle.
DAF: One of the weaker books, but an even weaker film. The literary version of Tiffany Case is one of Fleming's best characters but in the film she degenerates into a bimbo; the book's Spectreville scenes and climax are strong and it gathers strength as it goes along, whereas the film falls apart.
FRWL: The film is superb adaptation. A draw then? But the characterizations are slightly stronger in the book, which I ultimately prefer.
DN: The film tones down the wilder parts of the book, so the latter has the edge.
GF: A clear case of retaining and supercharging the best parts of the book but improving on the plot and visualizing what Fleming didn't (the golden girl, Fort Knox, etc). The film is better because it out-Flemings Fleming, as Maibaum put it.
FYEO: Difficult to judge, since the film turns two unconnected short stories into a feature-length story. A draw.
TB: The film has a needlessly overcomplicated plot and much weaker characterization than the book.
TSWLM: No point in comparing the two, since only the title was adapted and the film was obviously trying for something completely different. Those interested in a more faithful adaptation should check out the Daily Express comic strip version, which does a good job of retaining parts of the book but adding much of the action that had become expected from Bond.
OHMSS: A second time where the film retains all the best parts of the book but reinforces them into something stronger. Bond and Blofeld get a face to face meeting, film Tracy is a stronger and deeper character, and by having Blofeld capture Tracy the book's twin plots are intertwined into a stronger whole. The film is better.
YOLT: The film is a travelogue spectacle; the book is also a travelogue but gets up to weirder and more emotionally charged things. Book Kissy is one of the strongest Bond girls, book Blofeld is barking mad and given to metafictional rants, and the post-climax scenes are unforgettably strange. For a faithful adaptation (the only visual one in existence) read the Express comic strip version.
TMWTGG: Fleming's weakest book; not much of it survives into the also weak film. The book has terrific opening and closing chapters, which give it the edge. I also prefer Scaramanga as a thuggish death force rather than an unconvincing double of Bond. For a truly good adaptation that improves on its source and gives Bond extra motive, try the the Daily Express comic strip.
OP: The film uses a bit of the story as a launching pad for a separate story rather than adapting it, so there isn't any point in judging them. The Daily Express comic of OP again does a fine job of adapting parts of the story into a more action-oriented story. The film of OP also adapts Fleming's dullest short story, "Property of a Lady" and renders it more interesting than the original.
TLD: The film adapts its source for the opening, but again as a launching pad for a larger story. The story probably works better on its own, but I won't try and judge between it and the film. The Daily Express comic ran a very faithful adaptation of the story, aside from a twist at the end that improves even on Fleming.
Verdict: The novels are ultimately better, with the exceptions of FRWL and FYEO and GF and OHMSS. The latter two films outclass their source novels. And the Daily Express sometimes did a better job of adapting Fleming than the films!
As always, @Revelator, that's a very succinct summary. You left out the Craig Bond's. CR surely deserves your appraising eye, although there's not a lot of point in including QOS.
he covered the only CraigBond thats actually a direct adaptation, he's not talking about Ursula Andress's version of Vesper
CR: I can see why some would prefer the film, and Vesper is certainly more vivid onscreen. But for me the adaptation is overlong and waters down all of the book's best scenes.
they certainly expanded Vesper's character in good and creative ways in the CragiFilm, its one of my favourite aspects. Just making her a Treasury Dept rep instead of someone's secretary made her more important to the whole operation, and creates several new ways in which she may have been betraying Bond all along. Think when she refuses him any more funds after he's just lost big, by doing that she's ensured British money has gone towards funding terrorism. and theres other subtle details made possible with that one change to Fleming.
revelator also sez;
the Daily Express sometimes did a better job of adapting Fleming than the films!
good to bring up the underappreciated comic strip versions! that second creative team (Jim Lawrence/Yaroslav Horak ) especially took Fleming's weaker stories and expanded them into something more comparable to the films, usually anticipating the same formula from the 1980s films. Use the Fleming story for the first few scenes, then spin it outwards to involve a supervillain with evil headquarters and plot to rule the world. and they arguably did it better, both sticking closer to the source material in the opening section and coming up with a better story for the later sections.
in general, good idea to compare: if someone has to change Fleming, were there better solutions than what EON gave us? the radio plays also make some subtle changes while sticking closer to Fleming's plots and scenes.
I stand corrected. I had a late night last night. I was still hung over. I'm not entirely sure why I missed that...
The book of OHMSS has nods to the Count Dracula story with the author arriving pretending to do a biography but really looking to expose the Count's/Blofeld's real identity. This is lost in the film, it isn't really played up, the horror angle with the 'Angels of Death' being like vampires. The eerie element of being trapped in the villain's mountain lair, the wind whistling among the mountain tops, none of that in the film. I prefer the book.
It’s probably only fair to compare the more direct adaptations like CR, Goldfinger, TB, and OHMSS (Moonraker and TSWLM, for instance, have nothing in common with the films of the same name). From that perspective, I would say Goldfinger is the only one where the film gets the nod. But it’s close. I’m not a huge fan of either book or film, golf sequence notwithstanding!
It's opinion though: for one thing I'd say the novel of TMWTGG has Bond meet a pretty uninteresting petty little local villain, and the film version of Scaramanga is much more interesting. Ultimately wasted by the movie he's in, which just goes to show how strong he is.
I'd certainly agree that OHMSS is better as a film though. My favourite part of that is that they kept the opening scenes in the same order they're presented in the book, but threw out Fleming's fussy flashback chronology, and it still all made sense! :)
I agree. Because a Bond novel and a Bond film are texts in different media, they don't really bear direct comparison in terms of relative quality. It's more a question of whether one tends to prefer reading a Fleming thriller or seeing an Eon film. I enjoy both. For me, for example, the ways in which I'm entertained by reading 'Diamonds Are Forever' and seeing DAF are so different that comparison seems invidious. Ditto with 'You Only Live Twice' and YOLT.
How, as a novel, a particular title fares against other titles in the series of novels may differ markedly from how, as a film, the same title fares against other titles in the series of films: GF probably rates higher in the pantheon of Bond films than 'Goldfinger' rates in the series of novels, and the same could be said when assessing TSWLM and 'The Spy Who Loved Me'.
It gets more complicated still if inclined to argue that one film is better than another film as an adaptation of a particular novel. A case could be made that LTK is more satisfying as a partial adaptation of 'Live And Let Die' than is LALD ("He disagreed with something that ate him") - and that FYEO is so, as well (in the keelhauling sequence). One could debate a ranking of those three Bond films but the experience of reading the source, 'Live And Let Die', belongs to a different medium of entertainment: the book is best ranked only against other books, if a need is felt to rank the texts at all.
If I alter the question slightly to "If I must spend the rest of my life either never reading a Fleming book again or never seeing a film again, which would I choose?" The answer would be I would rather have the option of picking up one of the novels and re-reading and never seeing a film again, than the opposite. I love the films, but for hours of sheer enjoyment, I've had more pleasure from my multiple readings of the books and the places that Fleming's words and my imagination take me.
I'd take the films in that circumstance. So much wit and cleverness, great performances to watch, amazing visuals, design, wonderful music to listen to... yeah the films for me please.
Always bereft that Moonraker retains the greatest unfilmed British car chase in cinema...
And the most perfect ending of any entry in the series, book or film, in my opinion.
you mean an actual atomic explosion, or Bond not getting the girl?
I think when it comes to the female characters, you can also add Tracy and Solitaire.
Both characters in the book are damsels really, they have no personalities and are subservient to Bond.
All what Tracy does in the book was to cry, shout at Bond and be whiny, and became subservient at the end of the book, she's bland really, even Calvin Dyson said that in his book review, Diana Rigg improved the character by adding much more depth and personality and yes, toughness, and she was given much more to do in the film.
Solitaire was more of a trophy girl for Bond, she does nothing, she's just a damsel i distress waiting to get rescued from Mr. Big, she has no agency in the book, she's a dull character, I liked Solitaire in the film more, Jane Seymour made the character more interesting, she added more layer to the characterm and made Solitaire a colorful character in contrast to the dull and grey one.
Both are improved in their respective films.
So yes, Tracy, Solitaire, Pussy and Vesper are the only characters that are much better in the films.
Ranking of Ian Fleming Novels/Books
1. Moonraker 2. Casino Royale 3. From Russia With Love 4. Thunderball 5. You Only Live Twice 6. Dr. No 7. Diamonds Are Forever 8. Goldfinger 9. Live And Let Die 10. On Her Majesty's Secret Service 11. The Spy Who Loved Me 12. The Man With The Golden Gun
Ranking the Short Stories:
1. The Living Daylights 2. From A View To A Kill 3. For Your Eyes Only 4. The Hildebrand Rarity 5. Risico 6. Quantum Of Solace 7. Octopussy
Every single one of them, but then again, book usually is, except when the book is just a blatant rip off. "24: Deadline" comes to mind as an example.
The reason I think Solitaire is a stronger character in the book is: it is her idea to leave Mr Big and escape with Bond, she is proactive and Bond himself is so surprised he suspects this must be a trap. Mr Big is paying for singing lessons or some such and she she just walks the wrong way when leaving the classroom and meets Bond at the train station. She even phoned Bond from her room, when she was undoubtedly closely watched by Mr Big's goons, very brave. And when on the train, she is the sexual aggressor, kissing Bond "as if she were the man and he the woman"
whereas in the film's version of her sexual encounter with Bond and subsequent escape , she is not just passive but the victim if one of Bond's sleaziest moves ever.
I would be seriously open to an all-out remake of the Moonraker film that exclusively draws influence from the novel.
Yes, that includes keeping the entire film set in England.
No, not the explosion. And it’s not just that he doesn’t get the girl, but his inner-monologue. There’s more character development on those couple of pages than in the entirety of the films.
Yeah those two 70s Guy Hamilton films were the absolute rock bottom of the series' treatment of women. You'd think it would have been worse in the 60s (and it wasn't great!) but the 70s are where it really kicked in.
People do keep telling us they don't want character development in the films though, 'just go on a mission that isn't personal' etc. 😁
yes that's definitely a bit we haven't seen the equivalent of the films. Those last couple paragraphs are reprising some ideas from the first chapter of the book, where Fleming introduces us to some of the women who work at MI6 and explains why they have to choose between marriage or their job, then at the end we see Gala make the same choice. I think it was something to do with security risk, but it was also the 1950s and I don't believe a woman in the secret service would have to make the same choice today. (Dench-M for example was married wasnt she?)
But in the early chapters Bond is also thinking about how many years to enforced retirement (at 45!) and the sacrifices he must make for this peculiar job. Then eight volumes later he himself does get married and his bride loses her life because of his job, basically the same security risk Fleming was warning of in the early chapter of Moonraker. I do see the ending of moonraker and the ending of OHMSS being related in that sense, part of the larger arc that Bond must forgo normal human relationships to do this job.
a villains sub blown up by nuclear explosion we did see in one of the movies, though the villain wasnt on it. If theyd just saved that scene for one more film itd be in the right place!
I can only speak for myself, but I’m all for character development. I just think what the latter Craig films gave us was a very poor attempt. Only Dalton got close to what Fleming wrote, which was largely down to his superior acting ability—he was able to convey some of Bond’s personality without the benefit of those inner monologues we get on the page. Craig showed flashes of that in CR and QoS, but never lived up to that promise.