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It's a itchy temptation: your argumentative paper is due in a day, you've got a blank cursor and about 400,000 pages to read. Why not rent just rent the damn movie? It's like Cliff's Notes, only you can use your free hands to eat Bubba's chicken.
I'm not saying you shouldn't read the books. You should totally read the books, dude. It's really not that terrible. (Wait, except James Joyce. That shit is excruciating.) It is overwhelming. At the SMU Barnes and Noble on Sunday, there was long, twisting line of a familiar couples: the college student and their unbelievable stack of books that contains all-accrued human knowledge. Organic chemistry squished underneath Carl Sagan. Plato and The Communist Manifesto.
So, until The Coen Brothers adapt Intermediate Accounting or Christopher Nolan's Approach to the Snare Drum comes out: you're stuck. And there's only a handful of movie-versions-of-your-class-assigned-books-that-don't-actually-suck. The following are the movies you can watch in substitute of the book, and, really, truly, seriously learn something...
Dracula Bram Stroker's novel is a watershed piece of horror writing, but Francis Ford Coppola's visually stunning movie version stars Gary-freaking-Oldman as Dracula. And Anthony Hopkins is Van Helsing.
The Graduate If you're like me and you didn't know this was based on a novel until you saw it on the shelf as required reading, then I'd like to suggest that the reason is because the film's fame eclipses the novel's.
Death of a Salesman (1985) OK, this is a for-television film, but it's well-acted and a line-by-line adaptation. No frills, just the play. Dustin Hoffman is Willy Loman, and John Malkovich is Biff. This was the film they made you watch in eighth-grade English, but you were too busy drawing on the long side of the pages, making flip-book comics to notice. Was that just me?
To Kill a Mockingbird Classic cinema. Plus, it's in black-and-white, so you know it's smart.
Pride and Prejudice (2005) Not the one with Colin Firth. Get this stunning, electric adaptation from Joe Wright. Most versions, like the novel, are preeetttyyy tedious. This version's well-paced and stupidly gorgeous.
Apocalypse Now At the SMU Barnes and Noble, there were a couple of classes that required Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Watch this, along with the documentary that chronicles the making of the film (Hearts of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse), and you've got a helluva date night.
Moby Dick (1956) Definitely skip the hilariously euphemistic Patrick Stewart version, and go right for the Ray Bradbury-penned, Gregory Peck-starring version of the Melville novel.
Last Picture Show If this is on your student-required shelf, it's so worth spotting the extra cash for the DVD. Larry McMurtry's brilliant novel is augmented in Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 film. One of the best films, you know, ever.
2001: A Space Odyssey Some science fiction literature courses may require Arthur C. Clarke's original novel. The film, by the late Stanley Kubrick, is not easy-watching, but it's an excellent visual compliment to the razor sharp novel. It essentially boils down Clarke's words into music.
Lord of the Rings: The Full Trilogy Director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh shot all three films over the course of a year, and worked themselves to the bone to keep the film faithful to the source. Get the director's cuts, so you can visualize some of Tolkien's unbelievably long backstory.
Up next: Watch this, not that suggestions
-There is not one--not one, I tell you--good movie version of Frankenstein. No, seriously they all suck.
-Same with anything Ray Bradbury ever wrote. Not one good film. Seriously, how is it hard to make a good movie out of Farenheit 451?
-Carl Sagan's books are superb, but if you're really, really multi-tasking: the complete Cosmos series is on DVD, and is awesome.
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-Recently, a Redditor made pointed out that Tommy Boy is actually a rendition of Hamlet. So, there's that.
-Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo & Juliet is probably not an adequate replacement for the real thing.
-Also, What the Bleep Do We Know!?: Down the Rabbit Hole is probably not a substitute for the actual study of Quantum Physics.
-The only half-way decent movie version of The Scarlet Letter is the movie Easy A. OK, it's loosely-based, but it doesn't suck. That much.