Tuesday, March 10, 2009


So I finally found the time to sit down and watch the movie "21" this weekend, after several failed attempts to catch the Kevin Spacey adaptation of the true story of one man's time on the MIT blackjack team. The movie portrays the tale of just another math nerd at MIT, who gets pulled onto the famed MIT blackjack team and ends up turning into a sick high roller, heading out to Vegas every other weekend with hundreds of thousands of dollars strapped to his body through airports on both sides of the country, the massive comps, the chicks, the whole nine yards. As a gambler and Las Vegas lover, this is one of my favorite books I have read in the past ten years without a doubt. And you know what?

The movie sucked.

I don't know why I am continuously surprised at this, but the old adage is true: if you read the book first, the movie is almost always gonna suck in comparison. I can think of a couple of movies that were more or less every bit as good as the book -- Jurassic Park comes to mind -- but in most of those cases it tends to be because of some kind of visual effects or imagery that is just so cool when you see it on the big screen. And even in those cases, the book is still better, as it was with Jurassic Park as well as another excellent movie adaptation of a book, Contact.

Ultimately, a big part of why the book is always better is that when you read a book, you get to make your own images up of the main players in the story. You can picture them looking a certain way, talking with a certain type of accent, and holding themselves in very particular ways. Then you see the movie, and suddenly they're deciding for you how these characters look, how they act, how they talk. And invariably, people who read a ton will tell you that seeing the objective reality in the movie is never quite as good as each one of us getting to make our own subjective image of the people in the book without any external influence from having already seen someone else's depiction.

The other problem with movies as compared to books, and this was definitely an issue IMO in 21, is that these Hollywood moguls perpetually insist on changing the damn plot in the books they are turning into movies. As I mentioned, 21 was no exception and this is where things really fell apart for the flick I think. I thought the movie did a decent -- not great, but decent -- job of depicting the main character's transformation from MIT geek to Vegas high roller. Although the acting was nothing special to be sure, and the amount of time to devote to this transformation was not nearly as significant as that in the book, they did a decent job in an albeit quick fashion. But once these guys get caught the first time, I always thought one of the most interesting and entertaining aspects of the book is the machinations the team goes through to try to avoid detection, including flying to new casinos in Atlantic City, the Mississippi riverboats, even Monte Carlo as I recall, and yet somehow they continue to get caught, beaten, chased out of casinos and just generally thwarted at every turn. All of this was completely missing from the movie, which always bites when the director decides to cut my favorite half of a book entirely out of a movie.

In the end, whether it was the poor casting and less than stellar acting I thought of everyone in the film other than perhaps Jill Taylor whom I found pretty mesmerizing, 21 fell far short of the incredible excitement and energy found in the book "Burning Down the House" by Ben Mezrich. If you're looking for an awesome story that takes place mostly in Vegas and really exemplifies the whole "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" mentality, this book will captivate you like almost no other. Even if you've already seen the movie and were not that impressed, rest assured that the movie omitted what to me were the very best parts of the story pretty much all the way through, including its almost singular focus on the story of the main character changing from computer dork to Vegas high roller and near ignoring of the breakdown of the team moving forward from its peak of profitability.

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Blogger Riggstad said...

I read the book, refuse to see the movie for the same reasons you mention.

Thanks for the confirmation. It truly is one of the more entertaining books I've read in the last year

10:54 PM  
Blogger ElSnarfoGrande said...

Borne Identity, same problem. I don't think the sequels are even remotely the same plot.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Instant Tragedy said...

The book was 1000 times better than the movie, the concept of the team moving from place to place heightened the tension , I couldn't put it down.

So what should the Hoy Book Club read next?


1:08 AM  
Blogger AVIGANOLA said...

Couldn't agree with you more about Jurassic Park, always use that as an example of a movie as good as the book. Other one(s) that come to mind is the Lord of the Rings movies were as really done well. Keep up the good work. Tony

10:42 PM  
Blogger StB said...

It seems like they took the theme of the book and wrote a movie around it. Thus, the movie blew, especially with that shitty ending.

3:13 AM  
Blogger jjok said...

read book, ditched movie till about 2 weeks ago......pissed that it didn't stay ditched.

just an awful movie that screwed over the book.

9:19 PM  

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