I stand before you, dear reader, to settle a debate that has raged since time immemorial (or, since movies immemorial anyway):
The book was better!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. In many cases it is…but not always. Lots of times, the director brings something across in such an artful, evocative, deeply affecting way, that the author (who can deliver plot and story, but can’t draw a character to save his life) was incapable of expressing.
This isn’t exactly revolutionary. Although it does at least confuse, if not outright anger, book lovers there are lots of people who prefer an adaptation to its source material. As of the writing of this post, 663 books have gotten as many as 949 votes from the folks on Goodreads passionate enough about their selected film.
The Godfather was first published in 1969, at which time, Kirkus called it a “A Mafia Whiteoaks, bound for popularity, once you get past the author’s barely concealed admiration for the ‘ethics’ and postulates of primitive power plays.” In other words decent genre writing, but nothing groundbreaking.
Generally considered (nearly the) best American film ever made, The Godfather received decent praise initially – mostly in line with surprise that it was actually any good, that it didn’t ghoulishly dwell on mob murder and stereotypes nor act as a Mafia “Whiteoaks.” Here are some examples:
Jay Cocks, Time Magazine: “In its blending of new depth with an old genre, it becomes that rarity, a mass entertainment that is also great movie art.” Although he would later foolishly pan a sequel that some consider superior,Vincent Canby raved “Francis Ford Coppola has made one of the most brutal and moving chronicles of American life ever designed within the limits of popular entertainment.” Roger Ebert: “Coppola has found a style and a visual look for all this material so ‘The Godfather’ becomes something of a rarity: a really good movie squeezed from a bestseller.”
One of his great movies, in fact. A good book, a great movie. The Godfather is fine genre writing, favoring scope over depth. The book has lived many lives, spawning 2 sequels by the author and another couple by Mark Winegardner, most recently as 2007 — generally not so great. Similarly, a lot can be said for the fat a movie must trim, such as character-defining genitalia descriptions. Bottom line: The Godfather is beloved for what it spawned; the book has diminished and since become universally considered inferior pulp to the expansive, artistic films it spawned.