Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Adams - David McCullough

We just finished the HBO mini-series John Adams based off of the book by David McCullough. Now after watching the series, I don't know why they made it into a movie. I did not read the book, but based on the movie version, I do not see what would have been so interesting about the book that made someone say, "Hey, this is such a great story, let's make it into a movie!" Especially since there are books about many other founding fathers or U.S. presidents that have to be more interesting.

Now maybe, like so many other books that are adapted to cinema, the movie does not live up to the book. That may be the case here, but since I did not read the book, I can't comment on that. But I have read David McCullough's 1776 and Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and both were excellent and both had many more interesting events than the mini-series John Adams presented, which would lead me to assume that John Adams (the person) did not have as an eventful life as other founding fathers.

But there is not George Washington mini-series (at least that I know about or on the same scale as the John Adams version). There isn't a Thomas Jefferson movie. And there is no Alexander Hamilton movie. Yet all three appear on currency while President Adams does not (outside of the commemorative presidential dollar coins). Even his son, the 6th president, was on the $500 bill (though that was in 1869).

So my question to you is, what is the fascination with this book? If you have read it (Steve) please let me know.

Outside of that, the mini-series was pretty good as a movie, even with it's inaccuracies. I assume Tom Hanks, who produced it, also thought it was lacking some substance and added more excitement to the movie. For example, they added a ship battle that did not actually happen. The movie shows a battle with a British ship that lead to the amputation of one of the shipmate's legs, in which Adams assisted. But according to Wikipedia, and other sources, the confrontation with the British ship was not a battle and the amputation was several days after the confrontation and was a result of a completely different incident. Now I assume that David McCullough's book is historically accurate, but why did they choose to change this for the movie, unless it is to make the bland book more exciting. But if his life was so bland (compared to other founding fathers) to begin with, why make it a movie? I understand why the book was published, after doing all the research, you might as well publish it, but why take it to the next step, I don"t know.

Overall, the mini-series shows Adams as a cranky man (and later as a cranky, old man) who was obsessed with his image. Abigail Adams appears to have been a stronger founding father as the mini-series repeatedly shows her as the guiding point for an unsure and hesitant John Adams. I would recommend renting the movie, but it did not inspire me to read the book. I would suggest picking up Alexander Hamilton or another founding father if you are looking for a good read.

1 comment:

  1. I don't recall learning a great deal about John Adams in school, though somewhere I picked up the idea that he was a sour apple or stick in the mud, take your pick. I learned about his wife by going to the Pima play "Dear Abby" - do you recall that one? As for battles and amputations that are inaccurate, that is what Hollywood is famous for, even in documentaries they have a hard time sticking to the facts. MOM