I love watching movies almost as much as I love reading books, and I, along with millions of people this Sunday will tune into the Oscar telecast to see which movies are honoured as the best of the year. Just like a book, a good story and interesting characters draw me in, and I’ll actually put down my devices for a couple of hours and just watch. (A big thing for me since I have the attention span of a gnat most of the time)
I particularly get excited about movies based on books because I’ve either read the book and can’t wait to see it brought to life on the big screen, or I haven’t read the book yet, and am auditioning the story to see if I find it interesting enough to read.
Movies based on books present an interesting conundrum however.
Loyal fans of the books upon which these movies are based (Young Adult movies in particular) are a discerning bunch, and if the movie doesn’t watch the book exactly, they are angry and disappointed. Take Beautiful Creatures for example. Fans counted at least 11 major differences between the book and the movie, and as a result, it tanked. My first reaction to the movie was annoyance. Characters were eliminated or combined, important details changed or left out, and it was very different from the book. But I happened to see it with a friend who hadn’t read any of the books yet, and she really enjoyed it.
This got me to thinking about other book to movie adaptations I’ve seen, and what my reactions were to them. The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende has long been one of my favourite books. It’s also one of my favourite movies, even though it does deviate from the original book. The Princess Bride has been one of my favourite movies since I was a kid, and some people argue that the movie (also written by William Goldman) is even better than the original source material.
For me, there doesn’t seem to be any simple answer as to whether or not it’s better to read the book before or after seeing the movie. If I see the movie before reading the book, I have someone else’s vision of what the characters look and sound like in my head. If I read the book first and the movie isn’t faithful, I’m disappointed that it wasn’t like the book.
What I’ve come to realize is that the expectation that a film be a carbon copy of the book is unfair, and I have to look at them and enjoy them as separate entities. When I can separate the book from the movie, I can enjoy the movie as a movie, and appreciate if the essence of the author’s work has been captured. (The Charlotte’s Web movie is a good example of this.)
When questioned about the major (and I mean major) d(ifferences between his book Under the Dome and the popular tv counterpart, Stephen King responded with a letter in which he makes some excellent points. Film/television is a completely different medium than a book, and sometimes, for the sake of the fact that it is being something viewed and not read, changes have to be made. Even the most faithful adaptations (Harry Potter, Hunger Games and The Book Thief to name a few) have to make changes from page to screen. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But as Stephen King points out, we are always free to take the book down off the shelf and the story within the pages of the book will never change.
So how about you? Do you prefer reading the book first, or seeing the movie first?