Friday, March 19, 2010

The endless debate of the Book versus the Movie

It really is an endless debate, isn't it? Last night I watched (finally) the silver screen version of The Time Traveler's Wife, and it got me thinking about this whole debate all over again, but with a couple questions other than just "Which is better?"

I didn't really get into this movie until the last third or so. I thought it hopped right in to the meat of the issue without much of an introduction to the characters, and as a result, they seemed rather flat and under-developed. In the book, there is so much introduction that you get really attached to Henry and Claire and really caught up in their situation. Also, any "scientific" explanation of time travel was mentioned so briefly that, if you hadn't read the book and known what was being referenced, you must've said "...Huh??" This brings me to my first question:

Are some books adapted to screen with an intended audience that is already a big fan of the book? Some films have their own merit and can stand alone, but to me, this just didn't feel like one of them. I think fans of the books will love the movie (or be severely disappointed depending on their level of fandom) but average moviegoers will be a little confused and detached. Oftentimes, a book will be adapted to screen and no one will know it was a book first, but other times it's the fans of the book that are intended to drive ticket sales.
  • Examples: The Time Traveler's Wife, Harry Potter, Twilight, Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Baby-sitters Club (remember that awesomeness from the mid-90s???)
In terms of quality, this leads to my second query: How closely should the film adaptation mirror the novel? It may work better if the screenplay becomes its own story, taking on characteristics better suited to the screen; frankly, sometimes words on a page just don't translate well to film, and it's better for each medium to tell the story the best it can. Details may be different or expanded, but each can stand alone (these are where you see the 'Based on' in the credits).
  • Examples: Alice in Wonderland (the new one), Jumanji, Where the Wild Things Are, Mean Girls, The Hours
Finally and most importantly, it seems to be a booknerd's mantra to say, "The book is always better than the movie," but I disagree. In many cases, we as booknerds have probably read the book first and you just can't cram all the details and intricacies of a book into an hour and a half, so yes, we are disappointed in the film version. But I can think of three definite cases in which I like the movie better than the book.

The first is Atonement. I read the book last summer, knowing absolutely nothing of the story. It was boring. Then I saw the movie, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. It was nice to see the story play out visually. The second is The Notebook. The movie contains everything I love: summer, the South, and the 1940s. The book was sappy and typical Nicholas Sparks BLEH.

The third is my absolute favorite movie of all time, Harriet the Spy. I saw this movie when I was 11 and pretty much decided to be Harriet M. Welsch. I loved everything about the aesthetics of that movie. It made me want to live in a big city where I would encounter all kinds of people. I wanted a sleek yet cozy house and a room full of eclectic finds and hand-me-downs. I wanted a school and grocery close enough that I could walk to them. And I wanted it to eternally be autumn so I could run around in blue jeans, Chucks, and a rain coat. I may just love this because it reminds me of childhood, but I never got as attached to the book. [Side note: I discovered a community garden in the East Village that reminds me a lot of the garden Golly takes Harriet, Sport, and Janie to in the movie. It was one of my happiest days of 2007.]

Do you prefer any movies over their book versions?

For an in-depth list of movies based on books, check out this site.


Jackie said...

I almost always enjoy the book more than the film, but there have been a few exceptions. The most well known is Twilight - I just couldn't finish the book, but thought the film was lovely.

I Served The King of England is a very weird book, but the film made a lot of sense and is well worth watching.

I'm sure there are a few more examples, but I've forgotten what they are!

Colin said...

I think films and books are incomparable and shouldn't be judged as which is better or worse. The only thing they might have in common is story, but it would be like comparing a ballad to novel. You wouldn't.

I wonder what people would say about some movies if they never knew they were based on books. Everyone would view them in a completely different way; seeing the story as a whole new piece.

I've read bad books that became good movies. I've seen horrible movies based on bad books. So it goes.

I have a lot to say on this issue, but I will leave it at that for now.

Kari said...

That's my point...that there are a zillion movies based on books, but few people ever know that. Some are intended to be an extension of the book and pop culture surrounding it, some are intended to stand alone. If you've read the book AND seen the movie (like a lot of bookworms), it's hard to NOT compare, especially if the screenplay is just trying to mimic the book exactly. But when the writer adapts a story to the screen successfully, they ARE able to stand alone, each with their own merit.

I'm surprised you didn't mention Harry Potter 5. I know your spiel.

Jill said...

Most of the time I don't like the movie as much as the book. One exception was The Reader, although I don't know if I could have sat through parts of it if I hadn't read it.

Once I heard Michael Cunningham speak around the time the movie "The Hours" came out. He made a comment that surprised me. He said he would have been disappointed if the movie had been exactly like his book. That made me think.

It seems like every movie that is being released lately is based on a book!

Kathy (bermudaonion) said...

I generally like the book better, but I think both Forrest Gump and Fried Green Tomatoes are better as movies. Great post!

melissabooknut said...

Age of Innocence. The book is kind of bleh, but I loved the movie. And that's good to know about Atonement, the movie. I read the book last summer and was so disheartened, not even James MacAvoy could get me to watch it. Maybe I'll reconsider.

Sasha said...

Huh. I don't keep track of my movie-book good-bad ratio, but as Colin up there said, "I've read bad books that became good movies. I've seen horrible movies based on bad books. So it goes." That's spot-on, me thinks. Like Austen's P&P--peer pressure tells me I should read the book because it's so AWESOME, but, well, I watched the movie (the one with Keira Knightley), and I liked that movie. And then I tried, yet again, to read Austen. But nah, I gave up. She's not for me. [I've blogged about this at length, though.]

I generally try to make it a point to read the novel first (that's obviously where my loyalties lie, haha) when a movie version's set to come out, and said movie version looks good. Or at least, try to make a follow-up.

However, I do love it when a good movie brings me to the good books they were based on. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD easily became one of my favorite films while I was watching it, and when the credits rolled I discovered Richard Yates. Man, I will forever be indebted to Winslet and diCaprio and Mendes for leading me to Richard Yates. :)

Salvatore said...

Definitely going to agree with you regarding 'Atonement'! And I enjoy McEwan. Just not that book.