Books vs. Movies

Ask any avid reader, and they will give you at least five instances where they think the book was better than the movie. I tend to agree. There are very few movies that did the book justice.

Typically, people complain the movie didn’t show a certain scene that the reader felt was pivotal to the plot. They bemoan the looks of characters that are described differently in the book. Or they compare the medium of film directly to the medium of the written word, when in fact the two are very different.

In writing, the author has to create an entire world, cast of characters, and story using descriptions, dialogue, and subtext. They have to describe the scene well enough that it creates a picture in the readers’ minds. As a result, two people can read the same book simultaneously and have very different ideas regarding the appearances of people and places.

In films, the director takes his or her vision of what they imagine the characters and locations to be and translates it to visual images. The world-building is still there, but they incorporate it into the background. A well-done movie adaptation will contain the main elements of the book and follow the plot as closely as possible. However, since it is a different media, some things do not translate well.

As readers and viewers, we need to give credit to the attempts made to “due the book justice,” so to speak. That does not excuse poorly executed movies, however. Chaos Walking is one example of a movie that needed to be more. Eragon is another. In both cases, crucial information was withheld from the viewer, which made the movie simply confusing if you hadn’t read the book.

Some movies are extremely well-done, despite varying from the book. In my opinion, Hunger Games and Harry Potter are examples of excellent movie adaptations. There are many differences, but overall these two movies managed to keep the essence of the books.

I think there are some subtleties in films that still require us to pay attention to the details. While we may not have to envision the entire setting on our own, we still have to use intellect to determine what intricacies exist in the film and how they play upon each other.

McFarlane seems to agree as he states, “Each of these three categories of film’s narrational arsenal has numerous subdivisions, and a full response to the film will ask the viewer, at various levels of consciousness, to take them all into account, sometimes separately, more often in concert.”

He makes another point later on that really hit home for me. He stated that a colleague was trained to recognize subtleties in literature but not film, and she therefore failed to see how the film was complex as well. I love this because sometimes I’ve read a book then watched the adaptation film and decided that the book had more details or was more intricate than the film. After watching the film a couple more times, I begin to see some of the deeper aspects that I missed the first time around. Hunger Games is actually a perfect example of this for me.

I can (and probably will) write a whole blog post on Hunger Games movie vs. book, but for now, I want to open this up for discussion.

What do you think of books vs. movies? What are your favorite and least-favorite adaptations, and why?

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