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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Movies and Books

On 03, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

In honor of summer and all the (terrible) summer blockbusters that will soon be storming the local cineplex, I wanted to talk about movies. And books. Movies and books. As a librarian and reader I love books, but I frequently hear that “the book is always better” or “you thought that was a good movie, you should read the book”. I’ve seen some pretty abysmal adaptations of some amazing books, but I’ve also seen some really amazing adaptations. I hate to write off film adaptations based on a few bad movies, so all of this started me wondering, is the book always better? And just because the book is good does that preclude a good movie? And, why are we so loathe to see film versions of our favorite books?

Film is, in and of itself, a very powerful medium. It can tell beautiful, incredible stories. Case in point: Wall-E. Pixar told an incredibly poignant, touching story with almost no dialog. I walked out of that movie with my mind blown. So, I don’t think the medium of film is ill suited to telling great stories like we find in books.

Books and film are, however, very different mediums. Plot devices, narrations, and character insights that are possible in books are not always possible in movies. But the challenges of creating a good adaptation can be handled well by a good director, someone with a good eye, a good vision and a reverence for the source material. In the most recent version of Jane Eyre the screen writer began a ways into the story and then backtracked, condensing a good 125 pages of pretty boring content. I absolutely adore the novel and have read it many times, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the majority of those events on screen just as they were written. The two methods worked perfectly for their mediums. All of which I think points to the fact that the book doesn’t have to be better nor does a story being first written as a book preclude a really good film. And what about taking mediocre books and making them into great movies?

But, why do we hate movie adaptations? I think when you read a book your mind constructs the world and characters around you. It becomes a secret, private place to retreat in our minds. Having a filmmaker impose their vision of the world and characters can feel very intrusive and rude. That other person’s vision can also push out your own. As you read, you picture the characters and the events, but those memories can be disturbed by the bombast of a movie.

Of course what will appeal to you in a movie depends very much on your personal preferences. Like with reading, the “goodness” of a movie is pretty subjective. I personally prefer arty, cerebral movies over the more popular rom-coms that show up at the cineplex in droves. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just that I prefer one over the other. If a director creates a film that doesn’t fit with your preferred movie style, then it’s going to be a lot harder to accept it as a good version of the book. If Michael Bey had directed Jane Eyre I don’t think I would have even bothered to see it.

The thing is, I don’t think we should write off movie adaptations. A lot of times they bring people to the book or to read alikes and series. And that’s never a bad thing. I think it can also provide an entry point for people into literature. Just as a final thought, I think we sometimes get caught up in worrying about too much screen time and forget that movies can be incredibly powerful and worthwhile.

What about you? Any books you want to see made into a movie? Any favorite adaptations? Any adaptations you hated?

My List of Movies

In my experience movie adaptations fall into one of four categories: movie is better, movie and book are equal, book is better and book and movie are just different.

Movie and Book are Equal

  • Jane Eyre (most recent version)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • True Grit

Book is Better

  • okay, none come to mind but we know they are out there lurking

Movie is Better

  • The Painted Veil (I liked the movie ending better, it was a little more redeeming)
  • The Whale Rider (I thought the characters were a lot more complex and more interesting in the movie)
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into the books!)
  • Watchmen (there were some scenes in this one that really came alive for me in the movie in a way they didn’t in the book)
  • 300

Some are just different

  • The Woman in White (as much as I loved the book, I thought the choices for the movie made for a good story too)

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