Books at the Movies · Editorials · Special Features

Don’t Judge a Movie By It’s Book

I know that that’s not how the quote typically goes but I think it is just as valid and relevant as it’s counterpart. As more and more books are being adapted to the large and small screens, I felt conversation about readers and the reaction to the film and television adaptations was warranted.

We have all heard the phrase “the book is better than the movie.” I’ve even said it myself when talking books and movies with friends or members of the book clubs I’m in. But I’ve been thinking lately that maybe it’s not the best way to look at things. Instead, I have made a habit of saying things like “I enjoyed the book more than the movie” or “I enjoy them both for different reasons” or something to that effect.

Think about it: the screenplay, the filming, the choices that everyone in the cast and crew makes is an interpretation of the original work. And without have telepathic skills and hundreds of trillions of dollars, they are not going to be able to align the finished product with the wants and expectations of every fan of the book. It just isn’t feasible. Everyone has in their heads a different perspective of what a character looks like, sounds like, acts like. They have their own interpretation of events and how they play out. It would be impossible to appease everyone, especially when one person’s expectations could physically defy another person’s. Sometimes, producers do their best to be as true to the source book as possible, but it can never be 100%.

Now, does this mean they can go and completely butcher the storyline? Of course not. But scripts are called “adaptations” for a reason: are adapted to an entirely different medium. As such, things have to change.

For example: think about a book you’ve read that was written in the first person where the main character is, perhaps, an introvert and thinks more than he or she talks. Do you want a movie where it is 90% voiceover with every thought the character in the book narrated on screen? No. That’s not good story-telling. I took a screenwriting class in college and the number one rule was “Show, don’t tell.” The mark of a good writer is to be able to make the audience feel a certain way or understand a certain thing without having to hold their hand and tell them to feel or understand it. Ironically, being told too much detail can take away from the immersive feel of the film. For instance, say you have a male character that is a jock and really popular and handsome. Would you prefer to have the character just proclaim constantly that they are a popular, handsome jock? No. A good script has the character dressed in a football jersey, walking down the hall while numerous other students gaze at him in varies expressions of adulation, envy, and attraction. The words popular, handsome, and jock don’t even need to be uttered for the audience to get the idea and you can show in seconds what the book probably took a page or two to explain.

There are certain technicalities about the transition from page to screen that have to be altered to make for a good adaptation. Unfortunately, that can mean that many of our favorite scenes can be cut out. While I can agree that a five-hour Harry Potter movie is the stuff dreams are made of, it’s just not conducive to the film world. The rule of thumb is to stay as true to the story as possible while typically only using scenes that advance the plot or set the tone of the film. Sometimes the filmmakers are able to get away with adding small scenes here and there to give the movie more character, as with the cut scenes Alfonso Cuarón added to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Gif courtesy of Buzzfeed. Source material courtesy of Warner Bros.

Now, all of that said, I’m sure we have all seen movies that have completely “butchered” the storyline of the book it was based on. My feelings on this are a conundrum, really, because on one hand it is, as I said before, merely an adaptation of the source material. On the other hand, it is hard not to be upset when whole characters, plot-lines, scenes, and background points are changed to add more bang and sex to the film. There is a fine line, in my opinion, between interpretation and corruption when it comes to film.

I try my best to go into each film and show with an open mind and an understanding that things will be different from the book upon which it is based. And about 90% of the time I have come away satisfied, if not happy, with the results. On some occasions, very rare as they may be, I have liked the film/show as much as or better than the source material. Either way, I make a point to enjoy myself and not let the changes get me down, otherwise, what is the point of spending the money only to let myself be disappointed and regretful?

I challenge all of you, dear readers, to go in with an open mind the next time you watch an adaptation of a favorite book. You might be surprised to find yourself enjoying the experience far more than you would have otherwise!

Oh, and one more thing. Just in case I haven’t rattled your chains enough: sometimes, to make it easier to enjoy the film adaptations, I go and see them before I read the books. Crazy huh? But that’s a story for another post!

Tootles and happy reading/watching!


PS: What are some movie/television adaptations that you really enjoyed and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

PPS: If you need ideas on film adaptations to watch and love, check out my three-part series on books at the Oscars:

And The Oscar Goes To (Part One)
And the Oscar Goes To (Part Two)
And the Oscar Goes To (Part Three)

2 thoughts on “Don’t Judge a Movie By It’s Book

  1. It took me a long time to feel like I wasn’t cheating on my books with the movie versions! But in my old age I feel like I have gotten better at appreciating them both for different reasons 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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