Can a film ever truly beat a good book?

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It has long been debated whether a film adaptation of a really popular novel can ever truly live up to the reader’s expectations and equal its paperback’s sucess. I started thinking about this whilst in Waterstones purchasing the Help when the store assistant enthusiastically announced that the film version was almost as good as the book, as though this was some sort of revelation. What really struck me was her emphasis on ‘almost’, as though it was never a point in question that the film could rival the book, but it was to be applauded that it had even come close.

As a self-confessed book-worm I’m concerned I might be approaching this debate with a slightly biased opinion (as you can probably tell from the title of the post) as, for me, there’s nothing better than those rare moments when you find yourself in possession of a book you just can’t put down, I’m talking about the kind of book you unashamedly read in a queue or on a 5 minute bus journey despite the fact you might only be able to squeeze in a few pages. Such books are hard to find and it’s a tough task to create films that live up to them. As they say, there’s nothing more powerful than the imagination, which is the true beauty of a well-written book, it’s almost as though you’ve dived into the page and you’re there with the characters – Elizabeth Bennett isn’t just the annoying Kiera Knightly playing the typical upper-class heroine you watched her play last week in Pirates of the Caribbean, she’s the character you’ve created in your mind, the one you feel like you know, she’s Elizabeth Bennett only. For this reason, I tend to prefer a good book over a good film.

Musing over this, I decided to buy the film version of the Help as well as the book and also started thinking about some of the nation’s favourite novels in comparison to their on-screen partners. Perhaps the most obvious – Harry Potter, the little wizard who many of us grew up alongside, his school years echoing our own, who is now a worldwide phenomenon, a massive Hollywood franchise and a brand in his own right. For me, however, this success is all attributable to the books. Whilst the films are undoubtedly addictive and highly watchable, they never quite capture the true magic that J K Rowling created in the books. A similar sensation a few years ago was the Da Vinci Code, one of those novels (much like 50 shades today) which was everywhere! Too mainstream and over-hyped to please the critics, the Da Vinci Code was never going to be an award-winner but it was literally un-putdownable and I found myself eagerly anticipating the film but left hugely disappointed. Tom Hanks just didn’t seem to fit the bill and his performance as Robert Langdon felt flat, a character who in the book had much more of an edge and oozed charisma and sex appeal. After reading the book I found myself googling the Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene keen to know more, however the movie lacked depth and seemed to skim over many of the issues and ideas raised by the novel leaving me dissatisfied and wishing I’d never watched it. Another favourite of mine a few years ago was the Other Boleyn Girl, the highly scandalous story of Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary and their relationship with the infamous Henry VIII. A big fan of period dramas and historic novels, I couldn’t wait for the film to be released, but as I think many will agree it was a poor adaptation, departing in many places from the book and failing to capture the charm and shock-factor of the novel despite casting the brilliant Natalie Portman and gorgeous Scarlett Johansson as the female leads.

Despite this, I did think of a couple of examples where the film triumphs. The first is My Sister’s Keeper. If you finished watching this film with dry eyes you may need to seek help for lack of feeling, it’s the ultimate tearjerker. The plot centres around the complex and heart-breaking situation of the Fitzgerald family whose eldest daughter Kate has been diagnosed with terminal leukaemia and whose youngest daughter Anna, who was conceived through IVF to be a match for her sister, has taken a lawsuit out against her family for the rights to her own body. Without giving too much away, the ending of the film is radically different to that of the book and in my opinion works so much better. Whilst more predictable, the film feels so much more real and I found myself, unusually, sympathising a lot more with the characters in the film. Another example is Water for Elephants, a film I watched recently and was told beforehand was surprisingly better than the book. Whilst an easy read, the book is also easily forgettable and doesn’t accurately depict the beautiful, colourful, yet cruel nature of the circus in the early 1900s. Whist the film was marred by controversy in that it was speculated that the film’s central character, the lovable elephant Rosie, had been subjected to ill-treatment (albeit not during the production of the film) this didn’t detract from the film’s success and I found myself fascinated by circus-life and enchanted by the relationship between the two main characters played by Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison. Ultimately however, I think the reason I preferred the film version of these two stories was due to the failures of the books rather than the brilliance of the films.

They say a picture can paint a thousand words, but a book can take you into the mind of another, allow you to experience what they’re feeling and thinking, something a film can’t do, and for this reason, despite the occasional, unusual exception it’s rare for a film to be better than a good book (emphasis on good). This is not to say that a film can’t be great, there are obviously an enormous amount of exceptional films, it’s just for me the best films are those that aren’t based on a successful novel, but those based on screenplays. To take for example a couple of the big box office hits of the last few years: Avatar and Inception, both written for film and both much better than the likes of Harry Potter, Twilight, The Da Vinci Code etc. In conclusion, it seems that whilst a film can be brilliant, if there is an equally brilliant book hovering in its shadow, it is unlikely that the film will come out on top!

Finally, here’s my review of the book/film that provoked the debate:

The Help

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s in the ‘deep south’ as it is often referred to, the Help is the poignant but non-preachy tale of an unlikely friendship between two black maids and a young white college graduate in the midst of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.  Endangering their own as well as the lives of those around them, the women embark on a secret mission to write a first-hand account of the plight of black maids, a story that they hope will change attitudes and erode some of the deep-rooted prejudices and opinions of white employers.

The novel is structured so that the three women narrate the chapters in turn, each with their own distinctive voice and story to tell and this is what makes the novel so remarkable. Through the differing perspectives of these three incredibly real women, we discover just how rife and brutal racism really was during those long years of unrest, with Kathryn Stockett cleverly depicting the subtle irony in the fact that whilst a black maid could nurse her employer through miscarriages, bereavements and births she was forbidden from using her bathroom and could be prosecuted for reading her books. Despite this, there are also moments of real love and kindness between the maids and their employers, and ultimately the novel is about friendship, empowerment and hope. Whilst there is an underlying message, it was never over-sentimental and in many places had me laughing out loud.

The film version follows very much the plot of the book, with Emma Stone playing the part of Miss Skeeter, the white college graduate and Viola Davis and Octavia L Spencer brilliantly cast as the two black maids Aibileen and Minny. Despite excellent casting, with Octavia Spencer playing the part of the hilarious Minny brilliantly, I found that the woman in the bookshop had it spot on, there isn’t much about the film I can criticise, it just doesn’t quite seem to match up. I think this can be attributed to the fact that in the novel we experience the same scenes and scenarios from the point of view of three different people which really allows you to get into the head of the character your reading about. By the end of the novel you feel like you know the women personally from their passions and quirks through to their flaws, whereas the film just doesn’t really convey this. So, despite being worth a read and equally worth a watch, again, the Help confirmed what I already suspected, there really is no living up to a truly good book!

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236 Comments

  1. While I thoroughly enjoyed this, I have to disagree with you. First let me say that you are making a false assumption and that just because Book and Movie both tell stories you can compare them. They are completely different in what they do. Books while full of descriptions of where and when, can only be viewed through the lens of the readers experience. You can try and picture something you have never seen, but it would be interpretation. Movies on the other hand can take you and show you things that you have never seen before, immerse you in places with such richness and detail that a book wishes it can invoke. I think because of this if a Movie can maintain the strong characters and story of the book and still succeed in transporting you to a place it has surpassed the book, not because it is better, but because it has done something the book could not. So as examples of what I am saying The Great Gatsby staring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was better than the book by Fitzgerald. And Gone with the Wind was better as a movie than a book. At the same time if you focus on spectacle and ignore the story and character that made the book great, you have failed. A good example of this is the Jim Caviezel version of Count of Monte Cristo from ten years ago.

    1. Frankly, I don’t think Fitzgerald ever wrote a good book except for “The Great Gatsby,” and his “This Side of Paradise” was truly frightful (some people do like “Tender is the Night,” though). In fact, the second of these titles inspired a talented book by National Lampoon called “This Side of Parodies” (you can probably get it still at a library. It may be out of print by now). What do you think of the David Lean making of “A Passage to India?” If you haven’t seen it yet, get to some revival theater or look for the video or DVD in a store. Also, “A Room with a View” and “Howard’s End” are both very well done (in reference to these last 3 books, for some reason E. M. Forster translates well to film, whether it is in the “richness and detail” (to quote you) of India or Italy or whether it’s an English countryside bit as in “Howard’s End” (and I would say that “A Room with a View”–the Italian picture film–even survives very well the change of ending which the movie made). As for Gone with the Wind, I never read the book, so I don’t know how fair a picture of the South it gave, but somehow on screen, when Scarlett O’Hara assumed that the African American servant/slave, who was only a teenager in the story, “of course” knew all about delivering babies just because she was poor and a slave and black, that killed the whole thing for me. The priceless delivery by that talented African American actress (and I wish I knew her name) of the line, “Lawsy, Miss Scarlett, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies” was the height of the film ever after, topping even Rhett’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” and Scarlett’s supposed heroism in voicing hopes for the morrow. I just couldn’t take the whole Southern nostalgia bit seriously for long enough to confront either book or movie after that. Call me odd if you like, but I think sometimes the message a movie is trying to convey (which I really don’t feel was just a historical view of the South during the Civil War in this case) can be seriously upstaged by a gifted secondary artiste.

      1. You also have to realize that the challenge of an amazing movie is harder than a great book, because there are so many additional links in the chain of making a movie as opposed to writing a book. Any weak link in the chain of movie production can cause the difference between a great movie adaptation and a bad one.

    1. Though there may be other movies and books that come close to each other in quality, I fully agree about “To Kill a Mockingbird.” For one thing, the casting was spot on target.

  2. Very simply put, I do not believe the two should be compared other than sharing a similar root.

    How close one reflects the other is completely relevant.

    Let alone the differences in terms of the media itself.

    Speech, music, sound and visuals add a whole range of different expressions that -can- be used symbiotically and express story and emotion on several levels simultaneously.

    On the other hand, they can take away, or distract from the message.

    By reading a book, we leave MUCH to our imaginations. Which can and hopefully should be a very good things, and ultimately a beautiful experience in an of itself, that no movie could capture.

    Both book and film can inspire equally, but in different ways.

    It is no secret however, that adaptations of books to cinema often go wrong.

    Apart from the immense talent and effort required to make a successful adaptation, it should also be understood the art itself is often severely compromised given, the commercial nature, and for profit incentive behind many such films.

  3. “Can a film ever truly beat a good book” – I think the question can also be tilted around – “Can a book ever truly beat a good film” – I think the answer to both questions is a clearly “No.” – a bit like comparing apples and pears . ‘smile’

  4. There are three movies I point people to in saying that the movie is better than the film. The first is A Clockwork Orange (book written by Anthony Burgess, film directed by Stanley Kubrick). The movie is quite interesting, but the real reason that it’s decidedly better is because the book doesn’t work. The book has an annoying dialect, and if you get the version that includes the 21st chapter (which was left out of the original published version that Kubrick based the movie on) the last chapter ruins the rest of the book.

    The other two movies that are better than their respective books are Fight Club (book by Chuck Palahniuk, flim directed by David Fincher) and Thank You For Smoking (book by Christopher Buckley, flim directed by Jason Reitman). Fight Club is a decent book but the movie is simply better. Thank You For Smoking is a satirical book, and while the book is funny, the movie is so over the top that it blows the book out of the water.

    I’d also have to wonder about The Shawshank Redemption. I think that it’s the greatest movie ever made, I bought a collection of Stephen King’s novellas that has Shawshank in it, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, so I suppose the jury is still out on that one.

    1. I don’t think that people necessarily would say the A Clockwork Orange movie is better than the book. Both are extremely well done. They are both regarded as classics. The dialect is also in the movie. And in the book after the first couple of chapters, it’s actually not hard to read at all. The words are easy to understand when you use context clues and have seen them a few times. I actually saw the movie immediately after reading the book and didn’t like the movie. A couple of years later I watched the movie, and I loved it because the book wasn’t fresh in my mind. Regardless, I don’t think comparing books and movies is fair.

      1. Maybe part of my reasoning is that I saw the movie for A Clockwork Orange before I read the book.

        I also think that a dialect is easier to do well in a movie than in a book, anytime you deliberately misspell words in a book it knocks you out of the story and really hurts the book. (For me at least.)

      2. I can understand how that might be a challenge, but I feel like it’s absolutely necessary to get over that for a lot of great literature. Faulkner is often especially difficult to read due to the dialect of the characters. Although from what I remember, A Clockwork Orange, wasn’t really so much filled with misspellings as it was with words that were entirely fabricated. It was mostly slang from what I remember, but correct me if I am wrong. It’s been a while. Even though I say that I don’t think it is fair to compare the two, I often won’t watch a movie if I want to read the book, or likewise, I won’t read the book if I’ve seen the movie. I always have to read the book first. If I don’t, I lose interest in the story because I pretty much know everything that happens and how it happens, and even though the book has a different way of explaining it, I ultimately have to be interested in the story.

      3. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing a dialect, and in fact when it’s done well it can greatly enhance the story. The problem is that a lot of people don’t always do it very well.

        It’s less of a problem and more of a pet peeve of mine.

      4. Reply to Adam’s remark about having a “pet peeve” of a dialect being done badly (he left no “reply” space): to see the same author (in a book) do the same sort of dialect first well and then poorly (if you have the patience) check out James Kelman’s sterling performance in one of his earlier books, “How Late It Was, How Late,” and then catch the (bad) flip-side of the coin in his recently released book “You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free.” I never, and I mean (now almost) never, put down a book I once start without finishing it, but I totally lost interest in the latter book (I hope I have the title exactly right). And it seems at least that the dialect in question is his own! (But I don’t think either book has been made into a movie, at least not that I know of).

      5. The best example I’ve seen of a dialect in literature was from a short story titled The Valetudinarian by Joshua Ferris (you can find it in the 2010 version of The Best American Short Stories among other places). The reason that the dialect works there is because he doesn’t misspell any of the words, he analyzed the speech patterns of a Russian who has English as a second language and as a result you hear the accent when you read their speech, even though all of the words are spelled correctly.

        It really annoys me when authors deliberately misspell words in order to reproduce a sound. And the main reason that it bothers me is simply because it’s a pain to read. It knocks you out of the story and ruins that part of the book. As much as I liked the book, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss has a section where he lapses into this type of dialect and it’s probably the worst section of the book because it gives you a headache to read it. Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk is another example of a book where the dialect absolutely ruins what could have been a decent story.

      6. Thanks to Adam at 11:18 p.m. July 22nd for the reference to Joshua Ferris. I’ll have to look that up. Both of James Kelman’s books that I mentioned are slightly misspelled to reflect the dialect (it seems to be Scots), but in the first book, it isn’t that distracting. The main character in the second book drinks heavily, so maybe it’s an attempt to reflect the dialect + a drunken vision (but then, the character in the first book drinks heavily too, and is easier to follow. Maybe the first story is just more gripping). What I find hard to tolerate is a whole book filled with abbreviated words and apostrophes to reflect elisions and dropped letters, though I’m willing to tolerate it if the story’s good enough. I pretty much hang everything on the quality of the story. In a movie, however, if a character mumbles too much in an effort to reflect dialogue, or swallows words, no matter how “genuine” I’m told it all is (that is, if I find it too difficult to follow the story line), I totally lose patience. So, I guess we sort of share a “pet peeve.”

      7. A good writer can impart dialect through the character alone. For example, a character who has lived in New Orleans his whole life can be described, and the “voice” described, in such a way that anyone knowing that accent will immediately put it in their own heads without the specific wording of dialect being attempted. Harder for lesser known dialects but still able to do done.

      8. Answer to Kathy Bertone, July 23, 12:21 a.m. Maybe the answer (to work back around to our original topic as our host set it out, about book vs. movie) is for any author with a good enough work who plans to attempt dialogue to do as you suggest and construct (I assume you mean by phrasing, syntax, and the like rather than as misspelling) suggestive language which yet isn’t distorted, for the book. Then, assuming that the same author has still got a hold on the movie rights or that someone responsible does, leave the movie to clarify where the character comes from and how exactly the character speaks (if it can be done gracefully and with respect). I may be assuming too much (you know, they say “assume” = “ass” + “u” and “me.” If I’ve misunderstood you and assumed too much, sorry, I apologize in advance.

      9. You understood and are exactly right. The transition from good book to good movie (note the assumptions), in terms of dialect anyway, should be seamless and any producer will want to ensure the character is true to the dialect without distortion. I think the problem arises from writers attempting to “write dialect” which is so very tricky. However, I would be interested in your take on something simple, like “y’all”. Not seeing it written in “Gone with the Wind” (which I am quite certain it was not, although I could be mistaken) is one thing, but hearing it spoken in the movie adaptation is not only necessary but appropriate. So can a movie be as good as the book? In my opinion this is an example that it can, albeit a rare one!

      10. Reply to Kathy Bertone, 1:02 a.m. July 23rd. Ah-ha! The “y’all” question is an interesting one, particularly to me. People trying to ape the language of Southern/Middle Atlantic states where this expression predominates always strew it willy-nilly throughout their language, whether they are talking to one person or many. This is incorrect, and I’ve yet to hear a native speaker of those regions (who isn’t putting on) do it that way. It is a grammatical elision for “you all,” and makes no sense when directed to one person alone. This is a bugbear I’ve heard several people comment upon. To name one famous Southerner who has misused it occasionally as a part of her stage persona, however, I can name the illustrious Paula Dean. It makes me intolerant of everything she talks about, including those infernal “Smithfield Ha-ams.” I realize this is off-topic. But if her real life is the novel, and her tv shows are the “movies,” I can’t help but wonder if I wouldn’t like the novel rather than the movies.

      11. I must respond and it’s the last I’ll say on the subject: you could not be more right. Talk about the proverbial bee in the bonnet! Yikes. Yes, indeed a case when editing language for movie version is a must!! As a Southern women myself I can agree that the language simply does not work!

      12. On the discussion of dialect, etc. I think the problem with it is really that sometimes when an author uses a dialect that isn’t their own it comes off as racist (which I agree with) or at the very least, grossly misinformed, because its a matter of appropriating a culture that isn’t yours and in essence ends up making a caricature of something when it wasn’t necessarily the intent.

        Coming from a writer’s standpoint, it’s generally not a tactic employed as often now for the reasons I stated above. Writers are now called on to let the reader know where their characters are from so the reader can use whatever voice they see fit. And instead of misspelling words they employ syntactical devices that allow for a reader to infer those accents and dialects.

        Those are my two cents anyway. But I agree that comparing books and movies isn’t necessarily fair as they both are by nature completely different mediums. While a book is visual in that you must read the words it exists mostly in the realm of one’s imagination which is the reason why I love them. Movies interest me a little less, but they interest me for different reasons. They exist purely as a visual form of art. (P.S. Congrats on being FPed)

    2. There’s no way the film of Clockwork Orange is better than the book, it’s aged terribly, gaudy and ponderous. Just read the book again recently and it’s still a powerful read 🙂 .

  5. I don’t think a movie is ever truly as good as the book, however, I tend to view them as separate entities. I will love a book as well as its movie adaptation, in completely different ways. For instance, with the Sookie Stackhouse novels, I love the stories and the characters and how they develop. In TrueBlood, the show is loosely based on the novels and follows the main plotline, but most of the subplots are different or completely new. That is totally okay with me, viewing them as separate from one another.

  6. Have you read or watched “Como agua para chocolate”?. The film is definitely far better that the book, being both of them a success. It is the only example I know of a film beating an average good book. The originals are in Spanish.

  7. i’m not sure if the movie can ever beat the book, however, it can come close. for example, i have a completely different opinion on Jodi Picoult’s my sister’s keeper, personally i hated the movie ending (which is the complete opposite of the book). if it was up to me, book based movies should be a carbon copy of the books. (then again this is my personal opinion and i completely understand where you’re coming from).

    but yes, as i was saying, when someone is reading a book, they have a completely different vision of how it would look like in a movie. two minds would not agree that there is a ‘best’ way of filming a scene from the book.

  8. Nice post. For what seems like ages, I’ve been making notes for a post on this subject that I intend to get do down the line, so I’m always interested to see what other bloggers have to say on the subject.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  9. The thing is with books vs film is to approach them understanding that they are entirely different things. Some things that work on the page don’t work on film. A good example being Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 1 and the wolf telepathic communication – was there really any other way to show this on screen? No! But it made for an easy target for the haters and some fans even. Example of a film surpassing the book – Jaws, because they cut some of the side issues loose in the movie and focused on what was important.

    1. I agree with you to an extent but the main issue between books vs. film is the time constraint. You can’t expect to cram every bit of detail from a book into a film which is why they will (almost) never measure up to book form i.e., why Jaws the movie cut side issues loose, you have to focus on what is important, without leaving out too much importance.

  10. “Game of Thrones” is a classic example of brilliant writing where we can really get inside the heads to hear the thoughts of the various characters. Full of political intrigue, I was nervous that the HBO series would fall terribly short. However, George R R Martin is clearly at the helm in its adaptation to screen and has done a brilliant job. At least IMHO. Thank you for this enjoyable post. I look forward to seeing the film version someday 😉 Kim*

    http://www.100days100ways.wordpress.com

  11. I would say that “Hunt for Red October” would be close. Tom Clancy was heavily involved in the movie and it feels like he took the chance as a “do-over” on certain parts. Typically the book is way better because you can do a lot more with the characters, but in this case the author used the opportunity to tighten things up a bit.

  12. I don’t believe a film can ever truly capture the author’s imagination entirely. Time and time again it has been made clear that it is near impossible to ensure that each of the events that take place in a novel are represented in the film; especially to the extent of detail provided by the book. A film is also merely one interpretation. It can never satisfy every single audience member’s vision of the story.

  13. To answer your question: No.
    If there is a movie out for a book I have read – I never watch it.
    If there is a book out that I did not know about for a movie I have watched – I always read the book.

  14. There’s only one movie i have seen that was adopted from a book – The Disclosure.
    And my answer is a resounding ‘NO’ to your question. The movie came nowhere close to the intensity and thrill that the book brought out.

  15. Very well written. I’ve stopped going to movies long ago. Not because they are bad. It’s just that I don’t like being close to smelly people. Maybe I should go to higher class theaters or pick better movies.
    Movies can capture a setting, let’s say someone who has no idea what the sixties looked like, but a gifted writer, if that is their intent can place a fourteen year old there as easily as an artist can with a few strokes of a brush.
    Several months ago a treated the same subject in a slightly different way.
    http://jitterygt.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/the-book-or-story-is-always-better-than-the-movie/

  16. I’m going to throw in my opinion here as well (It looks like you’re doing well already. 🙂 )

    I agree with you that, with a few rare exceptions, the novel version and the movie version of a particular product are rarely equal. You’ve outlined excellent reasons in your post, but I think there is something more here as well. Particularly when you discuss the ‘characterization’ of the characters.

    In a book, almost without exception, we are given much better insight in to the motivations of a character and the thoughts that lead to his/her/its actions. There is a reasoning and a motivation that we, as readers, are brought in to and familiarized with. We know how the character thinks, and this creates a more intimate connection with the character.

    When the book is adapted to a movie, we lose a lot of that intimacy. For one thing, we can’t see the thoughts of the character anymore. We have to count on the actor managing to portray *everything* that is going on in that characters head at the moment – and that portrayal has to match what we already see. That’s virtually impossible.

    The second problem in that intimacy is that the vision the actor has of the character is, most likely, different from the vision that we have as a reader. The actor will, obviously, act on their interpretation of the character and portray what they see – assuming they have read the original material. That means you have conflicting, or at least incomplete, visions from one, the other, or both parties.

    This is why movies that are later adapted in to books, I feel, are not as in depth as those that go the other direction. The actor’s interpretation of the role is much less ‘full’ than it could be and so leaves the writer with the problem of trying to build in more with less foundation. Terry Brooks comments on the difficulty of this process in his book, and I can’t say that I am surprised.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for sharing it with us! 🙂

  17. the difference between a book and a film is that while reading a book you yourself are the casting director of the visuals which you imagine and hence you feel the best experience…..in a movie it could be possible that director’s imagination is on the same wavelength with yours and in that case you will love the movie but if it differs vice versa happens………:-)

  18. Almost never. I think only a weak novel can be beaten by it’s movie counterpart. Exceptions to this rule: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and To Kill a Mockingbird. The novels were more detailed, but the adaptions were perfectly satisfying. Thanks!

  19. And then there’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie… Loved the film, even though it’s a bit stagey… I read the book later and felt as if the straightforward story (of the film) had been blown up & reassembled (with some added bits)…Not better, just a totally different experience – in any case it’s Maggy Smith that tipped the scales.

  20. So The Help has been purchased, and is next on my to-read list once I’ve finished Jane Eyre (in the process of catching up on classic literature I probably should have already read!). I’m one who prefers to read the book prior to watching the adaptation – so will watch the film once I’ve finished the book.

    One film which I think did live up to the book is Memoirs of a Geisha. IMHO the book is ALWAYS better than the film, but this attempt was admirable. The same cannot be said however for the English version of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – tried too slavishly to stick to the book, and then completely altered the ending which in my mind did not tie to the plot of the original novel.

    Great post though! And let me know if you have any suggestions of Jane Eyre adaptations worth watching 🙂

  21. I read the Harry Potter books and saw most of the corresponding movies, and I think they were both done nicely. Reading the books brings out your imagination, and see the actual movie provides you a with a nice visceral adventure.

  22. Well written and very well thought out blog! I agree it is hard to find a balance between liking a book and loving the visual help of a movie. I find myself mostly liking the books better than the movies.

  23. Great blog post. I agree with you. I have a hard time liking movies based on books when I have read the book. I think it is because of my livid imagination as I read. When the movie doesn’t match up to the playwright in my head I feel let down.

  24. I’m a little odd when it comes to this argument, ‘coz I don’t see it as an argument at all. I have 2 different purposes, 2 different criteria. One for reading books/stories and the other for watching movies. I can’t think of a really good analogy so I’ll just use a very simple one. You don’t go to an apple stand to buy an orange and vis versa. In my warped tiny mind they’re two very different things with different outcomes. …*sigh*… I’m afraid I may not be explaining this very well …

  25. A book is only as good as your imagination, you need that imagination to envisage what is being told. Unfortunatly many kids now just don’t read books and the films are the only way to reach them with some of the fantastic stories that are out there. For me though – also a bookworm – nothing compares to a book. Film makers very rarely get across what you have imagined in your head as you have read that fantastic tale

  26. Like others above, I think a good book will always be better than the movie, however good the movie is, because you have to invest yourself in it. Reading a book means actively engaging with the characters and narrative, while watching a movie is a pretty passive pasttime. The only way the movie will be on a par is if you watch it before reading the book, but that’s a silly thing to do.

    Bad books, on the other hand, can make great movies 🙂

  27. One big advantage a book has over a film is that when reading a book you use your own imaginartion to create the image of the characters and the world they inhabit as you go along. The Ralph Bakshi ,LOTR animation ruined my visualisation of the LOTR characters, which I had established after about fifteen reads at that point. After the film, the animated version replaced my own visualised version no matter how hard I tried to dismiss it!

    Now, having seen the Peter Jackson trilogy, I can only picture them as they appear in those films, which is at least an improvement on the animated versions. I am particularly happy with the Fellowship because they fit my original visualised description and particularly happy with Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn because he is just as I visualised him originally – he really brought one of my favourite fictional characters alive.

    1. Though Aragorn in the movie didn’t really look like what I’d imagined from the book, Viggo Mortensen was so convincing (and so hot!) that I readily “agreed” to change my interior view of him.

    2. LOTR is, by far, IMHO, the closest a movie can get to what the book really is about. And unlike the Harry Potter series or any movie based from a book for that matter, LOTR tried to remain true to what’s in the book. Maybe the result of years of painstaking effort just to stick to the details (which made each part of the series a really long watch) made LOTR movie series what it is. I loved all books in the HP series and maybe HP movies 1, 2, 4 and 7 (parts 1 and 2, which deviated a lot from the book) but did not like the rest. I don’t want to make this into an HP vs LOTR debate so I’ll just leave it at that.

  28. I think there is a big difference depending on which you watch/read first.

    I’m an Author (my debut novel, which is getting great reviews and calls to be made a film already, is Cherry Picking). So can a film be better than a book? The challenge is time and the journey – a book naturally has a longer journey and you have time to think about it. I guess if there was a book version of Lost, for example, would it have been as good, as working through 6 series of viewing (pleasure, in my opinion!) you go on that journey, think about things…..shared with others as well (if you watched it with people, as I did).

    Cherry Picking started as a purely visual thing for me – I saw it all in my head, including the chapter, and spent 5 years trying to write it all down….so if, as I hope, I ever get to make the film version, or at least be involved in it, I will do my best to make it everything I saw, for fear that I missed bits out in the book which where just too hard to write…I guess only time will tell…

    My blog: http://contacttheauthor.blogspot.com/

    Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CherryPickingbyTimHeath

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