How many times have you come away from seeing a movie that was based on a novel and said “I thought the book was better”? And really meant it?
Are you excited when one of your favorite novels has been made into a movie? Or do you, as many of us will, make up your mind that it can’t possibly be any better than the book?
When I asked my son which he liked better, World War Z, the book or the movie, he just said “they were different" and explained why.
My wife and I saw The 100 Foot Journey without reading the novel first, and we found the movie to be excellent. But does is it ruin a book for you if you've seen the movie first? I think it can be a bit of a risk - once those movie visuals have gotten into your mind.
What about Left Behind? I’ve yet to read the books, or watch the movies. (Should I be admitting this?) But I hear people much preferred the books.
The Outsiders has been credited with creating the modern YA genre. Even though I read the book years earlier, I really enjoyed the movie version. As for the Lord of the Flies – I thought the book was better.
The first book-movie combo I remember encountering was 2001, A Space Odyssey. And honestly, I have equally enjoyed both the book and the film. Maybe the film a bit more. However, in this case, it's important to note that the novel for 2001 was developed at the same time as the movie, and was actually published after the film version was released. So it may be difficult to say whether the screen visuals or the book narrative was the major contributor to the overall story, and which one carried the other. In this case, we might not have had one without the other – the movie or the film!
We all know there are authors who do an outstanding job of showing a scene without the aid of a film. Through their writing alone, our imagination yields vivid pictures – how we see the hero, what the setting looks like, and maybe even the sounds and smells. Isn’t that the goal of a great novel – to create such a strong sense of place, character and history that images from the written page settle in our mind and become memories? And sometimes they seem as real as reality itself (but not quite to the extent of the Matrix....yet).
The images and emotions conjured up by a great book stay with us for a lifetime. The adrenaline of a good movie quickly fades. Books, we treasure. Movies, we appreciate. There’s a difference.
When I saw the movie Prince Caspian, decades had passed since I last read that C.S. Lewis series. When Reepicheep first came onto the screen I let out an involuntary vocal response: “Reepicheep!” The visual had instantly resurrected a memory and accompanying emotion, long since filed away, of that valiant little mouse. Isn’t that the power of a well written character?
While watching The Two Towers I had an even stronger reaction when, at the battle of Helms Deep, Aragorn “looked to the East, at dawn’s first light” and saw Gandalf come riding over the hill on Shadowfax. The sense of hope that was portrayed, without a word being said, nearly brought me to tears right there in the theater. In that brief nano-second, when synaptic nerves fired and chemicals were released in my brain to do their job, I simultaneously imagined what Christ will look like, and what our response will be, when He returns to finish the battle, riding on a white horse. That’s what can happen when a director does a proper job of interpreting a great scene from a great book.
Aragorn is the character that I most enjoy in the Lord of the Rings movies. He looks, speaks and fights as I had imagined when reading the book. Or maybe the visual on the screen has replaced the visual in my mind? Or maybe just enhanced it. I’m sure there’s some psychological principle that could explain it, but that would take away from the mystery and wonder of the process. I’ll just conclude that I’m satisfied with the image of Aragorn that I’ve retained, because its origin is still found on the printed page.
In the introduction to Fantasy Fiction into Film: Essays, Leslie Stratyner and James Keller write “changes to the written text in a screen adaptation are not undesirable. The film text is not another edition of the original, but a distinctive art from that involves a unique set of priorities and requirements.”
So there you have it. Not better, just different.
Although I still think the book was better.