Why the Book Is Always Better

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Why the Book Is Always Better

We say it every time an adaptation is filmed. Why is it so?

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Very nice article; It excatly reflects the thoughts I had about the Lord of The Rings when I watched the films. They are brilliant films but they aren't MY Middle Earth!

The book is the book. The film is the film.

That's how I see it anyway.

People can get all wound up that some things get lost in the translation from page to screen, but like you said, books and movies are very different mediums. Had they made a 100% accurate translation of Lord of The Rings, the movie would've been unbearable, if only because most of the characters wouldn't seem to have an arc.

In order to make good movie translation, you have to change things, because you're making a movie and not a book.

Books will always be more of a personal experience, but that's the written word for ya.

I agree and would add that the book is even better than the film the more imaginative you are as a person and as a reader. Furthermore, reading does train and broaden one's imagination, so people who read a lot (especially fiction) also tend to be more imaginative and harder to satisfy when they watch a film than people who don't.

Interesting, I've heard similar opinions before. Speaking for myself I tend to think a failure to capture a book's essence is mostly the fault of the film makers. I can see how some books can't be translated properly, but others can be, it's just deliberate choices are made not to.

Missing content and explanation is typically an issue of wanting to keep run times down. Sometimes "Director's Cuts" help here, but often all of the material that should be there isn't filmed to begin with.

Then of course there is modification based on what the people producing the movie want to do with it. The deeper and darker context of "Alice In Wonderland" for example doesn't jibe with the desire to make a kid-friendly film. A lot of people tend to forget what is present in some of these children's tales (doubtlessly to gradually build the personality structures they will need as adults), people analyzing the work to make a film suddenly think "wow, in todays "protect the children" world, we can't make this obvious or it would slot a lot of people off".

In many cases I feel a work could be done justice as say a mini-series, TV series, or an epic with the films being several times longer. You rarely see this kind of thing attempted for reasons both financial, and of course practical because simply put film makers believe that today's generation is not capable of sitting through say a four hour movie.

To be honest, the last time I attended a show that had an intermission was at a (fairly local) drive-in. While there are fewer of these around today, I think they prove that you could very easily make four to six hour movies, rather than showing two films with an intermission in between. All jibes about the purpose of a drive in aside (snicker) I think it's one of many things you can point at to show that it's possible to take the time to do a lot of these stories right.

If someone was to say triple the length of all of the Harry Potter films, yeah, I think you could get a "perfect" film adaption. The obstacles of course being time and money, not some fundemental barrier between book and screen. The same could be said of most adaptions. Ditto of course for taking a "damn the torpedos" approach to content, I understand why it doens't happen, but the bottom line it could happen. With today's ethics of insane child protection would a properly translated "Alice In Wonderland" still get a "G" rating? No, probably not. I imagine ratings boards would push it up to PG at least.

The first two Harry Potter movies are terrible. The first fails exactly because it tries to stay too close to the book; the bad acting of the protagonists doesn't help, either.

Now, a good film from a Harry Potter book is the third one, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. I liked HP7 part 1, but the better HP film is still the third.

The real question is, does this mean we shouldn't try to adapt books to films, or films to games, or medium X to medium Y at all? My knee jerk reaction is yes, but I'm not certain.

Interesting article and I completely agree.
The thing was when I started notice this I have always wanted to read the book before I see the movie (a reason to why I still haven't seen "It") so that I don't have my imagination spoiled when I read the book.
It is also a readon to why I hate certain movies becase they stray so far from the books or completly destroys the narative (Eragon I'm pointing at you).

I think it's much more simple than this article makes it out to be. It comes down to the fact that books and movies work in fundamentally different ways, and i think books are superior, but my opinion aside. You can't take a story that was made for the book way of things and have it work even better in the movie way of things. I would go so far as to suggest that most if not all movies that aren't based on books, would make horrible books. A book often uses the thoughts and emotions of the characters to keep the reader interested when there is no "on screen action". They also have a lot more time to atach the reader to the main character, meaning emotional conflict is much more powerful. On the other hand, movies show you the action in real time, so action sequences are much more compelling than in a book. that's my opinion anyway.

This is why I never understood the popularity of Slumdog Millionaire. I read the book (Q&A) after listening to a wonderful adaptaion on Radio 4. To me the film was a disaster, it followed the basic plot alright (poor boy wins big on quiz becuase his life experiences give him the answers) but apart form that everything had changed, heck even the main charecter no longer existed and there where glaring plot holes because of it (Why do they all suddenly speak English? Ram had always spoken english as he was brought up by an English priest and had also worked in the Austalian embassy, not forgetting his time fleecing American tourisits). So yeah a film adaptation is never as good as the book.

megalomania:
Very nice article; It excatly reflects the thoughts I had about the Lord of The Rings when I watched the films. They are brilliant films but they aren't MY Middle Earth!

Perhaps but I personally could live without the combined 150 pages that he spent in every new environment talking about how it stank worse than the place they were in last time.

I read them before the movies way back in the dinosaur times of the 90's and recently tried again but I only got as far as Bilbo's birthday party before I gave up and read something with a scrap of pacing.

Here's why the book is always better if it came first: the book had more time.

Films are the visual equivalent of short stories, not novels. They have to stick with a few characters and focus on mostly one conflict (longer films can handle more, but not by much.) Films seem so much less satisfying than the books they're based on because those long novels have been condensed immensely. Visuals, of course, take away the need for written or spoken descriptions, but the text that remains is still a challenge.

Limited-run TV shows are the visual equivalent of novels.

One trick I've seen, though, is to watch the film first, then read the book (I did this with Kamikaze Girls.) When you watch the film first, you feel a strong sense of discovery when you later crack open the novel and encounter everything that was left out or altered, but when you read the book first, you get frustrated at all the stuff left out of the movie.

Of course.

It's adaption decay: The manga is almost always better than the anime, the book for the film, the film to the game and so on.

I think providing the right circustance a movie adaptation can be better than the book especially in term of pacing and style. I think it might be related to how one or the other manage to convey information to the viewers/readers.

I for one keep wondering why most people feel compel to read book adaptation first rather than seeing the movie first see if they like it and then read the book. (unless of course the movie very different from the book)

I disagree, Yes in general films do fall short of their paper sources. However this is because they try and be too much like the book. Its not strictly a true statement but bare with me. Films and Books are different media and I always say on thing when a film is an adaptation "Don't be like the book". Its best if a film takes the general principle and story from the book. Then does its own thing. It may not always work out, but its clearly a failing system trying to be too much like the book.

That's why I enjoyed the latest Harry Potter So much. It didn't take too much from the book, it wasn't afraid to do its own thing.

Oddly enough I think the film version of LoTR was better than the books.

I'm of the opinion that whatever came first is usually better, because it's in its original form. It almost never goes movie -> book though, it's pretty reliably other media -> movie. Books are so much better because the narrative can explain what people are thinking and what their motivations are in a way that movies simply cannot.

I disagree with the Lord of the Rings. I found that the books ended up having quite a bit of dull, no point sections. Plus the movies did a better job with Faramir because they changed his character a bit.

I wholeheartedly agree, although one could say just as well: the books are better most of the time because books are the superior medium (at least for conveying the things mentioned in the article)

comadorcrack:
That's why I enjoyed the latest Harry Potter So much. It didn't take too much from the book, it wasn't afraid to do its own thing.

I'm confused, are you really talking about the Deathly Hallows, part 1? You're aware that this is, apart from maybe the first one, the only movie in the series to actually stick very close to the book, dismissing only little subtleties?

MikailCaboose:
Plus the movies did a better job with Faramir because they changed his character a bit

Heretic! I usually don't complain too much about changes made from book to movie, but here, they failed bitterly: The whole point of Faramir is that, although his father considers him to be inferior to his big brother, he turns out to be the only human in the whole story who can withstand the rings temptation. And they changed that just so they could add another point of friction. (I don't mean to say you're wrong, just wanted to give my two cents).

Join us tomorrow for "Why the Game is Better Than the Book" Oh what the-

I have to agree. I don't think films do the books justice. Thats not to say I dont enjoy films, I did enjo LOTR and I love Bladerunner. However, still not justice. It may be a bit of a difficult comment to back-up but I don't think a film adaptation of a book I like will ever meet my expectations.

To take Guy Gavriel Kay as an example. I really do believe that there are no actors who could accurately portray the emotion invested in characters such as Caius Crispus,Ammar Ibn Khairan and Dianora.

I think the article misses an important point: Books that get made into movies are chosen because they are exceptional; the likelihood that lightning will strike twice (that you'll get a director/acting combo that is equal to the notable literary work) is pretty low.

But it has happened, generally when an extremely talented director adopts rather mediocre source material. The best examples are "Jaws", "The Godfather" and "The Shining" - all movies that rank among the director's greatest works. Personally I found the movie "American Psycho" much better than the book - it captured the wit and duality in that was buried under the books pornagraphic passages on sex, violence and consumerism.

I could also make a case for (and get horribly flamed for) "Starship Troopers" - a greatly underrated and delightfully subversive film that goes in a completely different direction than Heinlein's work. Heinlein fans hate it with a fiery passion, and rightly so, since it is almost an assault on the ideas he presented, but as a critique on the appeal of fascism (and how modern media shapes American's view of the world), it's brilliant.

So many discussions like these dismiss Film so easily, decrying it's lack of subtlety when any director worth their salt can be just as subtle as any writer. Each medium has it's strengths, and it's unfair to make this one-sided comparison about book-to-movie adaptations, when the almost guaranteed mediocrity of movie-to-book adaptations is largely ignored.

Book->Film->(Comics->)Games. Each is trying to paint an imaginary picture with a progressively cruder set of tools. You can just about do an action adventure story as a game, as they are more about thrills and car chases than characters.

Isn't this the same author who pointed out Harry Potter will get kids to read and prevent adults from having to?

For some reason the combination of the latter portion, along with "the book is always better" sticks in my craw.

tautologico:
The first two Harry Potter movies are terrible. The first fails exactly because it tries to stay too close to the book; the bad acting of the protagonists doesn't help, either.

Now, a good film from a Harry Potter book is the third one, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. I liked HP7 part 1, but the better HP film is still the third.

I like all HP movies in varying degrees, with 5 the lowest, and 3 the highest. It was so deliciously dark, that one.

BigBoote66:
I think the article misses an important point: Books that get made into movies are chosen because they are exceptional; the likelihood that lightning will strike twice (that you'll get a director/acting combo that is equal to the notable literary work) is pretty low.

But it has happened, generally when an extremely talented director adopts rather mediocre source material. The best examples are "Jaws", "The Godfather" and "The Shining" - all movies that rank among the director's greatest works. Personally I found the movie "American Psycho" much better than the book - it captured the wit and duality in that was buried under the books pornagraphic passages on sex, violence and consumerism.

I could also make a case for (and get horribly flamed for) "Starship Troopers" - a greatly underrated and delightfully subversive film that goes in a completely different direction than Heinlein's work. Heinlein fans hate it with a fiery passion, and rightly so, since it is almost an assault on the ideas he presented, but as a critique on the appeal of fascism (and how modern media shapes American's view of the world), it's brilliant.

Interview with the Vampire. Not a fantastic movie, but far more bearable than the rambling, disjointed writing of Anne Rice.

One of the biggest problems with movies based on books are often, in my opinion, that they try to MUCH to be like the book. Yeah, you heard me, it's not that they are too far from the source material, but to close. Movies and books are different mediums and when trying to adapt one to the other, you can't keep what distinct them. Yes, this means that plot-threads and dialog get a good chopping but that's all good. If you instead of trying to apologize for it embrace it and instead focus on doing what books can't, you'll end up with a better result. For an example, I really liked HP6 because they went brutal on the script and boiled down the story to it's core, and we got a movie that was very different from the book, but it was a good movie and it fit in with the other movies.
Movies should try and be a stand alone work and not just "living up" to the book. That it could never do because a good book is written as a book, and trying to do that in another medium is doomed to fail. No, let the movie be a movie, and try to be better than the book, surpass it by being something that is not the book it was based on.

I prefer the Lord of the Rings films to the books any day of the week. Don't get me wrong the books are fantastic and Tolkien is surrely nothing short of genius for creating the world and the fantasy archetypes that we know today. But as a story it does get lost in places and the characters story arc is barely none existant.

Almost every character has his goals set out from the moment the Fellowship leaves Rivendell and they then spend the rest of the story achieving these goals. To use Aragorn as the ultimate example, in the books he always intends to return to Gondor and become the King, however in the films he is unsure of the destiny laid of before him and only then goes on to fulfill this destiny because of the need created by the evil forces actions throughout the story.

Not everybody will agree with me, and I do honestly see the point of it not being MY Middle Earth, but as a story I believe the plot of the films is a touch more refined.

tautologico:

BigBoote66:
I think the article misses an important point: Books that get made into movies are chosen because they are exceptional; the likelihood that lightning will strike twice (that you'll get a director/acting combo that is equal to the notable literary work) is pretty low.

But it has happened, generally when an extremely talented director adopts rather mediocre source material. The best examples are "Jaws", "The Godfather" and "The Shining" - all movies that rank among the director's greatest works. Personally I found the movie "American Psycho" much better than the book - it captured the wit and duality in that was buried under the books pornagraphic passages on sex, violence and consumerism.

I could also make a case for (and get horribly flamed for) "Starship Troopers" - a greatly underrated and delightfully subversive film that goes in a completely different direction than Heinlein's work. Heinlein fans hate it with a fiery passion, and rightly so, since it is almost an assault on the ideas he presented, but as a critique on the appeal of fascism (and how modern media shapes American's view of the world), it's brilliant.

Interview with the Vampire. Not a fantastic movie, but far more bearable than the rambling, disjointed writing of Anne Rice.

Also, Fight Club. In the book, the ending wasn't that good. Or maybe I just liked the acting of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

I think most people say "the book is better" because it happens to be the one book they've read in the last decade and they revel in finally being able to be the smug one.

Seriously.

It's a simple matter of what came first. If the movie was released first, then they wrote a book on it, the book will be terrible. Same thing with video games and movies. It depends on what kind of medium the story was written for. In fact the best I've seen so far that uses all three mediums in an entertaining way was Scott Pilgrim. Of course liberties were taken with the movie and video game, but both entertaining in their own right.

Sometimes I don't think people realize just how much can be in a book. The audiobook for even the shortest Harry Potter is 7 CDs (clocks in at about 8 hours). Granted the overall effext depends on the scene and how it's written. Lord of the Rings had a lot cut for being unnecessary (Fellowship was so dry if I didn't know what was coming I'd have never made it), pared down for time (council of elrond is 45 minutes of dialogue alone), while others (the battles) may be expanded for effect. Still, it's a reminder that perfect renditions aren't going to fit in the standard movie paradigm as movie goers don't want to listen to Dumbledore talk for nearly an hour after the climactic battle at the end of Order of the Pheonix. (for the record, that book is a full 23 CDs or nearly 27 hours long.)

It means that no matter what, something is going to be lost in translation.

Dorkmaster Flek:
The real question is, does this mean we shouldn't try to adapt books to films, or films to games, or medium X to medium Y at all? My knee jerk reaction is yes, but I'm not certain.

Now this would mean eliminating over 80% of entertainment media output.

It's important to keep in mind that (whether it be adaptation, sequel, or reboot) when quality is lost while expanding an intellectual property, it doesn't erase or diminish quality of the original (prequels come closer to doing this - but I don't find it too hard to pretend they never happened). The worlds are fiction, and only have as much connection as you allow them.

I mean really... Yoda needs a light saber? Fuck you, George.

Mmmmmmmm films are a short time sensitive medium that has to share screen time with flashing bright explosions to keep the dimer half of the audience distracted from any semblance of depth,wit or story(kinda like modern games). What more do you need to know?

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