Thursday, August 22, 2013

"But the book was so much better!"

You’re leaving the theatre after seeing the latest book-to-movie adaptation.  Your legs are still cramped from sitting for the past two hours, and the smell of popcorn and thick carpet lingers in the air.  Almost as if planned, you hear the inevitable words drift from someone’s lips; maybe your own, maybe a friend’s, maybe a stranger who had been sitting a couple rows over. “I liked it,” they say, “but the book was so much better!”

I’ve heard these words so many times that they’re starting to lose their meaning.  Even though it has been widely accepted that the book will always be better than its movie counterpart, fans feel adamant about pointing out this fact, along with exactly what choices the film should have made instead. 

Like most avid readers, I agree that the book is almost always better (the exception usually being if the book was terrible to begin with), but it’s this last part that always gets me.  No two people read a book the same way.  Individual readers will always have their own impression of what the characters and setting look like and their own list of favorite parts that absolutely should have been included. 

Nevertheless, I love movies, and I’ve learned to see this phenomenon not as something to complain about, but as something to celebrate.  Directors, actors, and filmmakers are artists too, and by watching the film adaptation of a book, I like to think of it as if I’m simply getting to see another artist’s interpretation of that piece of literature.

Of course, the film industry isn’t always about pure art, and I want to address this distinction as well.  Hollywood might glamorize characters and events to make them more visually appealing, stretch out a single book into two films (such as for the last Harry Potter and Twilight volumes) primarily to make more money, or even cast primarily white actors just to satisfy racist moviegoers who envision their heroes a certain way.  These are just a few examples of legitimate reasons to be upset that a movie adaptation came out a certain way, and conversations should definitely be had about these issues.

But when it comes down to a favorite scene being left out, or a setting not appearing a certain way, I try not to let it get me down.  Instead, seeing a filmmaker’s interpretation of a book, and how it differs from my own, can be a fun way to reflect back on why I loved the original book so much in the first place.

Some film adaptations I thought were done especially well include:

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Holes by Louis Sachar 
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (I preferred the American version.)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Some upcoming films I’m curious to see are:

Carrie by Stephen King (especially how it compares to the 1976 film, which I love.)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

And the one film I thought was better than the book:

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (neither was great, but at least the movie had a killer soundtrack and some really beautiful shots of rural Washington.)

Stay cool,

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