The book is always better than the movie…or is it?

Last month, a bunch of us librarians got together to give our advice on how to fit reading into a busy schedule. This month, we’re discussing book-to-movie adaptations. While it’s pretty widely accepted that “the book is better than the movie,” many people end up seeing the movie before reading the book – and this may be the key to enjoying adaptations rather than bemoaning them.

StaffPicks_Linda“My favorite adaptation by far is BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, which I love for many reasons but primarily for the great casting, especially Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I watched it before ever reading the book, and although I enjoyed the book I still love the movie more than the book (sshhh! don’t tell!)

I read The Great Gatsby before ever seeing a movie version, but – and I’m definitely in the minority on this – I loved Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation. I thought it was very true to the book, visually stunning, and I loved the music. It only enhances my high regard for the novel.

These two examples aside, I usually shy away from adaptations because they are so often disappointing.”

StaffPicks_Rebecca“Is it completely unoriginal to say that Game of Thrones is the only (and so far, my favorite) adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s saga, A Song of Ice and Fire?  I’m skipping movie adaptations for quality reasons; they have to cut and paste so much from the original work to fit in a 90 minute run time, and losing the details makes the movie a lot less nuanced.  But, with GoT, the production team has done a really excellent job of deciding which stories to tell and how to tell them. Is there a whole lot of detail not included in the show?  Well, yes.  But what they’ve chosen to include has been very thoughtful (and with each book hovering around 1,000 pages, they have a lot to choose from).   I also think that TV shows adapted from books (and here I’m crossing my fingers for the TV version of Outlander), fare better because they’re produced with a long game in mind.  It’s not just a rush to meet production deadlines, awards season, actors’ schedules, and crew continuity. Of course, it helps that the books are still being written (albeit s-l-o-w-l-y), and nobody knows the ending just yet.”

StaffPicks_Jenny“I grew up watching and loving the movie The Princess Bride. When I read the book as an adult, I loved it too: it had everything the movie did, including its wonderful sense of humor, plus much more back story about Inigo and Fezzik. Likewise with High Fidelity: I saw the movie first, and read the book a little later. Here, rather than the movie just being a trimmed-down version of the book, there were some substantive changes, both to the location and the storyline, but again, I love both book and movie.

More recently, approximately seven squillion beloved YA books have been made into movies, and more are on the way. I’m wary of books I love being turned into movies, but a few of these recent ones have actually been pretty great, particularly The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Still, whenever I hear about an upcoming adaptation, I’m skeptical until proven otherwise. And I flat-out refuse to watch even ten seconds of The Time Traveler’s Wife (author Audrey Niffenegger hasn’t seen it either).”

staffpicks_ellen“I enjoyed Anne Tyler’s novel The Accidental Tourist, with its strong and often seemingly miscast throng of characters.  The movie adaptation did not disappoint with its almost made-for-the-role actors, including John Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis (superb in the role of quirky dog trainer).  Lawrence Kasdan’s screen adaptation was pitch perfect.

I totally agree with Linda on the Arts and Entertainment version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  Movie adaptations do not get much better than this. I did not read Persuasion by Austen but the film version, with actors Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, is an equally awesome and enchanting a film experience as the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice.  Just know that you may need to use subtitles at times with Persuasion,  since the British dialogue can occasionally be almost impossible understand!

I also love the movie adaptation of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro which is every bit as good as the book   Actors Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson help elevate this film to pure art.

I tend to shy away from film adaptations.  If I read a book that I think is totally awesome, I do not care to see the movie version and much prefer to keep my images intact –  in the theater of the imagination.”

“In cases where I’ve read the book before the movie comes out, I really just have to adjust my attitude.” -Rob

StaffPicks_Rob“When it comes to movie adaptations, I strongly prefer to see the movie before I read the book.  They’re two very different mediums – movies tend to tell the story in broad strokes whereas books can really get into the minutia.  So seeing the movie first allows the book to really add on layers of meaning and detail.  I saw the movie White Oleander, which is what inspired me to pick up the book.  The book added so much richness to what I had already thought was an incredible story and I was thrilled!  But there are also times where the movie is fantastic, but the novel is a let down.  I felt that way about Girl, Interrupted.  The novel didn’t have a strong narrative or characterization in it, which is something the movie fixed.  And going from a movie with a strong narrative and interesting characters to an autobiographical memoir was both jarring and disappointing.

In cases where I’ve read the book before the movie comes out, I really just have to adjust my attitude.  I expect that the movie will be a completely different story that’s inspired by the story in the book.  That mostly helps, but of course I still get mad when my favorite details are missing from a movie, or things aren’t quite as I imagined them.  The Hunger Games movies spring to mind here.  I think the movies are great, but much of the fantastic descriptions of the Capitol & its citizens gets lost, as well as much of the brutality and injustice they perpetrate against the districts.  It really changes the message of the story in a way that didn’t stay true to the heart of the novels.

Adaptation is another movie I feel that I have to mention here.  It’s based on the non-fiction novel The Orchid Thief, and it’s a satirical take on the process of how novels are adapted.  The movie follows a fictitious writer as he attempts to write a screenplay for The Orchid Thief, so the movie bears almost no resemblance to the novel.  It’s very meta, but highly entertaining and gives an interesting glimpse into the process of adaptation on several levels.”

So there you have it, folks! What are your favorite book-to-film adaptations? Least favorite? Let us know in the comments.


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2 Responses to The book is always better than the movie…or is it?

  1. Pingback: Half Magic, Half Real: Reading in childhood and adolescence | Jenny Arch

  2. Pingback: Also Writing | Library &

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