While visiting my parents, I had the opportunity to watch Life of Pi, which is the first time in at least ten years that I’ve seen a movie nominated for an Oscar, but that’s beside the point. One of the reasons I chose that movie was because the book is my book club’s selection for February.
After I got home, I read the book, and of course, compared it to the movie version of the story. As expected, they weren’t a perfect match, but I will say they were close. There were some scenes in the movie that weren’t in the book, but overall, it was a very good adaptation. (My mother was impressed with the animals and I hated to have to tell her they weren’t “real”. She was also unaware there was a book that predated the movie.)
Books aren’t movies, and movies aren’t books. One takes place in your head; the other in front of your eyes. The point of view is going to be different, and you’re not going to be privy to the inner thoughts of your characters. You’ll see what they do, hear what they say, but you won’t know what they’re thinking.
Note: these are generalizations—if a movie is narrated by a POV character, for example, the above won’t hold.
I tend to be disappointed in a movie if I see it after reading the book. One exception for me was The Hunt for Red October. I think that was a movie that pulled the important story threads from the book and was tighter than the book itself without losing anything. (Of course if you’re someone who understood all the jargon and acronyms in the book, and could deal with the way the story bounced around, you might have a different opinion.)
Another problem of movies is casting. If we’ve read a book, we’ll have our own image of the characters. If you see the movie first, the actors will probably superimpose themselves on any visuals you could conjure up. The brouhaha about casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher is a case in point. Reacher is a BIG man. Tom Cruise isn’t. If you’ve never read one of Lee Child’s books, then it probably won’t bother you. But if you see the movie, then read the books, you might have a major disconnect with the character. Does that make it a ‘bad’ movie? Based purely on casting, I would say no, but I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t judge. We’ll wait for the Netflix release.
Michael Connelly has written about 20 books where his character, Harry Bosch, is on the page. Yet Connelly said he doesn’t think he’s written 80 words of description of Bosch in all the books. He’d probably be “easy” to cast if the producers wanted to stay true to the character—then again, there are probably as many images of Bosch as there are readers.
Movies from books are adaptations. Someone other than the author is taking a story, deciding how it will translate to the screen, and to the time constraints of a movie (or a television show). (For the record, I thought both the book and the movie Life of Pi were too long.) They may decide there needs to be some love interest, or other conflict that will appeal to movie –goers. Often, the book and the movie are alike in name only.
Can you judge a movie by a book, or vice versa? I recall a book club selection that was also a movie release. There were a few members of the club who said they didn’t read the book, but gave it a score because they saw (and enjoyed) the movie. Those who read the book but didn’t see the movie tended to give it much lower scores. (And, for the record, if I were in charge, I wouldn’t have allowed those who hadn’t read the book to score it based on the movie, but I’m not, and frankly, most of what I enjoy about book club is seeing what readers think of books and why. As a writer, I can’t read the same way they do.)
What’s your preference? Do you prefer a book to a movie? Do you want to read first or watch first?
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society