Tuesday 22 September 2009

Books vs. Movies

I was reading an article in TIMES that I know we will all enjoy!

I'll let you decide which is better.

Tis the season when Hollywood gets literate. Since the Oscar deadline coincides with New Year's Eve and a bookish pedigree is a sure way to get Academy members' attention, studios turn to acclaimed novels for their holiday fodder. But there's a risk involved. Ask any reader who has seen the movie version of a favorite novel, and the answer will usually be, "The book was better."

That's because readers of a novel have already made their own perfect movie version. They have visualized it, fleshed out the locations and set the pace as they either zipped through the book or scrupulously savored every word. Often they have even cast it. In the late 1930s, by the thousands, readers of Gone With the Wind demanded that Southern rogue Rhett Butler be played by that damn yankee Clark Gable. Readers are a very possessive bunch. So in taking a novel from page to screen, movie adapters must tread carefully, like a new visitor at Lourdes.

The time has long passed when popular fiction was almost inevitably filmed by Hollywood and when, as in the 1940s, seven of the 10 Best Picture Oscar winners were based on novels. Today graphic novels inspire as many big-budget crowd pleasers as the old-fashioned unillustrated kind. Which means that somewhere someone is saying, of the Fantastic Four movie or even Sin City, "The comic book was better."

Books don't have to be serious to be adapted, as the many movie versions of Elmore Leonard novels attest. But since they're often how people experience a story first, debates will always rage over the merits of each version. We're here to add kindling to that fire. Three books, three movies. Which ones win? You'll decide.


CHALLENGES: Hello? It's only, like, one of the most acclaimed pieces of literature ever (although director Joe Wright had never read it). Those who love it love it a lot. To others, it smells a bit like homework. Not to mention that this is the third adaptation, including one of those BBC behemoths.

HOW THE BOOK WAS BETTER: It's hard to match wits with the woman who wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." The movie doesn't try. It opens on a sunrise. The book is much funnier, the dialogue much cleverer, the social satire more nuanced. Oh, and some Austenites are spitting mad because the movie ends with a kiss.

HOW THE MOVIE IS BETTER: There's a lot more of the grit of everyday life in 18th century rural Britain that was commonplace to Austen but is new to us. Animals wander through the house. There's mud everywhere. Also, it ends with a kiss.


CHALLENGES: Right off the bat, the screenwriters had to commit sacrilege by tinkering with a beloved children's classic. They also had to wrestle with a strongly Christian plot that flirts with Sunday-school didacticism and had to keep kids interested despite a noticeable lack of exploding spaceships.

HOW THE BOOK WAS BETTER: Director Andrew Adamson Hollywoodizes Lion with a dreary, rote chase scene and "punches up" C.S. Lewis' dialogue with a pair of tiresome beavers with Cockney accents who engage in sitcom-style banter.

HOW THE MOVIE IS BETTER: Whereas Lewis let World War II stay in the book's background, the movie opens with a stark, scary shot of Luftwaffe bombers pummeling London. It's a daring stroke that brings out the dark strata of loss and violence that lay beneath the story. Lewis also soft-pedaled the book's climactic battle between the forces of good and evil; the movie makes it the kick-ass set piece readers have always wanted. "It'd be a crime not to show a fight between a centaur and a minotaur," says screenwriter Christopher Markus.


CHALLENGES: Filmmakers had to consult on changes with author J.K. Rowling (who's usually quite agreeable); appease every kid who has read, memorized and worshipped the book; put Goblet's 734-page bulk on a severe diet that slimmed the plot without starving it; find a strong narrative line that, as director Mike Newell says, you can "hang stuff on like a necklace"; and make a movie that fit into the seven-novel structure but could stand alone as a ripping yarn. "Goblet of Fire was by far the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life," says screenwriter Steve Kloves. "It took two years to make that work--mostly trying to decide what to leave behind."

HOW THE BOOK WAS BETTER: True Potter fans say Goblet luxuriated in fascinating detail (about Hogwarts and Voldemort lore) that the movie was obliged to ignore.

HOW THE MOVIE IS BETTER: It telescopes the book's first 100 pages into a thrilling 20 min. The whole movie zips through the narrative like the Hogwarts Express, transporting viewers from the mundane to the magical in no time flat.

What do you think? Which is better?

portion of article from TIMES


  1. What a GREAT article! I actually like The Count of Monte Cristo the MOVIE more than the book. I loved that the movie changed the ending a little bit to make Albert his son. It served to bring the audience a little closer to the situation and make us feel even happier for his victory in the end.
    Sometimes I also prefer movies over books because they are quicker. I like getting relief from everyday life but sometimes I need the quick fix a movie gives me and not the drawn out version of the book. If I need to take a break from life for a couple days then I'll definitely go for the book!

  2. Pride and Prejudice = Sad to admit I still haven't read the book so I can't decide on that one.
    Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter: No matter how much I enjoyed the movies (and I truly did) I found the books better.
    Great article.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Generally I like books better. However I enjoyed the movie versions of The Devil Wears Prada and Legally Blonde more than the books they were based on. But as I say, prose and film are two different media that should not be compared against each other. Let us just take the movies for the two hours or so escapism that they aim for :) Nevertheless I liked this article. I read and saw everything on the list :)

  4. I have to agree, too different to compare, really. Both good in their times, but impossible to compare, really. (Though, of course, we all do.)

    Also, far more versions of Pride and Prejudice out there than three, and all so very different and hard to compare themselves. None are the book (sorry, none), and even the movies are all so different.

    Yeah, you feel bad for them with Goblet, that was a lot to try and cram in and shrink down without loosing everything.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. That's a good article in Time - though I do have to disagree with it putting the Memoirs of a Geisha film as better than the book - Uh, NO! hehe

    I prefer the Pride & Prejudice book, and I'm ashamed to say I've never read Narnia or Harry Potter. *ducks from flying object*

    I agree with Krissy though in that I much preferred The Devil Wears Prada film to the book (although it was very good and different to what I expected). :)

  6. Great article!
    I am one of those who can separate the book from the movie adaptation no matter how beloved the book. If I see a movie adaptation, I usually judge it as I would other movies, which is to say, first and foremost is it a good movie? Then secondly, does it capture the essence of the book?

  7. I am also a person who can separate the book from the movie. I enjoy movies and an extension of the book. I enjoy both for different reasons.

    One book I did not enjoy the movie adaptation of was The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory. Horrible movie! Not at all like the book or what history would say about it. Poorly played. I couldn't even finish watching it the first time.

    Other than that, I usually enjoy both. Just as an extension of each.

  8. Absolutely agree with you, Mary. The Other Boleyn Girl, film version, was horrid. And a shame, really, because it could have been so much more. (See The Tudors on Showtime for an example). The book was stupendous, as well as the "follow up" The Boleyn Inheritance.

    Pride & Prejudice is my favorite book but I will say the 1995 A&E miniseries is as close to perfection as you can get. I enjoyed the Keira Knightly version but I felt it was harnessed by time constraints (that the A&E version did not have) and these constraints forced the cutting of some characters' screen times, or the character altogether.

  9. I do think turning a book into a movie is a tough one and rarely can it live up to it - In fact I will say it never can. But I do enjoy the Harry Potter films and I love Narnia. They are both good in their own way! I think with Narnia especially I hadn't read the book in so long so in a way what it had to match up to in my head had been forgotten somewhat.


  10. I'm generally a book fan, myself, but I have to say two movies that are better than their book counterparts are "The Little Princess" and "Sense and Sensibility." Couldn't stand TLP as a book and S&S was pretty boring. But the movies are both fantastic!

  11. I haven't actually read Pride & Prejudice or Narnia, so I can't choose on those; as for Harry Potter, I definitely like the books better, though I enjoy the movies and can view them as separate from the books, which I can do with most movies-from-books, actually.

    (Really, the only movie-from-book adaptation that I have issues with is "My Sister's Keeper", because of the HUGE change to the plot.)

  12. Sometimes when books are adapted to the screen they lose something. However, it is a catch 22. Something may be lost, but they may reach an audience that would have never picked up the book. I love the Narnia books, but I also love the films; I thought they were made very well, most people dont even know that C.S. Lewis is generally considered a Christian author.

  13. I think that a book is a book and a movie is a movie.

    Movies can't always express all the content and details described in novels or books. Books leave you so much room for imagination.

    Movies should stand on their own merits.

  14. Pride and Prejudice is the best. No movie will beat a book! Mostly because books last longer, you can really soak them in.


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