I’m slowly drowning in finals revision but today I’m welcoming another guest post on What’s Hot. You’ve heard it a thousand times before: The book is better than the movie. Is this just some people’s way of seeming intellectually superior? Or is there something to it?
If you love books, you’ll likely emphatically agree that the book version of any story is superior to the film version. Sometimes, a great director with a vision gets it right. (I never liked a film version of “Romeo and Juliet” until Baz Luhrmann brought it to the big screen.) If you get a good satellite TV package, you can watch multiple adaptations of a book to find the one you love. (Check out DIRECTV here.)
Here’s a look at why some adaptations of books just aren’t successful on the big screen:
Word Play Doesn’t Translate
So much of what makes a book or a story come alive on the page is the use of figurative language and other word play. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – technically a play – is often lost to modern audiences because the language just doesn’t translate on screen. We can hear the cadence of the dialogue, but we can’t fully appreciate the consistent pattern throughout each line of the play, descriptions and all. Modern audiences also fail to grasp the full meaning of some of the outdated language, so the irony, sarcasm, and other subtle emotions are lost.
Similarly, a book like The Last Temptation of Christ is hard to translate on screen. Much of the beauty of the book is in the richness of its language. Only plot and dialogue are conveyed on screen, not the metaphor, symbolism, alliteration, and other figurative language. When you read, you appreciate the masterful choice of language, as well as the particulars of the story.
Some Imagery is Hard to Capture
It seems hard to believe that a visual medium like film would not be able to convey some imagery better than a book, but it’s true. Some imagery lives more in the realm of a dreamscape. It is surrealistic and blends emotion with visuals, so what you see with your eyes may not be what is meant to be conveyed.
You can see a perfect example of this in the book Beloved, which was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Thandie Newton. Much of the book was a blend of magical realism and metaphor, which is very difficult to translate into the visual reality of film. You have to feel these things, and you can only feel them by actually being there or by being immersed in your own imagination, as suggested by the story.
Action is Changed for Drama
When books are adapted, some of the action in the book is changed so that it makes for better drama or better flow in a movie. For example, when the book The Never-Ending Story starts, we meet Atreyu in his own land. In the movie, we first meet him in the Ivory Tower, which helps start the action faster. However, the book shows Bastian’s dad grieving the loss of his wife, not Bastian himself. The book depicts Bastian as more lonely at the start, and his journey is a more satisfying one than in the movie.
In the book The Wizard of Oz, there are additional characters, like the Queen of the Field Mice, who rescues the Cowardly Lion from the Poppy Field. She’s cut from the movie to streamline the cast of characters and the action, but she adds a little something extra in the book.
There are a lot of other things that movies can do to the stories from your favorite books that make them less satisfying. The movies might cast actors who don’t look the way you imagined the characters would look. The books show the inner thoughts of the characters, which shows their feelings and motivations, and these things can be lost in the movies.
There’s definitely something to it when people say that the movie is not as good as the book, but the reason why can vary. And it doesn’t mean that the movie is never as good as the book. We’ve seen some great adaptations of some great books!
What are some of your favourite film adaptations?