Books vs. Movies

I was thinking about this the other day and so I am bringing back a post I made some time ago. If you saw it already, I wonder if your thoughts have changed. If this is your first time seeing it, please weigh in!

Printed media as the mining field for visual media grows in popularity with each passing year.  Film adaptations of books are not a new phenomenon: Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” was first adapted for film in 1903, but the cyclical popularity of the practice makes some wonder whether creativity is taking a backseat to commercialism.  The result is a lack of interest in one of the two versions – movie or book – because the story seems too familiar.

Many people know when a movie is based on a book, especially when the author is a well-known name like Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.  However, cinema borrows from written word more often than one might think.  Some book to film translations do not carry the same title.  For instance, the 1978 book Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg was made into the 1987 move, Angel Heart.  The 1993 book The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte was made into the 1999 movie The Ninth Gate.  The connection can easily be missed.  When someone who has read the book unwittingly views a movie made from it, they may feel as though the screenplay is too closely related to the book, causing a lack of confidence in the industry’s creativity. This leads to consumer concern about the lack of vision in interpreting the nuances of the storyline, which directly correlates back to the original thought process; creativity is not being fully employed.

What is the inherent difference between books and movies?  While they are both designed to entertain, they have different focuses.  Movies have a considerably smaller window in which to impress the viewer, therefore the storyline needs to be much more concise.  Movies have an easier time showing verses telling. Indeed, the tenet of writing that is so ingrained in our psyche is easier to master in cinema.  An audience only tolerates narration in a film for a fixed amount of time, before they tire of the story.  This is particularly true of action, thriller, and horror fiction movies, where the activity moves the storyline along.  Finally, movies have the added benefit of being able to use special effects to drive a point.  An explosion or spaceship landing in a populated city makes a larger impact when seen onscreen.

Books have the luxury of space.  Authors can use descriptive words in narration far more easily than filmmakers can, allowing them to describe the atmosphere, the subtleties of character interaction, facial expressions, and other attributes that would require lighting and exceptional acting to achieve onscreen.  The author can make every word penetrate the reader’s mind.  Subplots can flourish in a book more so than in a movie, where time is a constraint.  Secondary characters, relationships, background information, locales, and scenarios can be expounded upon in literary fiction.  Character-driven work can become more in depth, allowing the author to delve into the inner workings of a protagonist to understand the motivations and tie them into to a seemingly obscure context.  Prose allows for flourish.

There are times where the movie is favored over the book, as is widely cited in the instance of The Godfather.  Mario Puzzo’s book paled in comparison to the screen version.  Much of that was due to the director’s interpretation, but also because of the nature of film.  The main storyline in the multi-faceted piece had to be focused on and the others downplayed.  Finally, the cast in The Godfather presented the characters so vividly, the audience believed them, felt they were real people.

Movies are often favored over books for the visual aspect and instant gratification, while books are credited with more creativity and well-roundedness.  Length and time investment can be used by both sides as positive: movies are short, so they can be enjoyed quickly.  Book lovers enjoy the time spent reading; the level of detail found in a book provides an enjoyable pastime.

Ultimately, moviegoers tend to enjoy a movie more so than the book version, and vice versa, readers enjoy the book version.  An interesting point to consider is that, often times, movie goers either did not read the book or even know that a book version existed.  The consumer types (moviegoers and book readers) do not share the same space, by and large.  It is uncommon to find a person who actively reads a book and then deliberately watches the movie (or does so after the fact).  Therefore, the comparison between the two is based on a small subset of people, comprised mostly of book fans.

So, which do you like more?

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