Books and Movies: Are Either Better Than the Other?
Pirates on the sea. Wizards learning magic. Kids searching for adventure. People exploring a haunted mansion. A little girl discovering a magical world beyond the doors of a wardrobe. The smallest of creatures setting out to destroy an evil ring. A young boy forming a friendship with a dragon and reteaching it how to fly.
There's no doubt about it: I love stories. No matter the medium used, exhilarating tales make me feel excited just by thinking about them. With that in mind, there's been a question about stories and mediums that I've been asking for years: Why are the books, according to the public, almost always better than the movies?
Sadly, I'm not the right person to answer that question by myself because there are some movies based on books that I like just as much as the original. So, I did a little research and asked around, and here are some of the answers that I've received:
1: The books allow a little more room for creativity
Well, as an aspiring novelist I can't argue with that. A book that's written well can give readers a summary of the setting while still allowing the readers to use their imagination in order to see what's going on. Everyone imagines a story differently, so it's really interesting to compare and contrast what people see and hear when they read a certain book. The movies, however, rely on stimulating two senses in order to tell a story: vision and sound. As a result, the viewers aren't challenged to use their heads when watching a movie, except to critique.
2: A medium transfer has to respect the source it's basing the story on
There are definitely some movies based on different stories that fail to respect the original source, to the point where the author regrets the decision to allow someone to make an adaptation of his or her work. Disney's adaptation of P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins is an extremely controversial example of this. Travers was initially reluctant about Disney making a movie based on her work, and when done she absolutely despised some of the changes that Disney made—a handful of them without her permission. Even though I really like the movie, I can't ignore the fact that you have to give credit where credit is due and respect the author. A medium transfer is tricky, but when it's handled terribly it can cause the audience to question whether or not they liked the original to begin with.
3: Some elements of a book get lost in translation in a movie
Remember when Stephen King got so worked up about Kubrick's film adaptation of The Shining? That's what I'm talking about here. For example, Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted is a retelling of a famous fairy tale. She knew that when she wrote the book, and she embraced it in any way she could. The movie, however, veered in an entirely different direction and failed to see what it was that readers liked about Ella Enchanted. The scene where Ella's curse breaks is almost glanced over in the movie, and none of the characters in the movie struck me as particularly interesting—except for the elf who wants to be a lawyer.
4: There are some story-telling techniques that a movie can't do as well as the book (if at all)
There are a few movies that are exceptions to this, but again, a movie relies solely on vision and sound in order to tell a story. A book relies on words and the imagination of its readers, and as a result it can do virtually anything it wants to do. It can break spelling and grammar rules for the sake of characterization, it can decide what it wants to show and what it wants to tell, and it can allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Movies don't always do that, at least not very well.
These are justifiable reasons for why people would prefer the books over the movies, and I'd be lying if I said I couldn't support them. But, I also feel the need to defend a few films, because some of them are good adaptations, and only a few are better than the books they were based on. The Harry Potter films weren't perfect, but there were some elements in them that I thought came across better than they could have in the books. For example, there's a certain secret about a character named Severus Snape that's revealed in Deathly Hallows (for the sake of spoilers I won't say what). When I read it in the book, I flat out refused to believe it. It just seemed out of character for the Snape that I was familiar with. But then I watched Deathly Hallows pt. 2, and watching Alan Rickman portraying Snape as his secret was being revealed convinced me that it was the truth.
It's almost impossible for a movie to be exactly like the book, and be a good movie at the same time. Again, some story-telling elements work better in books, while others work better in movies. So sometimes, you have to honor the original source and give credit where credit is due while still putting a different spin on it. I thought that the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games did this really well; it focused on what Collins wanted to get across to her readers, and at the same time it left out a lot of the bits and pieces of the book that didn't drive the story forward.
So is the original source always better than its adaptations? Not all of the time. But all the same, I'm glad I have a better understanding of why people would insist that it's true.