Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Movies Are Never As Good As The Books

How many times have we all been let down when the theatrical release of a beloved book comes out? There are always high hopes, expectations are lofty, but in the end, many of us leave the movie theater feeling cheated and a little jaded.

After pondering this phenomenon for some time, I've come to a few conclusions:

1) Interpretation. When you're reading a great book, your imagination takes over. In your mind's eye, you've recreated the setting and characters in vivid detail. However, what if the direction of the film version of that great book has a completely different take on some (or all) of those elements? All of those things that you've breathed life into on your own suddenly comes crumbling down and you're forced to watch another person's "incorrect" ideas within your beloved book.

2) Engagement. Reading engages the brain. Yes, I'm going to go all scientific on your ass. Science has shown over and over again that watching a movie (or TV show) is a passive behavior. Overall brain activity drops, and it even disengages during the viewing. When reading a book, your brain emits more hi-beta waves, which means your brain is busier at work. So it's easy to see why you can gain much more satisfaction from books. It's a case of active vs passive activity.

3) Format. The average five hundred page novel takes about 20-24 hours of total reading time to complete. It's so much easier to create a richer story with three-dimensional characters going through all kinds of sub-plots. A movie is two hours (or less) long. A director has to try to take 24 hours worth of stuff and condense it by 1/10th. That's a tough job. That's like asking someone who's 300 lbs and 6'8" to wear an 8 month old's onsie. I mean, you can do it, but it's gonna be painful.

There are several movies that have come pretty close, however. And many will argue that there are films out there that have even surpassed their literary origins. Here are a few that come to mind:

Harry Potter. The books are fun, and rich. The films are pretty good too. Although many who have read the books still long for the movies to be a more literal translation of the novels. Look folks, that's pretty impossible. Overall, the movies did a great job and many fans of the books love the movies too.

Lord of the Rings. Yeah, Merry and Pippin are regulated to C3PO and R2D2 status in the films. The Dumb and Dumber version of Middle Earth, if you will. These two characters are not portrayed this way in the books. Despite the differences, the movies are still pretty awesome.

Shawshank Redemption. This is one movie that many could argue surpassed the book version. I love this film, and it's easily in my top 5 of all time. The novella went by the title of  "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." I think maybe the film had an advantage, as many of the differences between the novella and the movie were insignificant.

The Princess Bride. If you haven't read the book, you need to do it NOW! Of course like many others, I saw the movie first and then read the novel. The literary version is much more detailed and goes deeper into the back story of the secondary characters. But I love this movie. I can pretty much recite the words, but I refrain from doing so in order to keep from being struck from behind with a shoe.

Twilight. In my opinion, the movie is a little better than the book. But we're comparing shit to shit here. I'm sorry for offending any of you Twerds, Fanpires, and Twihards. The novel was horribly written. As a heterosexual dude, there was no adolescent female fantasy nerve that was struck while I ploughed through this terrible book. The movie is still bad, but not nearly as awful.

Can you think of any other movies that come close to the original books?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The LOTR movies were even better than the books for me, since it could show the description quickly without having to wade through pages of it. And of course The Princess Bride was done very well.
One of the worst adaptations was The Perfect Storm. The book is nonfiction and deals with a lot more than just one the one crew lost during the storm. Big disappointment for me.

Nick Wilford said...

I agree on your first point particularly. It's jarring when you have a certain image in your mind (a character for me mostly) and the performance is nothing like it.

Movies that are better than their books? How about The Wizard of Oz? Great material but not great writing.

Martin Willoughby said...

Blade Runner? Dick thought it was a good conversion.

What has come through several times is short stories and novellas tend to make better films than novels do, mainly because they are short and there is less to leave out.

Julie Dao said...

I liked the LOTR movies better than the books. I think visual action suits the story more. I loved reading the Princess Bride and can recite all the movie lines!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think the LOTR movies were better than the books.

Brinda said...

I love the Sahwshank Redemption movie. :/

Brinda said...

Sorry...typo up there. Where is the auto correct when you really need it?

Jay Noel said...

Alex: LOTR the books were tough to get through, so I have to agree with you there.

Nick: Yeah, the book was pretty lame.

Martin: I never read the book. Maybe I should.

Julie and Michael: Score another two points for Peter Jackson!

Brinda: It's okay, I knew exactly what you were saying.

Jenn said...

Duh! Hunger games= fail!!!

Dafeenah said...

If I enjoy a book I do NOT watch the movie because I'm always disappointed. So all those movies I've never watched but read the books. I broke this rule with The Hunger Games because curiosity won me over. I don't see how anyone who hadn't read the books could figure out what was happening in the movie. I shall never break my rule again.

angel, jr. said...

I can't stand Twilight and I am glad you waited till the end to mention it, otherwise you would have lost me at hello

Vero said...

Oh, I have two examples of movies being wa-ha-hay better than the books:
#1 -- Girl, Interrupted. The stellar performances of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie topped anything anyone could've imagined, compared to reading Susanna Kaysen's memoir.
#2 -- The Mist. The movie? Pretty sweet horror with a horrible ending. The book? Mediocre at best. And I stand by that, Mr. King, however awesome you are otherwise.

Oh, and a quick example where both the book and the movie were awesome, IMO, is Fight Club. Loved both.

And I agree on Twilight. Read & saw, giggled, rolled eyes and left.

The Desert Rocks said...

I agree most movies don't live up to the writer's words but sometimes there's a magical chemistry between two actors that possibly even surprises the writers. For example, I've read Wuthering Heights several times and I love the book--but Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon were hot and when they got separated by death--OMG!

Jay Noel said...

Jenn: Yup. Wasn't happy with their Peeta selection, as his facial expressions made me laugh out loud.

angel: I know about you and Twilight! You know I couldn't help it.

Vero: I didn't read either book, and I totally forgot about Fight Club. I actually thought the movie was a little better than the book.

Eve: It's been so long since I've read Wuthering or even saw the movie. Or Gone with the Wind.

Samantha May said...

I have not actually read LOTR, but I do love the movies! I've read The Hobbit though so I'll be curious to see how that one turns out (or, how all 3 of those movies turn out).

As for Harry Potter, the only disappointing thing about them IMO was that the relationship between Harry & Ginny and Ron & Hermione was just kind of like BAM they're together now. And they were super awkward about it.

Don't get me started on Twilight :P

Jay Noel said...

Samantha: Yeah, they just kinda mashed them all up there at the end.

Kelley Lynn said...

I really need to read The Princess Bride... love that movie :)

Christine Rains said...

Great post! Excellent points why reading the book is always better than the movie version. I can't stand Twilight either. I can't think of any other movies, but a few TV shows do decent jobs. True Blood is a good show, but it's not the same as the Sookie Stackhouse books.

Melissa Bradley said...

Excellent post! I love the LOTR films and books. I knew that there was no way to bring Tolkien to life without some sacrifice and well, the purists who hate the LOTR films irritate me to no end. One of the worst book to film adaptations Random Hearts. Changed characters, changed circumstances, ignored whole important plot points. I think at the end they just used the title.

Emily R. King said...

So much of this is very true. My son asked me the other day about a book he was reading, and why it was different than the movie. I laughed, because even in children's books, the movies aren't as good.

Cherie Reich said...

So true about movies and books. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games book and movie. It was one of the better adaptations I've seen from book to movie.

M Pax said...

Sense & Sensibility w/ Emma Thompson was pretty close to the book.

Ciara said...

The Hunger Games was close. There was only two things that bothered me about the movie. 1) The flipping cat she refereed to as pumpkin colored and he's black and white in the movie. The other one, I don't want to give away to people who hadn't seen the movie.

Jay Noel said...

Kelley: You will LOVE this book!

Christine: I'm taking a vampire moratorium, so I wouldn't know.

Melissa: And Harrison Ford's star power

Emily: I think the Diary of a Wimpykid movies do a pretty decent job.

Cherie: I loved the book (all but #3) and I thought the movie was good. Not great, but good.

Mary: Yes, that's true! That's a good one.

Ciara: I know what you're talking about, and it probably rhymes with Poo. Yeah, it was not the emotional jolt you got from the book. A fraction of it.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Oh man, Princess Bride is absolutely my favorite movie, but the book just didn't do it for me. I might have to try it again sometime though. Shawshank Redemption was always on HBO after school in high school. I probably watched it 100 times. Love that movie, but I haven't read the book! Definitely going to pick that up.

Phats said...

You touched on this but I think the hardest part is squeezing everything into the movie without making it 6 hrs :)

I think the movie Misery lived up to everything the book was, as well as The Shining. It might have had something to do with the leads being terrific, but I was pleased with both. I have never seen or read LOTR

Jay Noel said...

Juliana: It could also be because you LOVE the movie so much, the novel version of The Princess Bride might not have done it for you.

Phats: You'd like LOTR.

The Golden Eagle said...

Great lists!

I love the HP and LOTR movies. Can't think of any other adaptations I've enjoyed offhand.

Jessica Salyer said...

I love The Princess Bride. I've never read the book though. I'll have to do that.

Carol Kilgore said...

I am drawing a blank for anything to add. It's late and I'm zonked.

Cynthia said...

I think another reason why many movies based on books are set up to disappoint is because movies like to "go Hollywood" on a story by throwing out smoke and mirrors and unnecessary romances and subplots when telling the story straight would've been just fine.

Lydia Kang said...

That's like asking someone who's 300 lbs and 6'8" to wear an 8 month old's onsie.

OMG, that visual is so...very...wrong.

Anyway, I agree with you on so many of these. I enjoyed the Princess Bride, but the book is a different beast, for sure. And Merry and Pippen? So true about them being side show characters.

Lydia Kang said... the LOTR movies, that is.

Mr. Shife said...

It does always seem to be the golden rule that books are always better than movies. A few exceptions here and there. I have never read "Shawshank" but I would have to think it would be hard pressed to beat the movie. One of my all-time favorites. Take care, buddy.

Miranda Hardy said...

I enjoyed the movie Tuck Everlasting more than I did the book, however, I did see the movie first. It was more realistic than the book to me.

Cynthia said...

Yes, I'm double commenting on a post..Before I went to bed last night, I thought of a movie based on a story I really liked: Brokeback Mountain...although Brokeback Mountain is a short story, and not a novel... I thought both the story and movie were very good.

Cindy said...

I agree with your list of movies that are just as good as the books. And I can't think of any more to add to it. Oh wait...Maybe The Hunger Games?

Jay Noel said...

Eagle: We have the same taste!

Jessica: I think you'd like the book.

Carol: Get some sleep.

Cynthia: I think you're right. They try to cheapen the story to draw an audience. This is the Jersey Shore generation after all.

Lydia: I liked the book of Princess Bridge because it was such a different take on the tale. I loved it.

Jay Noel said...

Shife: I went back and read the novella after watching the movie. It's pretty good, but the movie is incredible.

Miranda: I don't think I've seen that movie!

Cynthia: I have yet to see that movie as well. Geez.

Cindy: I did like the movie, but I really loved the first book. Second book was equally good. Third book sucked.

Pk Hrezo said...

I agree in most cases. The books offer backstory and motivation that movies often lack.
There are 4 however that I prefer the film story over the book tho:
Count of Monte Cristo (recent version)

Jay Noel said...

Pk: I never read Jaws, but I love the movie. And I think Stardust is one of my all time favorites, but again, I didn't read the book.

I tried to read Count of Monte Cristo, but I just couldn't get into it. I think the film is awesome! Great sword fight scenes.

Milo James Fowler said...

For me, what's fun sometimes is reading the book after the movie -- it's like "watching" the extended edition. And guess what? You won 2nd prize in my contest; I'll be in touch to arrange delivery.

Jay Noel said...

Milo: Thanks so much for the ebook!!! Can't wait to read it.

MaryAnn Pope said...

Most of the times books are way better than the movies. I thought the later Harry Potter movies left too much out. They just didn't have the space to tell the whole story. And while the LOTR movie was beautiful to watch, there were small changes to the story that really bugged me.

I do think that there are a few movies that were way better than the books.

The Scarlet Pimpernell-saw the movie first and love it, but I was so disappointed when I read the book. The exact same thing happened with The Count of Monte Cristo. And I enjoyed the Movie Jurassic Park more than the book, but that is probably just because seeing dinosaurs on the screen is so much more fun than reading about them. :)

Great Post!

Oh I haven't read the novella, but Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest movies every made.

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