This is an ongoing thing among book lovers — Which is better to do, read the book before viewing the movie? What if the movie of your favorite book is a disaster? Is it ever acceptable to just watch the film and never read the original book at all?
Today I’ll be presenting a variety of thoughts on these very subjects. So, get out the popcorn and soda (or whatever you snack on while at the cinema).
I love to read. But I also love movies. When films are made of books I enjoyed, I get excited. Some book dragons get skeptical, or even worried. Not me — I just go ahead and watch with an open mind. And if I happen not to like the film version, so be it. For me, it doesn’t ruin the book.
Sometimes, I even prefer the movie over the book. I know that sounds like sacrilege to the ears of some; but, think about it, haven’t we all read something and thought, “This could just…have been…better“? For me, How To Train Your Dragon is a perfect example. After White Fang got hooked on the movie, we started investigating the books, and, well, we weren’t impressed. (Sorry, Cressida Cowell.) But we really appreciate the spark of imagination that the original series put in the minds of the filmmakers.
So, is it truly entertainment heresy if you see the film before reading the book? I say no.
There are instances when going to the cinema prior to the bookstore is actually helpful. After all, what if you weren’t even aware that the movie you just watched was based on a novel/biography/real event? If you liked the film, you’ll get interested in a book that you didn’t even know existed until you saw its title in the credits. (This is an especially clever way to encourage kids to read more.)
Also, there are times when attempting to read (particularly non-fiction) and glean all the information just doesn’t fit into your life. Recently, I watched Hidden Figures on DVD, because trying to read such a text right now (due to children) is a real challenge. But I could manage to set aside 2-3 hours (thank you, Lord, for gifting someone the ability to invent the pause button) to finish the DVD.
And sometimes you like a story, but an author’s writing style really doesn’t do it for you. The Book Thief immediately springs to mind — I couldn’t make it through more than 75 pages of the text, but wanted to know what would happen to Liesel and her foster family. Since the movie isn’t presented like the book, it was a win-win. The story is precious and important, and on screen I didn’t miss it because I couldn’t understand the long metaphorical ramblings of Death as the narrator (when I thought the story was about a little girl in Nazi Germany). (I have many, many issues with this book. Sorry, fans.)
And, in truth, I never could’ve managed to read Lord of the Rings without seeing the films first, and getting all the background on the different places, events, and how in blazes to pronounce everybody’s names. (I’ve actually given up reading high fantasy, because trying to relate to characters whose names I can’t even fathom how to say out loud really dampens the experience.)
And let’s not forget the topic no book lover actually wants to admit to — “What if I just won’t like that story, and don’t want to waste money on a printing I’ll never touch again?” A couple years ago, when “everybody” was reading The Help, and I had serious misgivings about it, I rented the DVD from the library (for free), and quickly (within an hour) discovered that if I tried to read the novel, it’d get thrown at the wall. Mission accomplished.
On the other side of the coin, if you just can’t stand the screen adaptation of your favorite book, you never have to watch it again. (This definitely holds true for me with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
And there are times when I’ll simply like the movie better. I’m not big on reading drama, or thrillers, but I can rent the film from the library or Netflix, and get the jist of the hyped novels of (insert year here), that I know I’ll never read.
Another plus for me is that often I just can’t picture in my mind’s eye what the author’s describing (especially if it’s a place/event/style of decor I have no frame of reference for). But on screen, I don’t have to know the terminology or the geography; I’ll still be able to understand the setting or the point of that scene.
Are there some books that I just don’t think would adapt well to film? Sure. Just like literature is an art, good filmmaking is an art, and some things don’t necessarily translate from one medium to the other. Example — I think attempting to make a movie of The Scorpio Races would be an epic fail. And there are some authors (like Erin Hunter) who don’t want movies made of their work, and I can appreciate this viewpoint, too.
However, if a film company or student approached me about creating their take on my series, what would I say? Hmmm… The jury’s still out on that one.