Rant of the Day: The Book vs. Movie Debate

“The book was better.”

What does this even mean? It’s an almost inevitable comment whenever you ask someone’s opinion about a movie based on a book. But why even comment about the book? I was asking you about the movie. Was the movie good or was the movie bad? “The book was better” tells me nothing about the movie, and besides that, it’s a meaningless  and irrelevant comment that we should eradicate from the common vernacular. Don’t stand around and nod politely when someone utters this inane phrase. Just look at them and shake your head in disgust, it’s much more fitting.

My biggest problem with this is that you are comparing two entirely different things. A book isn’t a film, and vice versa. They are two completely different formats of telling the same story. So to include a criticism of a movie based on its exclusion of some passages, characters, information, etc. from the book is akin to saying: “The apple was okay, but it wasn’t as good as the orange.” That’s because they are two different things. You can compare a book to a book and a film to a film. Just don’t compare a book to a film.

Let’s just get this out in the open: the book will always be better. It’s a moot point. There’s a couple of reasons for this:

1. If you’re read the book before seeing the movie, the movie’s been spoiled for you.

This is a pretty simple and self-explanatory reason for why the book is better than the movie. Because when you read the book, you didn’t know what was going to happen next. If you go see the film after you’ve read the book, then you know exactly what is going to happen next. Reading a book and then going to see the film about it is a relatively fruitless endeavour. How often do you go on Wikipedia or the Internet Movie Database to read about the entire plot of a film before you’re going to see it? Probably never. But hey, you’re thinking, I go to see the movie to see how the book is going to be interpreted on-screen. I read the Lord of the Rings but I want to see what it would look like when Gandalf faces off against the Balrog, it’s probably going to be so awesome. Which leads me to my second point:

2. Your interpretation of the book is going to be better than any other person’s interpretation.

When you’re reading a book, you have to imagine the characters and the scenarios that they are in. Essentially, you are the director of the book’s action. A character is written to be “tall” – perhaps you imagine them to be 6’3″ while another reader may imagine the character to be 7’0″. Maybe you imagine one character’s dialogue with an accent, or a suave tone, or a frightened stammer. Generally, the description in the book makes it clear as to how the character or action should be interpreted, but little details of that interpretation vary from reader to reader. Think about it this way: the book is a script, and the reader is the director. Obviously, your interpretation is the “best” one, because it’s yours. So having read the complete book, you’ve imagined how the entire film should look based on your interpretation of the source material. Watching another person, this time the director of the actual film, interpret the film in their way, obviously you’re going to be a little nit picky because it isn’t your version. “Yeah, Gandalf was cool in the movie, but I mean, they really missed out on a few points – like his robe should’ve been a lot dirtier than it actually was and he should have had a hole in his hat.” I guess the director wasn’t able to exactly match your vision of the material, or the millions of other visions the other readers had. Whoops.

3. The book has way more details than the movie.

Here’s another inane comment in the subcategory of the “book was better” criticism: “and they left out so many parts (replace with: “sequences,” “characters,” “dialogue,” ad nauseum) from the book.” OF COURSE THEY DID. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, these are two entirely different entertainment formats. A book generally takes about 10-15 hours to finish. A “long” movie is 3 hours. Something is going to be lost in the translation. Sure, some of the text in a book is devoted to describing the scene which could be a whole page or more while a film can show the scene in a second. But even then, the actual plot of a 300+ page book will likely exceed the three-hour running time limit of a movie. So some things have to be cut if the director wants to make a good movie and not just a slavishly devoted adaptation of the source material (because generally, those suck).

I get it. The book was better. Thanks for that wonderful insight as to the quality of its cinematic adaptation. Now please stop bothering me.

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One Response to Rant of the Day: The Book vs. Movie Debate

  1. Pilot-Inspektor says:

    The novelized adaptation of Kazaam was scores better than the documentary film

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