I’m really curious to know where people stand on this!
I am primarily a book-before-the-movie person. For me, it’s about experiencing the story in its original format – I want to embrace it the way the author imagined it, not the way the director interpreted it. I do love to see the adaptations afterwards but I prefer my first encounter to be with the words on the page.
When comparing the two versions, I find the book wins the majority of the time. In a book you get a more complete plot and a richer back story, things which a movie necessarily has to abbreviate due to time restrictions. It is also harder to convey a character’s thoughts in a movie – a reader is privy to the workings of a character’s mind far better than a film viewer can ever be. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is one example of this. While Scarlett Johansson does a fine job in the movie, I feel that the depth of Griet’s turmoil can only be fully understood in the first-person narrative of the book.
But the book doesn’t always win.
Sometimes the movie is simply better than the original – it takes a rambling novel and boils it down to a more concise plot or it brings characters to life that just never made the same impact on the page. I have to confess that I think the Lord of the Rings movies beat JRR Tolkien’s books by a long shot. The action, visuals and score are amazing and all I can say is thank goodness there wasn’t room in the script for forty verses sung by Tom Bombadil…
On the other hand, making The Hobbit into three movies was plain ridiculous (stupid profit-driven film studios).
Every now and then I watch a movie actually hoping that it does a better job than the book. The final instalment in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy was a disappointment for me and the idea of splitting a weak book into two movies (again, stupid profit-driven film studios) was frustrating. However, Mockingjay Part 1 turned out to be a decent adaptation and Mockingjay Part 2 has just been released in the cinema and is on my to-see list. I am quietly hopeful that it will deliver a more satisfying conclusion to the series than the book did.
There are some books that I would love to see made into movies but I have to resign myself to the fact that they never will be. For example, I adored Philip Pullman’s fantasy series His Dark Materials and was thrilled when I heard that the first book was being adapted for the screen. Unfortunately though, The Golden Compass ended up not being a huge success and the movie sequels were never made. Despite the fact that the first one fell short of the mark, I still wanted the other two books in the series to be made into movies and I have been left with a distinct lack of closure because they weren’t. (Stupid profit-driven…well, you get where I’m going with this.)
While a book is always going to be my first preference, there have been occasions where I have ended up encountering the movie first but still wanted to read the book afterwards anyway, e.g. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (no surprises there, given my predilection for historical fiction). In these cases, I am able to disregard the fact that I already know what is going to happen and can enjoy experiencing the story again in a deeper way than the brief two-hour movie.
What’s interesting to note is how much the film industry draws upon the book industry for its source material. In this article on her website, editor Jamie Chavez talks about a similar subject to this and reveals it has been estimated that a third of all movies ever made have been adapted from novels. That is a serious statistic. It just goes to show how passion for a book can so frequently compel a person to tell the story in a different way.
And it is great to have such variety in storytelling. Still, I think I will continue to stick to my original choice – book, you first…but, movie, wait your turn, I’ll get to you too.
So what’s YOUR preference? Have you ever watched a movie and wished you’d read the book first? Are there any books you’ve read that you really want to see made into movies? Do you have examples where you feel strongly that the book wins over the movie or vice versa? I’d love to hear what you think!