Book vs. Film: How To Tell A Story.

This may be common knowledge, but seems to be a general rule that movies based on novels are not any good. I can only think of one movie that did any sort of justice to the novel: Atonement. The rest I’ve seen, however, have been near blasphemous. I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo last week, and as soon as I finished it, I watched the film version and was so disappointed. I also went and saw Eat Pray Love on opening weekend (which I probably wouldn’t have done if a friend hadn’t wanted to see it, and definitely wouldn’t have done in hindsight), and though the book was only average, the movie was horrendous.

Why is it that movies based on novels are so awful, and take so many liberties with the original story? I think it mostly has to do with the difference between the two mediums of storytelling. Movies are meant to be watched in one sitting, which means that the entire story has to fit into the span of two hours, three hours at the very most, whereas books can be read in intervals over the course of several days, or several weeks even. Movies are targeted toward the mass public, whereas books are targeted toward a much smaller population of people who will actually put in the work to read it. In my experience, I can’t form an opinion about the value of the film until I’ve seen it through to the end, whereas I can tell pretty quickly whether or not I’ll like the book I’m reading.

I read a book a couple years ago about the making of the film The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was made in the early 90’s and based on a book by Tom Wolfe that was widely regarded as the quintessence of the 80’s. The film absolutely bombed, and before it was filmed, as Wolfe was signing away the rights to the story so that it could be made into a film, he was asked how he felt about the idea of his book being turned into a movie. He basically said that he didn’t care one way or the other, because even though the film was based on his book, it was still going to be it’s own artistic entity, and if it did poorly, it wouldn’t take anything away from his book.

I find this statement very interesting, and it’s something that I try to remember when I see movies that are based on books. It’s like everyone (myself included) wants the experience they had reading the book to be directly translated into film version. Which, if you think about it, is near impossible. There is so much interiority in novels that is really difficult to convey visually, and so much that seems to be of less importance has to be cut out because of time constraints. And the way I see it, there are some stories that are just meant to be told in a particular way. A book that is meant to be a book is not going to make a good movie, and vice versa. I mean, could you imagine if The Catcher in the Rye was a movie, or if Inception was a novel? It just wouldn’t have the same effect, wouldn’t have the same impact on people in an alternative form. I don’t think I could say that one medium is always better than the other, but I think I can say that one is better than the other in the context of how a story should be told.


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