Monday, November 15, 2010

Why Books Are Better Than Movies

It is a simple statement we have all heard (and said) a million times. "The book is better than the movie."

It's not a case of 70/30 or even 80/20, not even 90/10
NO the percentage of movies better than the book is incalculable.

IF you could think of 10 movies better than the book, I would be amazed (and seriously question your tastes to boot) I can think of maybe three or four tops.

The first couple coming to mind are actually a pair of my favorite movies...

To Have and Have Not that's because William Faulkner rewrote Hemingway's hard luck piece about the Florida Keys, moved it to Martinique, involved WW2, Vichy French, etc, etc and it had Lauren Bacall~nuff said.


Apocalypse Now based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Not only was it a brilliant film with an outstanding cast-it was modified like To Have and Have Not, from ivory traders in darkest Africa to a currently (when released) more resonant conflict, in this case Vietnam - thus it speaks to the viewer of today stronger than the book.

But therein lies a part of the key for these two movies-they were dramatically changed from their source material-usually that is a death sentence for classic works-this time I didn't mind-normally it is my hundred and one curses and a voodoo doll for the filmmaker who changes original stories.

But what about all the rest? I still haven't addressed my heading.

Books are better than movies because we the reader are transported into another world of our co-creation with the writer. They give us descriptions but we fill in so much more than is ever splashed upon the page-and it is us we see.

A movie gives one view-we all see the same thing.

A book has infinite possibilities for interpretation, making it a universal sharing experience.

We pick up a book and we all see our own version, it can become so much more personal than the silver screen. Think about this-we all know who we would have cast for certain movies (much better than who they did use) ~ Why?
Because books trained our minds to do that. We fill in our own blanks using our own imaginations and life experience-it becomes our story.

I imagine this post will only really be understood by fellow voracious readers but I believe the principles apply to everyone-even if they don't know why.
Case in point, does anyone doubt a novel version of AVATARD or Transformers (without the media juggernaut behind them) would have fallen upon the hillside of boring unoriginal works? Those movies threw out the worst of plot holes you could never hope to get away with in a book-but the average viewer was awed by the spectacle, not the story.
IF they were books-no one would have said the book was better.
Now I'm really rambling...

So in your own writing ~ remember it's the story your sharing, and the better it is shared, the more people will feel it.


The Golden Eagle said...

I agree--books have more potential than movies do, and they open up things that something on a screen never could.

Wendy Swore said...

You mean...Avatar had some plot holes? No way. I can't believe it!

I often have to lower my expectations when going to see a movie of a good book so I'll be able to enjoy the movie and not just sit there and stew over everything they got wrong.

Good post.:)

David J. West said...

Exactly Golden Eagle.

Wendy-nice. Thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree absolutely. One movie I thought better than the book was "The Outlaw Josey Wales," which was based on a book called "Gone to Texas." The book is very weak while the movie rocks. I did think Apocolypse now was a very good movie, but it was so different from the book I'm not even sure I'd consider them in the same thoughts. The book was also pretty good.

Angie said...

Yes, I have to agree. Books and movies are completely different beasts. I love them both, but books definitely offer a richer experience.

Brian Murphy said...

I agree David. I had been thinking of a simliar post based on an experience my wife had. She's not a voracious reader but recently got sucked into the Twilight series (I know, cheesy, but at least she's reading). She later watched the first two films and I smiled ear-to-ear when she exclaimed that "they weren't as good as the books."

My reply, "Now you understand what I've been saying all these years."

I can think of another film though that I like better than the book: The Godfather. Good book, great movie.

Peggy Urry said...

Great post! If I see a movie come out that is based on a book, I will avoid the movie and intend to read the book instead... I should have a list. :-)

kbrebes said...

i'm FINALLY reading Harry Potter 7 just because our family is seeing the movie this weekend. It's ALWAYS better to read the book BEFORE the movie!!!

David J. West said...

Charles-I recall you mentioning that one before-"Outlaw Josey Wales" is a classic.

Angie-right on!

Brian-I haven't read the Godfather-love the movies though.

Thanks Peggy, I usually feel the same.

kbrebes-Ha- Harry Potter 7 is the only Potter book I read before I saw the movies. And it was pretty good.

Dan said...

I agree with you, David, but then again, what do you expect us writers to think? I wonder what a filmmaker would say.

I generally give movies more leeway. I'm much more apt to spend extra time watching a movie I dislike than a book that's boring me. As soon as a book goes bad, I put it down. I usually give movies more time before clicking the eject button.

David J. West said...

That's true Dan, movies do get that slack and mass media attention that few books can aspire too.

And while I love movies (in general) Books "to me" are the superior method of storytelling.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I was just listening to an interview by umberto eco, related to his recent book, "the vertigo of lists" (also given the less evocative title, the infinity of lists). In the interview, Eco spoke of the "topos of the inexpressible", for example, the writer could say, "there were no words to express my horror", or "I can't describe how much I loved her", which allows the reader to imagine the emotion for themselves, without the author interposing themselves between the reader and the story.

David J. West said...

Thanks Paladin-your posts lately about "The Name of the Rose" partly inspired this post.

I love the movie and have yet to read the book-but I have a hard time not imagining I'll think the book is better.

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Sonia said...

I couldn't agree with more. Not even thinks that though - I had a lit teacher who was getting her phd in movies and she said she thinks movies can do most things better than books. Usually I avoid watching the movie if I have read the book and vice versa. Made an exception for Harry Potter.

David J. West said...

Sonia-I can see a filmmakers point of view-a movie will FORCE a certain part of a story visually/sonically that a book has to accomplish in words-but with the exception of straight dialogue/narration a movie can't possibly match a book's level of intimacy or poetry.

Ty Johnston said...

Not sure it's fair to compare "Apocalypse Now" and "Heart of Darkness" because Coppola's thematic material was based quite strongly on the Vietnam War experience, not just tossing Conrad's tale into Vietnam. But I agree, that movie is much better than that book.

I'd add Jaws to the list. Spielberg's film was much better than Benchley's novel, in my opinion.

And I'll second (or was that third?) "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

As for the "Godfather", I much preferred the film(s). One thing I've never quite forgiven Coppola for, however, was changing one element from the novel.


Remember that saying "It's not personal, it's just business," throughout the movie?

It's throughout the book, also. Then in the end, Michael says something like, "That's BS. It's all personal."

Which I thought was a much different, and actually darker, image than what Coppola did with the movie.

David J. West said...

Ty-yeah thats part of my theory on those rare movies-the stories were changed. And I love Godfather 1 and 2, so I haven't compared the book-but I agree that is a great line.