Why the Book Is Always Better

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I think--and I speak as a book-lover and librarian, but also a film-lover and librarian who selects films for the library--a lot of confirmation bias is at work here. We as a culture remember when classic or beloved books (Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) with years of analysis and/or a large fandom behind them, are adapted as films and don't live up to readers' expectations. Our memory's faulty when it comes to all the mediocre or trash books that were made into good or even great films.

My theory is that a bad or mediocre book is more likely to be a better adaptation, since readers are not as emotionally invested and the director is able to make sweeping changes without pissing off too many people. And generic genre fiction tends to be mostly visceral anyway--perfect for adapting to a visual medium like film.

The novel of The Godfather is fairly trashy crime fiction, but was adapted into one of the greatest films of all time.

Does anyone remember the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? According to Amazon it seems to be out of print. Yet the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a modern comedy classic.

Did you know Shaft was based on a novel? How many people discuss the original novels of Psycho and First Blood instead of their far more famous film adaptations?

There are more listed here and here.

David_G:
Also, Fight Club. In the book, the ending wasn't that good. Or maybe I just liked the acting of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

A case in point: Chuck Palahniuk has stated he actually likes Fincher's film version better than his book. While there were some interesting things in the book that didn't transition to the film, for the most part Fincher made better choices.

I think the problem with some adaptations from books to movies in particular is that they aren't brutal enough with what they cut. They leave things in but they leave them in unexplained or underdeveloped. Either of these things is probably the worst thing you can do to an overarching idea or theme.

All I know is watch the movie first. You have a better chance of enjoying them both.

Not always, ridiculously often, but not always.
Clockwork Orange?
Shawshank Redemption?(Not sure if this was a book, Stephen King or something? I dunno, don't really read modern fiction).
Fight Club

All these films stopped trying to emulate their books and as a result succeeded them, pure derivatives are always worse than what they're derived from.

Disagree in the case of Lord of the Rings. That book had huge sections that rambled on forever about nonsense I didnt care about. Two Towers is so tedious its unreal, entwives this, mumble mumble entwives that. The helms deep fight is only two pages before it goes back to humdrum dullard.

Also cant forget the Tom Bombadil from the first book, a painfully dull section. I think the films got the point of the books and essense of the story much better, but without the disney childrens sections or the woeful nostalgia.

So I dont think this is always so clear cut, sometimes its just purists who wont accept that the things they imagine cant ever be put into film exactly the way they want. Usually isnt anything wrong with some adaptations but merely fans "didnt imagine it quite like that, so its rubbish." type attitude.

Biggest cause for films being worse than books though is film makers trying to reinvent a classic and missing the point. Most alice in wonder lands suffer from this, also the massive dissapointment "I am Legend" Which couldnt of landed further from the mark if it tried.

That seems pretty much spot on. I prefer books to films overall, but there is one example of me finding the film better than the book: Memoirs of a Geisha. I really enjoyed the film but the book dragged without much interesting happening; the film cut out quite a bit so it's a lot more enjoyable on a whole.

While I agree with most of what was said in the article, I do believe that you have to enjoy books and film for the different media they are. If you don't, you're most likely to come away disappointed from a film adaptation, and become increasingly jaded towards the genre in general.

Again, that said, there are some books I would be very disappointed to see made into films, "The Book Thief" being the first one that jumps to mind - there is no way the awe-inspiring way Markus Zuzak paints pictures with his words could ever be translated to screen.

I also entirely agree with FalseProphet; it is trashy, often seldom heard of, works that make the best film adaptations, purely because, as said, the director can mess with it as much as he/she likes.

The Harry Potter films were never going to be to everyone's liking, people flaming them for straying from the books, or sticking too closely to them. If you enjoy the books and films as seperate entities however, it is very easy to enjoy both.

Falseprophet:
I think--and I speak as a book-lover and librarian, but also a film-lover and librarian who selects films for the library--a lot of confirmation bias is at work here. We as a culture remember when classic or beloved books (Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) with years of analysis and/or a large fandom behind them, are adapted as films and don't live up to readers' expectations. Our memory's faulty when it comes to all the mediocre or trash books that were made into good or even great films.

My theory is that a bad or mediocre book is more likely to be a better adaptation, since readers are not as emotionally invested and the director is able to make sweeping changes without pissing off too many people. And generic genre fiction tends to be mostly visceral anyway--perfect for adapting to a visual medium like film.

The novel of The Godfather is fairly trashy crime fiction, but was adapted into one of the greatest films of all time.

Does anyone remember the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? According to Amazon it seems to be out of print. Yet the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a modern comedy classic.

Did you know Shaft was based on a novel? How many people discuss the original novels of Psycho and First Blood instead of their far more famous film adaptations?

There are more listed here and here.

That's a damn good analogy, I never looked at it like that.

Baneat:
Not always, ridiculously often, but not always.
Clockwork Orange?
Shawshank Redemption?(Not sure if this was a book, Stephen King or something? I dunno, don't really read modern fiction).
Fight Club

All these films stopped trying to emulate their books and as a result succeeded them, pure derivatives are always worse than what they're derived from.

I sort of agree there except Fight Club is incredibly close to the feel and narrative of the novel. In fact I think Fight Club is an example of the movie being better than the book.

Fight Club is the best example of a film adaptation better capturing the spirit of the source material then the source material itself. It's a rare find but as pointed out in another comment, even the author of the book said the film did a better job then his own writing.

Books will always, always have the upper hand when it comes to this debate. Because a book can be as long as it damn well wants to and allows the person to create their own scenes with the characters.

I was glad the movies of the lord of the rings came out. I couldn't get trough the book, it was like reading the Iliad that I've put away after reading the first 200 or so pages when my brain decided to flee out of boredom. The only movie that was true to the book and just as good was the godfather.

The book isn't always, better, but going by your theory that the original story is always the best.

Lets take a look at A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

The "novelizations" books came out around the same time as the movies, and usually novelizations are worse, but A New Hope is just as good or better than the movie, but it the only Star Wars book written by George Lucas. There are some errors in the book, but it adds so much more depth to the story.

I still will argue that The Godfather is an acception to that rule. The book is okay, but the movie? Fabulous.
While this exception is very, very rare it's still worth noting that you shouldn't always make that generalized statement.

From this and the other article, I conclude that an article of entertainment from one medium should stay on that medium. I can't say I disagree, either, because in my humble opinion, the book is always best as a book, the movie is always best as a movie and a game is always best as a game. I could sit here and ramble over why, but I don't feel it's necessary and has been well-covered elsewhere.

That remember me the Bourne movies and book... they have absolutely nothing in common, except the 15 first minutes of the first movie there is no point common at all

So many films are based of off books, does this de-value them? Books and films are different experiences and should be viewed as such. Is Roadside Picnic better than Stalker? Heart of Darkness better than Apocalypse Now? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep better than Blade Runner? No, IT'S DIFFERENT! Different is different, it's not bad purely because it's different. You can't ask for a film to be exactly as the book tells it, because what would be the point why read the book if it's the exact same? And often the worst adaptations are when the film tried far too hard to be like the book.
And surely can you not argue that there is value in seeing someone else's perspective on a story?
And there are limits to the human imagination, the pictures in my head when I read any book will never be as clear as they are when on a screen.
And there is a joy in seeing something fully realised on screen and just as often as I may be disappointed if someone's view of a character isn't the same as mine; the film makers view of a character can in fact be better than the one in my head.
Books aren't perfect either you know, there are faults in any book and films can improve on them.
The very different nature of the medium can also act in the films favour at times, as a visual medium so many important details can be represented on screen in a mere moment and handled with a far greater degree of subtlety than in books where things literally do have to be spelled out.
So many great films are based off of books, to suggest that for every single one of them that the book is better is absurd. Even the Godfather is based off of a book and it is widely considered one of the greatest if not the greatest film of all time. By applying these rules, the book surely must be the greatest publication ever committed to print... think about that.

Books can be better than films and jsut as much films can be better than books. Hell theres even the possiblity for gmaes to be better that both, I mean there is... it just hasn't happened yet. But when Scorcese or Werner Herzog start directing videogame addaptations... that would be something. And who knows, both of these respective directors are making 3D films and 3D is a fucking gimmick.

The Cohen brothers have openly talked of doing a film version of The Yiddish Policeman's Union. I think this will be awesome.

Actually, the film is usually better than the book. Ask any major artist or philosopher. "The book is always better" is a pop culture meme with no traction among educated people. (And no, that perfunctory liberal arts degree doesn't make you educated. Sorry.)

Idk, Blade Runner was a hell of a lot more coherent then Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

I wonder, would books to games would be a smoother transition.

A video game can have more content and have more detail then a two hour film. While the world is locked to how the designers make the world, the main character can be changed with some character creation.

However, our only example of this is the Witcher and well...

Others have referenced excellent adaptations and so I will not ponder anymore on that, as to avoid marginalizing their efforts; instead, if there is a point to be had from this, films are meant for drama and books are meant for philosophy, and this goes hand-in-hand with the Alice in Wonderland example. Macbeth has some of the most endearing speeches in literature and Don Quixote greater characters, precisely due to their nature as visual media and written media.

I would think that films, therefore, have an unfair advantage over books in the objective of being better, considering that most books nowadays endeavor to be tragedies. And even if films did not try to be imitative of tragedies, they still have unfulfilled potential in the more philosophical books; A Clockwork Orange had that incredibly visceral scene in which Alex was brainwashed. Why book adaptations persist on being, for the most part, bad is a mystery.

Off the top of my head, A Tale of Two Cities can be made into an excellent book adaptation, if fortune allows it. Sydney Carton's state of depression can be enhanced rather than overly emphasized, the grindstone scene can be given greater effect with the use of true, crimson blood, the Marquis's chateau scene can be made more haunting, and the end scene can be written without all that optimistic motherfuckery.

My favourite film of all time is A Clockwork Orange, but I saw the film first. I couldn't help reading the book and imagining it narrated by Malcolm McDowell, who so perfectly portrayed Alex in the film. The soundtrack was also a big advantage for the film, and a couple of minor details were improved for the film, the biggest being the insertion of "I'm Singin' in the Rain" which couldn't have worked in the book. I also found the adaptation of 1984 to be extremely accurate (the adaptation made in 1984, not the one from 1954). My only problem wth it was the torture chamber was too dirty- it should have been slick and clean and advanced, revealing the deadly efficient underbelly of the squalid totalitarian state.

I don't understand why we continue to make these kinds of stories, simply put in extremely broad terms, everything experienced from a medium is a form of interpretation, how that comes to us, obstacles (boredom, work, etc.) that stop us from viewing the medium and our own personal preferences make it so that people will interpret differently than others, this is why people who have different views of movies and books will be unsatisfied if they didn't envision that experience from the start (and mostly if they can;t understand elements like budget time etc.).

Heres an example, I hated the first Harry Potter movies, but people who never read the books, had read the books and thought this would be how it would end up, and those who had read the books but were willing to make concessions liked the movies. Several times, what makes people like/dislike a movie over the books has little to do with the fact that books can take more time to flesh out scenery, characters and the world around them, and more to do with what everyone wants to see, You can flesh out characters in easy ways in movies, the director's/developers personal preference/interpretation comes when they remove scenes to add new scenes they made up, or removing characters that hardly affected anything in the major story.

To summarize, it is almost pointless to say that something "is better" than an adaptation, there are things you can clearly point out like competent direction and pacing, because in the long run those who liked the books, and saw only their own interpretation will feel cheated no matter what you put on screen, and those that enjoyed said movie on screen might not read the books because they would feel they are too long, and long-winded.

Elizabeth Grunewald:
This is a common complaint about the Harry Potter films, that they don't accurately capture each individual's personal interpretation of, and relationship to, the text.

Hmm, my problem with HP was a lot more involved than that. The scriptwriting especially was my major complaint. It was so butchered that at times (especially in the 3rd movie) if I hadn't already read the books, I would have no idea what was going on. And I don't subscribe to the 'but everyone HAS read the books' excuse. There's no excuse for bad storytelling. That's not even touching on blatantly contradictory elements (wandlight under the covers during the summer anyone?), hit-and-miss casting and shallow execution.

It's true that movies can't hope to match the books in terms of depth - they only have two hours. But I feel that they should take the chance to add to the books. Give us some new scenes, some unspoken growth between characters, maybe some back story that the author hinted at but didn't actually write down. Add TO to the books, don't just regurgitate the most skin-flaking layer in a greedy grab for quick bucks.

Of course, even that is a matter of personal opinion. I see movies based on books as a chance to expand the world. But a lot of other people simply want the world condensed into a fun visual format.

I'd like to see an article touching on the reverse... what happens when you see the movie first and find the book(s) not as good? This happens to me quite a lot, especially Bourne Identity and Percy Jackson.

Elizabeth Grunewald:
There have been excellent films adapted from literary works: Pride and Prejudice, The Lord of the Rings, yes, the first Harry Potter film, sure. Even Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland comes reasonably close to the spirit of the original. That phrasing should be indicative of the inherent flaws in the process. If it's "the original" that possesses "the spirit," the replication is always going to be a lesser thing.

This is not always entirely accurate. It's not necessarily true that a replication will be worse than the origional. Even some of the greatest works can possess flaws, this gives the opportunity to not simply copy the origional, but to surpass it.

If the goal is simply to follow the exact same format, the effort is doomed to failure, but by taking liberties and twisting the piece, a movie adaption has the potential to create a better experience. Of course, people who came expecting to see an exact replication will be disappointed, but then they should really have learned not to by now.

Anyone read Children of man?
I hated the book but the movie is great.
I think it's the only movie Ive seen where the it's better than the book.

Very nice article! :D A lot of this is well said, and I think the main reason is because, as the article pointed out, it takes away the epic scale. No matter how awesome it may be on film, it will never even COMPARE to your imagination. Your imagination can do things that were never even conceivable with the technology currently available, so no matter what you do, if you've read the book the film adaption will never quite live up to it. Sure, some might come close; but they'll never live up to the wonders of the imagination.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the fault for a bad adaptation falls with the screenwriter, or the executives who hired a bad screenwriter. "Wrote a movie that made a lot of money for us" does NOT translate to "understands the technical complications in adapting long-form narrative to film".

There's writing as an art, and writing as a technical craft, and while you can make a career out of either one on its own, you need a hell of a lot of both in order to adapt a story from one medium to another.

Another good example of a movie that holds true to the book is Michael Chriton's Andromeda Strain. No, not that stupid miniseries they put out a few years back, but the original 1970's feature film. Every small subtlety is captured from the original text, in terms of plot and imagery. The only major change is the gender of one of the character (from male to female), which IMHO actually improves the story.

Not always, the LOTR book is total crap but it makes an excellent film.

They´re different mediums. Movie or tv adaptations should not be slaves to their source material...it makes them boring for whomever read them. They should however convey the spirit of the book and capture what made the book great.

Rather than waste a large amount of berated breath on this all too often discussed topic all I'll say is rather obviously (though a point some people tend to forget) is that books and films are different mediums; we can compare the two, we can debate the merits and pitfalls of one over the other and we most certainly can prefer one over the other whether generally or in particular cases, but, trying to objectively judge and jury them based on their quality is futile, they're just too different and neither can be said to be better than the other just as no one culture or race or religion can be said to be better than the other. It's all relative and there is no universal one absolute bar of quality.

The problem with adaptations from any medium to another is that different media have different strengths, weaknesses, and just place features in how a narrative is related.

The written word is better at displaying internal conflict. Reading a book can be like reading someone's private diary or journal where they convey their inner conflicts to the page, taking us through the labyrinth of their thought processes.

Motion pictures are better at displaying external conflict, being a visual medium. It can show a wider scope conflict such as people trying to survive a tidal wave or a war zone.

This is not to say that either medium can not do the other forms of conflict. It's just that they cannot do them in the same manner to the same degree of depth.

With the written word it is acceptable to be able to fart around for several pages on some seemingly irrelevant detail which can build up the internal conflict with nuance. Motion pictures do not have that luxury. Even on a television series where they could have hours, they still need to be brief and most internal conflict is displayed by the actor's external actions and expression. (they could use voice over narration, but this is cheating and usually not as effective) As such, much of the nuance is lost.

Similarly, the written word can show external conflict, but this can take pages of description that may take several minutes to read while motion pictures can show it in a few seconds. The immediacy is lost.

This does not mean that one medium is better than another. Just different. When adapting from one to another, it is best to keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Audiences will need to keep in mind that an adaptation will need to change, omit, and add things because of this. This can be a problem for many fans as often some small, largely irrelevant part is what resonated with a fan the most. The adapters may have made the correct choice to leave out this part, but the fan is still disappointed because they feel it was the best part of the original media version. Often, though, they are dead wrong about that as other fans felt deeper resonance with other parts. Some also left out. Some altered. In any case, such judgments are neutral.

That and the book is not always better than the movie. Jaws is an oft-cited example. The book is alright, but it farts around with a lot of things that seem to have been made to be jettisoned, such as Hooper's affair with Brody's wife or Mayor Vaughn's mob connections. The film removed much of this and polished the remaining material into a narrative of greater depth and nuance than the book.

Falseprophet:

David_G:
Also, Fight Club. In the book, the ending wasn't that good. Or maybe I just liked the acting of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

A case in point: Chuck Palahniuk has stated he actually likes Fincher's film version better than his book. While there were some interesting things in the book that didn't transition to the film, for the most part Fincher made better choices.

On of the best changes was the line "A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood." The book used the term "white bread" instead of cookie dough. In the DVD commentary, Palahnuik asked the scriptwriter John Uhls is he changed it because it sounded racist. Uhls said, no he just thought it was funnier.

It isn't always true that books are better than the films they inspire. Blade Runner blows the SHIT out Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?... and I'm a huge Philip K. Dick fan!

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