Why the Book Is Always Better

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Elizabeth Grunewald:
If The Yiddish Policemen's Union were to be adapted into a film, all of those experiences would be lost.

Well, then it must suck to be you, because Scott Rudin and the Coen Brothers are making that film, and Michael Chabon was psyched about it, as am I (also having read the book).

The trick with adaptation, in my opinion, is not to be bound to the book. Novels are incredibly complex works, which require a lot of careful pruning for transition, and even then, you're pretty solidly guaranteed to cut some key elements. You have two real choices: attempt to faithfully adapt while cutting as much as you can in order to keep the book down to film length and risk losing important details, or use the book merely as a roadmap, but ignore parts that will produce an overly complex film.

It's arguably better for film makers to ignore novels altogether. I've yet to hear a single person say that Brokeback Mountain was a better short story than it was a film. Short stories allow film makers enough space to alter plot and character to their desire.

I would also say, though, that if you're going to a film in order to have choice about the story, than you're in the wrong medium of story telling. Film and Comics have the ability to restrict imagination, forcing viewers/readers into a uniform viewpoint of the action, creating a shared experience. If you'd like choice in your story telling, read a book or play a videogame.

So, I've never thought it terribly constructive to compare the film to the book, except to note what parts of the book were cut that would have been better in the film than the parts that weren't. The book is not the film. The book is the film's source material, in the same way Shakespeare's plays are based on sources, but have altered a lot of the plot and characters. This is the key to adaptation, really: the source-text is not sacrosanct. To treat it otherwise is a self defeating process.

Ultimately, I'm excited about the Coen Brothers' adaptation for Yiddish Policemen. Their take on No Country For Old Men was great, specifically, in my opinion, because they did not allow Cormac McCarthy's book to overwhelm their knowledge of how film should be structured. In fact, for No Country, I would argue that you have a case where the book isn't better than the film. Not that the film is better than the book, but that they're incredibly equal works of art.

Baneat:
Shawshank Redemption?(Not sure if this was a book, Stephen King or something? I dunno, don't really read modern fiction).

This was exactly what I thought when I saw this topic.

Yeah, almost every other instance though. :)

With Fight Club even the author has said the movie is better than the book

VulakAerr:

Baneat:
Shawshank Redemption?(Not sure if this was a book, Stephen King or something? I dunno, don't really read modern fiction).

This was exactly what I thought when I saw this topic.

Yeah, almost every other instance though. :)

Maybe so.. but the fact that it's been done makes me think there is a trick to surpassing its roots, what did they do no other film is managing?

Well, I would say that's it's really mostly the GOOD books whose films just aren't as good (I say mostly here because I'm sure there are exceptions to this). There are a huge number of mediocre or downright bad books that have worked quite well as movies. Heck, I'm not crazy about some of the movies they've chosen to make from books, but I don't think the failure rate is as high as we think it is.

I personally was too bored to get very far into LOTR yet I enjoyed the films. The Godfather, Fight Club, Psycho, Shawshank Redemption, Gone With the Wind, Grapes of Wrath, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and many others are films which many would agree surpassed the original writing that inspired them.

I get the impression that if we actually knew how many of our films are adapted from other sources we might be surprised at how many of them are better for it.

Whichever came first is always better. If a movie becomes a game, the movie was better. If a game becomes a movie, the game was better. If a book becomes anything, the book was better. If a song gets translated to another language, it was better in the first language. There are two pretty big reasons for this:

First, any artistic work is an idea long before it's made into something. You take your perfect idea, and chip away at it until it fits into a new medium. When you're making a "new version" of something, it doesn't start as an idea, it starts as something with parts already sacrificed to fit into it's medium, and more will get sacrificed to fit into the new medium.
For example, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The book was good because it had descriptions like "he inched his way up the corridor as though he'd rather be yarding his way down it". You can't actually put that into a movie, the format doesn't allow it.

Second, and a bit more obviously, if we're talking about a good work of art, it needed a good artist to make it, right? A good artist will probably be making his own work of art, not almost mechanically refitting someone else's vision to fit a new scenario.

Simulated Eon:
Interesting article and I completely agree.
The thing was when I started notice this I have always wanted to read the book before I see the movie (a reason to why I still haven't seen "It") so that I don't have my imagination spoiled when I read the book.
It is also a readon to why I hate certain movies becase they stray so far from the books or completly destroys the narative (Eragon I'm pointing at you).

But on the other hand if you watch the film first you can still enjoy it and then enjoy the book even more rather than enjoying the read and then finding the film to be a massive disappointment. It depends how much the visual stuff in the film interferes with your imagination. For example when I read I Am Legend after the film it was never once Will Smith who I imagined in the role. When I read American Psycho however Christian Bale fit the bill perfectly in terms of appearance so that definitely influenced my imagination.

cabalistics:
With Fight Club even the author has said the movie is better than the book

Really? Don't suppose you could find out where he said that for me could you? I'd love to read what he said because I thought the book was better personally. It's a close run and the film is fantastic but I just prefered the way Chuck played the ending in the novel. Felt a little more open to me.

Baneat:

VulakAerr:

Baneat:
Shawshank Redemption?(Not sure if this was a book, Stephen King or something? I dunno, don't really read modern fiction).

This was exactly what I thought when I saw this topic.

Yeah, almost every other instance though. :)

Maybe so.. but the fact that it's been done makes me think there is a trick to surpassing its roots, what did they do no other film is managing?

They cast Morgan Freeman to a role in which voice-over played a large part. I'd buy into that in pretty much any film.

It's true 98% of the time, be it novel or comic. But I've read the book versions of Labyrinth, The Bad Seed, & Mary Reilly, & they pale compared to the movies.

The Bad Seed was painful to read, but the ending was at least better that the movie.

Gone with the Wind was an excelent movie addaption; of course it was an incredibly long movie & it followed the book faithfully.

The Wizard of Oz is so-so. In the book, Dorothy is a bossy blonde bitch who insists she's never wrong & anyone who disagrees with her is stupid, the Scarecrow turns into a moron who thinks he's a genious, the lion is a bully with low self esteem, & the tin man is a flamboyant & violent narcisist who really really likes Scarecrow a lot. While the movie was an unfaithful addaption, at least it made the characters likable.

I gotta say that Disney is probably known by more people than me for it's dreadful sequels, but of all the movies that actually DESERVED sequals, they never bothered making Alice Through the Looking Glass, probably because they botched it by combining a few parts of the two books into one film. But Alice in Wonderland is in the Public Domain (so is Oz, & they never made an animated movie of that), so it's not like they need anyone's permission.

The quote was from the booklet that came with the DVD when it was first released. I can't remember the exact quote but he said it was a much better ending than the book which I have read I thought the end was too ambiguous and sudden.

Korenith:

cabalistics:
With Fight Club even the author has said the movie is better than the book

Really? Don't suppose you could find out where he said that for me could you? I'd love to read what he said because I thought the book was better personally. It's a close run and the film is fantastic but I just prefered the way Chuck played the ending in the novel. Felt a little more open to me.

You guys could have just summed this up as ''different mediums are different.''

Interesting article, but I think that movie can be better than the book. I think it's like when you hear a song for the first time, the live version usually isn't as good, but If you hear the live version first, the studio version isn't as good. Whichever one you saw/read first will always be the favorite because it's the one that your mind has created the emotional link to. I will admit that the books usually are better though.

Korenith:

cabalistics:
With Fight Club even the author has said the movie is better than the book

Really? Don't suppose you could find out where he said that for me could you? I'd love to read what he said because I thought the book was better personally. It's a close run and the film is fantastic but I just prefered the way Chuck played the ending in the novel. Felt a little more open to me.

Chuck Palahniuk:
What are your feelings about the movie version of Fight Club?

The first time I saw dailies of the movie was when I went down to the film's location, and David Fincher would drag me off the set to his trailer to show me dailies. He would be watching me for my reaction, and I had little or no idea where these scenes fit together. Here were these wonderful reaction shots and things like that which seemed so random, beautifully composed, attractive and funny in their own way, but I had no idea how they went together. I felt so self-conscious with David watching me. Now that I see the movie, especially when I sat down with Jim Uhls and record a commentary track for the DVD, I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make. There is a line about "fathers setting up franchises with other families," and I never thought about connecting that with the fact that Fight Club was being franchised and the movie made that connection. I was just beating myself in the head for not having made that connection myself.

From: http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/chuck_palahniuk.html

ZippyDSMlee:
Mmmmmmmm films are a short time sensitive medium that has to share screen time with flashing bright explosions to keep the dimer half of the audience distracted from any semblance of depth,wit or story(kinda like modern games). What more do you need to know?

The irony, of course, is that you talk about it with more brevity and callous disregard for elaboration than the typical movie. Way to shine your intellectual superiority. You sure showed them.



To capture the essence of a story, the details are not necessary. Hell, modeling an entire movie to be just like the book is a fruitless effort that will satisfy no one, and contrary to what the smug purveyors of True Art™ will assert, vice-versa applies. No, to truly make a successful adaptation, you need only capture the essence of the film. The rest is all interpretation. But enough big words; let's give an example.

The Dark Knight is arguably one of the better films in adaptation history, and I have a feeling that its impact will be more lasting than Iron Man or 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeves. Why? Because it doesn't try to be "faithful" to the original story. Instead, it plays with the idea and tries to create something new, keeping only the basic essence of the story. The most famous example of this would be the Joker. The basic idea is that the Joker is an insane guy with a clown face. But as scary as he is, a bright, purple-suited, green-haired swing dancer like him looks absolutely ridiculous in a film as postmodern as The Dark Knight and an audience as jaded as we. So instead, they took the concept and ran with it. He's dirtier, and less composed. His freakish smile is not a smile at all, but horrible scars, and his delighted cackling is replaced with Heath Ledger's sardonic sarcasm. It was an adaptation not for a medium, but for an audience.

That's what an adaptation is supposed to be.

I would posit that any work of art loses something in translation. Shakira sounds better in Spanish. Augustine and Aquinas read better in Latin. The Wizard of Oz is better as a book than a movie or stage production. In whichever medium that work was crafted, there you will find it at its best.

This works in the perverse reverse. A film-to-book translation has produced some awful tripe. While Latin-to-English can be done well enough, I can only imagine what English-to-Latin would be like, and my imagination brings forth a nightmare.

I feel confident in saying that something is always lost in translation in language, medium, or even when somebody retells a story he heard elsewhere.

I don't think the book is always better, but I think that there are a whole bunch of screenwriters and producers behind them who don't understand that some novels cannot be successfully adapted to film simply by replicating the plot and character development. In some cases, the spirit of the work runs far deeper in the sub-narrative. Case in point: the On the Road movie is going to struggle to really do any justice to Jack Kerouac, because his writing actually created a whole bunch of mimetic effects which gave the novel its charm. So unless they do the entire movie with a voiceover, it's just going to be a story about a neurotic writer following a conman across America, and will give more ammunition to the crowd who refuse to give the Beat Generation any credit for the incredible scope of literary vision they fostered.

Angnor:

Korenith:

cabalistics:
With Fight Club even the author has said the movie is better than the book

Really? Don't suppose you could find out where he said that for me could you? I'd love to read what he said because I thought the book was better personally. It's a close run and the film is fantastic but I just prefered the way Chuck played the ending in the novel. Felt a little more open to me.

Chuck Palahniuk:
What are your feelings about the movie version of Fight Club?

The first time I saw dailies of the movie was when I went down to the film's location, and David Fincher would drag me off the set to his trailer to show me dailies. He would be watching me for my reaction, and I had little or no idea where these scenes fit together. Here were these wonderful reaction shots and things like that which seemed so random, beautifully composed, attractive and funny in their own way, but I had no idea how they went together. I felt so self-conscious with David watching me. Now that I see the movie, especially when I sat down with Jim Uhls and record a commentary track for the DVD, I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make. There is a line about "fathers setting up franchises with other families," and I never thought about connecting that with the fact that Fight Club was being franchised and the movie made that connection. I was just beating myself in the head for not having made that connection myself.

From: http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/chuck_palahniuk.html

Oh wow. Interesting take. I guess he does kind of have a point. Thanks for showing me this.

cabalistics:
The quote was from the booklet that came with the DVD when it was first released. I can't remember the exact quote but he said it was a much better ending than the book which I have read I thought the end was too ambiguous and sudden.

Korenith:

cabalistics:
With Fight Club even the author has said the movie is better than the book

Really? Don't suppose you could find out where he said that for me could you? I'd love to read what he said because I thought the book was better personally. It's a close run and the film is fantastic but I just prefered the way Chuck played the ending in the novel. Felt a little more open to me.

See I liked the ambiguous ending simply because it left the narrator with a choice at the end between the two alternate lives he could lead. I also felt more connected to the narrator than I did to him in the film but I can definitely see where you are coming from.

Both mediums are different, demand different things from an audience and are enoyed in different ways. This article doesn't really seem to be about whether original books are better than their movie counterparts, though. It seems to be more about books being a better artform than movies, period. Which is fine - it's an opinion, well enough supported here - but it doesn't take into account that each book vs movie argument is entirely individual. It's an article that doesn't allow, for example, cases in which the book had severe flaws that the movie could reject. American Psycho, Harry Potter 7a*, Battle Royale, Audition, Carrie (and a few other Stephen King books besides)...all examples of flawed writing that was fixed in the movie adaptations. And none of those are even bad books.

Not that I haven't encountered a few examples of books that lose too much in translation to the big screen. Let the Right One In, for example, has been adapted into two separate movies, both very good pieces of work in their own right (the Swedish one being the better of the two), but neither able to even get close to the original.

ps I feel bad about including Ryu Murakami's Audition in that little list. There's only one bit of writing in the whole book that doesn't work, but it REALLY doesn't work.

* I know it's all personal opinion and whatnot, but you do lose a certain amount of credibility for specifying the first Harry Potter as the better adaptation. It's the weakest movie of the whole bunch.

Movies can portray action a lot better than books can. A car chase or a fight just isn't as exciting in a book as it is on screen. A description of an explosion cannot compare to the visuals of an explosion.

Mezmer:
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.

On the other hand, I find that there are certain books I didn't enjoy because I found them too long were much more enjoyable when adapted for film.
I've tried to read LotR a few times but have never managed to make it through even the first one. Bilbo Baggin's birthday for example I found a terrible bore to read, whereas in the movie its cut down to a fairly enjoyable 5 minutes.

I find that one of the only instances that the movie is far superior than the book is the tale Forest Gump, the book is ridiculous.

TiefBlau:

ZippyDSMlee:
Mmmmmmmm films are a short time sensitive medium that has to share screen time with flashing bright explosions to keep the dimer half of the audience distracted from any semblance of depth,wit or story(kinda like modern games). What more do you need to know?

The irony, of course, is that you talk about it with more brevity and callous disregard for elaboration than the typical movie. Way to shine your intellectual superiority. You sure showed them.



To capture the essence of a story, the details are not necessary. Hell, modeling an entire movie to be just like the book is a fruitless effort that will satisfy no one, and contrary to what the smug purveyors of True Art™ will assert, vice-versa applies. No, to truly make a successful adaptation, you need only capture the essence of the film. The rest is all interpretation. But enough big words; let's give an example.

The Dark Knight is arguably one of the better films in adaptation history, and I have a feeling that its impact will be more lasting than Iron Man or 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeves. Why? Because it doesn't try to be "faithful" to the original story. Instead, it plays with the idea and tries to create something new, keeping only the basic essence of the story. The most famous example of this would be the Joker. The basic idea is that the Joker is an insane guy with a clown face. But as scary as he is, a bright, purple-suited, green-haired swing dancer like him looks absolutely ridiculous in a film as postmodern as The Dark Knight and an audience as jaded as we. So instead, they took the concept and ran with it. He's dirtier, and less composed. His freakish smile is not a smile at all, but horrible scars, and his delighted cackling is replaced with Heath Ledger's sardonic sarcasm. It was an adaptation not for a medium, but for an audience.

That's what an adaptation is supposed to be.

*shakes head* An adaptation seeks to simplify and stream line story and events, to not only make it more palatable to the drool masses but be enjoyed by them, which means more crap it brought out from the gutter or someones hidden drug stash to write up nonsensical filler that dose not need to be in the adaptation regardless be it themes,dailog or changing the focus of the film to the human cast rather than focusing on oh I dunno the stars of the film....

/Transformers rant

The Dark knight was good but it is more the exception than the rule of adaptation, one can not remove or change 40-70% of the themes and fiction just to adapt it, if you do you will fail more often than not. Then again a bad film that sells well is not a failing.... its the status quo....

the book isn't BETTER every time.

the movie is simply DIFFERENT every time.

I'm a huge LotR fan and I have to admit while the books are absolutely marvelous and rich and vibrant, I'd prefer to watch the movies.

I always prefer to watch the movie over the book. The movie takes 2 hours, reading the book takes a significantly more amount of time. The films also give you a physical representation of the images. Sometimes you may read the books and be confused as to how certain people, places, things, ideas interconnect. The film clears up those problems for you (if the film is made properly).

I always prefer the film over the books.

"My teacher wanted us to read the JAWS book and she said 'Oh it's an amazing experience.' Let's see... the movie has explosions, a twenty-five foot mechanical shark, guns. The book has... pages. I'm not gonna sit with my back against a tree and become lost in a magical world of wonderland and become gay. I don't want to do that." ~ John Caparulo (comedian)

Elizabeth Grunewald:
The allusions to historical figures, the mathematical and chess-based allegories, and the darker tones of the lighthearted work have never successfully made it to film. Indeed, most of these jokes and allusions are visual wordplay, and cannot translate accurately to the spoken word.

It isn't difficult to translate these concepts to film - other countries have been doing it for decades. In the US, however, the film industry caters to the barely literate.

"Know your audience," as it were.

More story, better details, the characters can look and sound however you want them to and you don't have to worry about bad directing.

Plus usually stuff gets changed. Look at the movie for Holes. The main character in that book was supposed to be a fat sweaty disgusting slob who slowly grew into shape over the course of the movie.

Not Shia BeBeouf...

As others have said, it's about the fact that in print, you can make it your own world, and envision it however you want. You also can get deeper into the heads of the characters, and see more of the story

One of my favorite things in the Harry Potter series was the day-to-day in their classes. The movies cut out a LOT of that. Not that I blame them. Movies are time-sensitive and a lot of that kind of "filler" has to get cut.

The only movie I've seen where I'd read the book and found the movie significantly better was Jumanji.

Casual Shinji:
The book is the book. The film is the film.

I completely agree with this. The only fair way to judge the film is on its own rights; comparing it to the book just isn't a good way of deciding its quality.

If the film is bad because it changed things from the book, then complaints are fair enough, I suppose. However, if the film is good despite being different from the book, then I simply don't see the issue. The Lord of the Rings films are great films in their own right, and criticising them because they don't accurately transcribe every detail from the books is completely pointless. The same goes for Blade Runner, which, quite frankly, is better than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It changes a lot of plot details, but it keeps most of the book's themes and ideas, and ends up not only being a great film, but being better than the book it's based on. Why complain that it's different?

The article appears to be of the opinion that "adaptation" means the same thing as "transcription", in my opinion. Copying every little detail from the book will almost inevitably make the film feel bogged down and turgid, but more to the point, it completely misses the point of adapting the book in the first place: so that someone else can express their own unique vision of the source material.

List of films that are better than the books (this is not to say the books are necessarily bad by the way) - Fight Club, Lord of the Rings (all of them, ESPECIALLY extended editions), Goodfellas, Forest Gump, and The Godfather. Other adaptations come close, Scott Pilgrim for example (arguable but I loved it).

I'd say most of the time the film version of something doesn't hold a candle to the original but sometimes I think the adaptation can truly out shine and/or become a work of its own. My example for this is the movie Kamikaze Girls. I have read the book and enjoyed it, but the movie outshines it every way possible.

I wouldn't say that one is better than the other. They're two completely different mediums with different constraints.

Books rely on imagination and the use of descriptive words to convey exactly what's going on, and your imagination makes the book that more personal to you.

Movies can only really show you. Everyone watching is seeing the same thing.

They're both great mediums in their own ways.

Also:
Watch Top Gear. Play Minecraft. Get flag.

MikailCaboose:
I disagree with the Lord of the Rings. I found that the books ended up having quite a bit of dull, no point sections. Plus the movies did a better job with Faramir because they changed his character a bit.

While I did like the books I can see exactly where you are coming from. There were sections (especially in the first book) where I dreaded reading a certain chapter due to how it was written (Council of Elrond I am looking at you). Sort of have to remember Tolkien was an excellent storyteller but not a great writer (he was a linguist and historian) and he stuck to what he knew. There are characters you see only once and never again (much like a history book) and writing down entire songs in another language drove me nuts lol. (I must admit the songs sound great when ACTUALLY sung however). The movie was a great adaption (I do miss the whole scourging of the shire portion however but I understand that would have made the final movie about 5 hours long instead of 4...).

Thomas Guy:
Oddly enough I think the film version of LoTR was better than the books.

Blasphemy.

jspheonix:
List of films that are better than the books (this is not to say the books are necessarily bad by the way) - Fight Club, Lord of the Rings (all of them, ESPECIALLY extended editions), Goodfellas, Forest Gump, and The Godfather. Other adaptations come close, Scott Pilgrim for example (arguable but I loved it).

I'll give you Fight Club.

Also Godfather, mostly because Puzo's prose is just awful at times. I mean, he crafts a good story, but some of his descriptive stuff is horribly written, and he has an unfortunate tendency to re-use particular turns of phrase.

Korenith:

Simulated Eon:
Interesting article and I completely agree.
The thing was when I started notice this I have always wanted to read the book before I see the movie (a reason to why I still haven't seen "It") so that I don't have my imagination spoiled when I read the book.
It is also a readon to why I hate certain movies becase they stray so far from the books or completly destroys the narative (Eragon I'm pointing at you).

But on the other hand if you watch the film first you can still enjoy it and then enjoy the book even more rather than enjoying the read and then finding the film to be a massive disappointment. It depends how much the visual stuff in the film interferes with your imagination. For example when I read I Am Legend after the film it was never once Will Smith who I imagined in the role. When I read American Psycho however Christian Bale fit the bill perfectly in terms of appearance so that definitely influenced my imagination.

That may be the case but often because of the books I read (mostly fantasy and sci-fi and a little horror) I hardly ever see a good adaption of them. But Fight Club is a book I could read becase I really like the movie and then see what they did different.

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