You’ve been waiting for this moment for months! You have purchased your ticket, bought your popcorn, found a seat in the exact center of the theater, and made it through twenty minutes of previews. The film begins.
Two hours later, you toss the last popped kernel into your mouth, lazily stretch, and shuffle down the aisle desperately wanting your two hours back. I mean, really: Did the filmmaker even read the book!
It’s a proverb we can all quote: The movie is never as good as the book.
Why is that? Here are a few reasons:
1. Dramatic License. The phrase “dramatic license” is often an excuse for the screenwriter, director, or producer to cast a whole new vision on a familiar book to communicate whatever is burning in their hearts or brains. If, however, you loved the book, you don’t want the filmmakers to vary drastically from the original. If they have a different tale to tell, they should make a different movie!
2. Incompatible Casting. If you envision a character a certain way after reading the book, and someone completely incongruous with that image is cast in the movie role, it can throw off the movie’s rhythm like giving a toddler a pair of drumsticks.
I submit that the reasons I could not watch more than the first film of the Twilight series and Lord of the Rings trilogy are Kristen Stewart and Elijah Wood. Both of them struck me like limp toast acting on screen. I couldn’t get past not believing either one of these actors in their roles. It’s entirely my opinion – and there will be opposition to it – but ultimately, the actors cast in the movies didn’t suit the picture I had drawn in my mind from reading the novels.
3. Too Much Editing. Face it, an amazing 700-page novel cannot be properly conveyed on the screen in two hours. One of the complaints that Harry Potter fans have voiced is that there is SO much left out of the movies that appears in the books. Well, of course. Let’s say you have a 300-page novel (maybe 75,000-ish words). Quick internet research informed me that screenplays are about 100 pages (20,000-ish words). That’s a big discrepancy.
I know the saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But not really. Some things simply must get left out when retelling a story on screen. Unfortunately, what gets omitted may be something which made that book so delightful to you in the first place.
4. Imagination vs. Reality. Imagine your perfect man. (Didn’t we do this back in high school?) He’s tall, broad-shouldered, rippling muscles, and athletic; intellectual, well-read, poetic, and creative; rich, generous, well-respected, and successful; romantic, sensual, attentive, and downright delicious. Yeah, I can describe him, but that doesn’t make him real. It’s like Paul Simon declared, “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, put them all together for one night, they could never match my sweet imagination . . .”
When you imagine a story, it’s better than the reality. Our imaginations are wonderful things. When you read a brilliant novel, you can picture the whole thing, and it’s exactly how it should be. Then someone renders a reality version. And it isn’t the same. It simply isn’t as good as your imagination.
By the way, when it comes to picking a husband, I recommend going with the real thing (Does that guy on the front of the Harlequin cover know how to change diapers? My hubby does!). But for books, imagination is superior.
Actually, I have a few tips for helping you to enjoy a movie made from a book you’ve read:
1. Make sure it’s been a while since you read the book. If you still remember specific dialog, plot details, and character quirks, it’s too soon to see someone else’s interpretation. Wait for the film to come out on DVD.
2. Prepare yourself that the filmmaker may have had to cut out plot points, mesh a few characters into one, or ditch background story or world building in the interest of time. You can still enjoy the surface story that the movie relates while separately cherishing the depth of the book.
3. Find others who can relate (or commiserate). It can be refreshing to discuss things you liked and didn’t like in a film compared to the book. I have these discussions with my kids from time to time, asking what was different about the movie, how they would have cast the roles, and what they enjoyed about the book that didn’t show up in the film.
So now it’s your turn! Do you have any additional reasons why the movie is never as good as the book? Do you have examples of movies that were as good as the book, or that were not worth the cost of popcorn compared to the book?
(And while we’re at it, how is Water for Elephants? I read and liked the book, and now I’m wondering whether to see the movie.)