4 Reasons Why Book Trumps Movie

The Hunger Games was released in theaters on Friday, March 23. Like many others, I saw it on the same day. The reviews have since been rolling in. I personally enjoyed the film and give it a hearty thumbs-up . . . yet I still believe that reading the book is a superior experience.

As I pondered this question again, I decided to re-run an early post of mine for Deep-Fried Friday. I have tweaked the post slightly, but here it is.

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 dialogue, 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?

21 thoughts on “4 Reasons Why Book Trumps Movie

  1. I haven’t seen The Hunger Games yet but I’m hoping it’s nearly as good as the book. I agree with you wholeheartedly: I don’t think I can think of many movies which are better (or as good as) the books on which they are based.

  2. You don’t get the characters’ thoughts in the movie, unless they talk to themselves a lot! I suspect this is one reason why romance novels get made into movies a lot less than sci-fi and thrillers.

    1. I agree, Jennette. In fact, I think thrillers and sci-fi are often better candidates for film. That said, one of the best screen adaptations I recall is Sense and Sensibility. I thought Emma Thompson did a lovely job of bringing the characters and their personalities to life.

  3. I think it was the movie My Sister’s Keeper. At the end there’s an extraordinary twist in the book that leaves you emotionally upset, but in the movie they completely changed it and it’s not EVEN as gut-wrenching as the book. The movie could have done it the same way as the book with just a smidgeon of work. I do not understand why they decided to tweak it another way.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly about Kristen Stewart. She’s terrible. But I loved Elijah Wood as Frodo. And I do think the Harry Potter movies got it as right as possible, especially for books 6 and 7. They did them the most justice possible, and the casting in those movies was spot on. But you’re right, most movies never do the book justice.

    1. I wondered if I was too hard on poor Miss Stewart, so I’m glad to find I’m not alone. As to Frodo, I just thought Elijah Wood played him more timidly or tentatively than I read the character. I didn’t see any Harry Potter films past #4, but I loved the supporting cast choices like Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, et al. Even so, books are better. 🙂

  5. Love this post 🙂

    Okay, for your questions… I think you hit my main reasons for movies never being as good as the

    I do have some exceptions. Beaches…love the book and the movie equally. I read after the fact that the author had Bette Midler in mind while writing the book. Like most Nicolas Sparks books, I feel the book was written with the movie in mind. Now, in the case of The Princess Bride, I saw the movie long before reading…er…attempting to read the book. To date, that is the only time I can say the movie was better than the book. However, watching the movie first hasn’t equaled better in any other situation.

    1. Thanks, Raelyn! So…I hate to say it, but I’m the only person on the planet who didn’t like the movie The Princess Bride. Maybe I should read the book! 🙂

      I do know people who liked the Gone with the Wind movie better than the book, but I understand that they are very different.

  6. Great post, Julie! I love your tip on allowing time to pass between reading and viewing. I don’t provide much visual detail on appearance in my writing because I want readers to use their imagination. I’m not a fan of putting the movie star on book covers after both have been released, though whatever sells books… 🙂

    1. Thanks, August! I totally agree with you about the movie stars on the cover!!! One of the best things about reading the book is getting to imagine the character for yourself, even with the author’s description as a guideline. Putting a celebrity’s photo on there just kills that imagination possibility. Thanks.

  7. I have neither read nor watched Hunger Games. I suppose I am probably missing something, and I will get around to one or the other.

    Your post made me think of the movie Wild at Heart, which was directed by David Lynch. The book Wild at Heart, which was written by Barry Gifford, was way, way different from the movie–but I like both equally. Both did different things. David Lynch’s vision of Wild at Heart was nearly mythical with its Wizard of Oz and Elvis references; whereas, Barry Gifford’s book was part redneck noir and part romance.

    Winter’s Bone is another example of a movie that really complemented the book. I had a different interpretation of the movie’s events than did my husband because I had read the book, but I still thought the movie was very good.

    Movies that didn’t measure up to the book…too many to count.

    1. Your comment about Wild at Heart made me think, Catie, that you can really enjoy both if you can separate them in your mind. The author and the filmmaker’s focus is likely to be different, but you may enjoy what they each offer. Great point!

  8. TOO Much editing!! I love the John Grisham books and the John Grisham movies, but take the Runaway Jury for isntance….the book was so much better because we had access to so much more detail about all of the jurors and saw so much more juror manipulation.

  9. I MOSTLY agree with you, like 90%. But in some rare cases the movie is actually better than book or at least some scenes are rendered better – Stardust was one of those for me. Or maybe it’s because I saw the movie first, fell in love with it, then read the book by Neil Gaimin. The book was good (what book by Gaiman isn’t?) but the movie really added some amazing scenes and developed the characters more!!! However this case is very rare.

    Again, in most cases our imagination does a far superior job. But sometimes the movies add something visually that we may have missed in the book, or they render it so creatively that it thrills me to see something I’ve read about come to life. But, alas, more often they just get it wrong. I have to admit, it was fun to see the citizen of the Capitol rendered so visually in the movie, but I hated to have my own internal vision of Katniss, Gale, Peeta forever messed with by the actors (even though they were good actors).

    Great post!

    1. I did enjoy seeing the visual representation of the Capitol in The Hunger Games. The ridiculousness of it was even more stark when shown on screen. (Plus, Stanley Tucci was AMAZING as the show host. Great acting job!) And I admit that when I saw Lenny Kravitz in the film, I threw up an extra thumb in my film review just because. 😉

  10. Great! I agree wholeheartedly with #1. That’s a huge, huge thing to make sure you do. It really helps a lot when you try to come to terms with the movie. Every since HP3 (the first film that really butchered the storyline), I’ve decided to treat the book and the movie as two separate entities. I really try to watch the movies as just that – a movie. Not a movie version of a book, just “a movie.” It helps a lot, and I tend to not get as disgruntled. (Although, let’s face it…Voldy bursting into confetti and Harry destroying the Elder wand without fixing his own still rubs me the wrong way.)

    1. “Voldy bursting into confetti” — okay, that just cracks me up. That makes me think how even if I enjoy a screen adaptation, there can be a scene or two that irks me in its departure from the book. Thanks, Karen!

Comments are closed.