Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is the Book always Better?

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I'm reading "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" at the moment, and thoroughly enjoying it, even though it is evidently written for twelve-year-old boys. It's not something I had previously come across, and I probably wouldn't have bought it had I not seen the film first.

I enjoyed the film, but the book is better. (The book is very, very different actually, and if I were Rick Riordan I would be very annoyed at the liberties Hollywood took with my creation, from making the hero 17 rather than 12, to doing away with several major characters including the chief baddie, and in the process completely rewriting the plot.)

I'm actually struggling to think of any films where the movie version is better than the book. At least, where the book came first. Books issued as a "companion" to a movie, part of the merchandising, are generally fairly hurriedly and poorly written, and slavishly follow the action of the film when part of the beauty of books is being able to look into the heads of the various characters.

So if the book is always better than the film, what's the point of making a movie of it at all? If it's ultimately going to disappoint fans of the book, why do filmmakers bother? Why not stick to original ideas which work as movies but might not work as books?

1. Money. The bottom line. The filmmakers know there will be a market for a movie if the book has already sold five million copies. And having a novel which can relatively easily be adapted to a screenplay is a gift. If I like a book, I will generally want to see the film, if only out of curiosity. (Oh, and the authors get some of that money too, so I'm not complaining.)

2. Not everyone is an avid reader. The movie can open the book - and the world of reading - to a whole new audience.

3. A movie can add a new dimension to a book. I found with the Harry Potter books that seeing the films really helped me to visualise things like the scale of Hogwarts, or exactly what a hippogryff looks like. In addition, music and stunning photography can really add to the atmosphere.

4. In a few rare cases, the film can bring new material to the book. One example of this is in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. In the book, written from Bella's point of view, we never see the wolves and vampires chasing Victoria along the boundary line because Bella isn't there to witness it. In the movie it is a spectacular scene and the boundary is shown to be a river. Stephenie Meyer was closely involved in the production of the films and I can't help thinking that she might have relished this opportunity to add some meat to the bones of this part of the story.

5. Some books which should have popular and wide appeal, don't. Pride and Prejudice, for example, is one of the great classics of English literature but some people can be put off by old-fashioned language, or their lack of understanding of this period of history. I think both the BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and the Keira Knightly version, were excellent, and could help dispel any such concerns and give us a better understand of life in the early nineteenth century and thus a new appreciation for the book.

Do you agree? Is it good that Hollywood makes movies of so many popular books? Can you think of any where the film is better than the book?

(Any LDS Production Companies out there - I think my third book, Easterfield, is the one most suited to a movie, and I'm happy to write the screenplay for you.)

(Mr. Spielberg, talk to me about the rights for Emon and the Emperor early next year.)


Kelsi Rose said...

I can think of one movie that I liked as much as the book and that is Ella Enchanted. TO be honest I saw the movie first and then red the book, and because of that, I like them as seperate entities instead of a book/movie comparison.

Jen plus 5 said...

The Count of Monte Cristo... I loved the movie so much that I read the book and normally if I've seen the movie, I try not to read the book. However, in this instance as I realized how DIFFERENT the movie was from the book I also realized that if the movie had followed the book it probably would have flopped in the box office. Don't take that the wrong way because the book is excellent and I would have liked to see the movie closer to the book but for the general audience they did what worked best for the movie and I'm ok with that AND I still really like them both.

The first time I saw Twilight my husband went with me, and I sat there in the movie having to whisper explanations to him because he didn't understand what was going on in places because I had read the book and he hadn't on this one I loved seeing it come to life and there are parts, little surprises that are in the movie and not the book and that I really love, but as much as possible I look a them separately or else I do think the book is better.
It has me thinking now though... are there any films better than the book? I'll keep thinking ;^)