The book is always better.
That’s what they say, anyway, and for the most part I agree. There isn’t much that the big screen can do that the pages of a book and a little imagination can’t do better. That said, movies do serve their purpose, as I intend to outline here.
1) Broader Audience
With the exception of a few works that have either been around for a very long time or those that have very broad appeal, it’s probably safe to say that more people have seen the film in most cases than read the book. Therefore, in most cases, the best way for the author to expand the audience for a book is to have it made into a motion picture. If it is made well, it may even guide those who would not have otherwise bothered to go back and read the original.
There is no doubt that reading a full-length work requires a lot of time (as well as peace and quiet, for those who actually want to enjoy it). Except for speed-readers, people don’t generally have enough time in their busy lives to sit and read for hours on end. Thus, condensing a story that could take days or months to finish (with a lot of interruptions in between) into a single block of 2 to 4 hours is certainly more convenient for most.
For those who lack imagination or simply have a hard time picturing stories in their minds, movies are a real boon. The imagining has already been done, which allows the viewer to concentrate more on following the storyline.
There’s no doubt that the longer a work is, the more intricate and complex its plot becomes. When things have to be condensed to suit a shortened time block, things inevitably need to be cut out, which makes it much easier to focus on the main points without too many subplots confusing the issue.
The biggest complaint of movie-going readers is the inability of cinema to capture the story exactly as the author laid it out in the book. Characters, events, and whole chapters can be done away with (or in some cases, filmed, then released as ‘new’ scenes on an extended edition DVD). When time is a concern, editing and abridging can often lead to storylines that are quite distorted–sometimes even unrecognizable–to the point that it’s hard to claim the two even deserve the same title.
2) Corruption of the Message
As stated in a previous post (‘Reading Between the Lines’), most authors have a message they are trying to convey when they write something. At times it’s more obvious than others, but it’s there. With the necessary changing of plot elements in a film version, it can be very easy to change the entire point that the writer was trying to make in the first place. Often it is done by accident: directors and screenwriters can’t predict every consequence of their changing each story element. Unfortunately, I think it is just as frequently done on purpose by a director who is trying to use somebody else’s work as a vehicle to push his own ideas and agendas on the public (most of whom he knows won’t bother to read the original, and will thus walk away with his vision instead of the author’s). This is a sad occurrence indeed.
Cutting out characters and events can help make a story flow more smoothly on the big screen, but it can also be overdone. When storylines become too simple, they can get downright boring.
Film can definitely help bring the author’s story to life. But those of us who read the books beforehand usually have an idea of what everything should look and sound like in our mind’s eye, and it can sometimes be disappointing to see somebody else’s ideal. Worse still, it can corrupt the vision we have beforehand, which can detract from the fun of re-reading the book.
5) ‘Easy Out’
While some movies are spectacular enough to garner an even wider interest in the written original, there are those out there who figure the movie is good enough, and will not bother looking further, even if given the time. For a few out there, the movie really does seem better, but for the most part it’s just laziness.
That’s my take on the subject. If I missed anything, be sure to tell me so I can add it. As someone who generally reads the book and sees the visual, my advice is to simply enjoy the two separately for what they are. The movie is never going to be a 100% accurate recreation of the original work. It’s more of a distorted reflection, really–the level of distortion varying considerably. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be an enjoyable experience.
See you next week for my final post of the year on making your stories believable.