Afternoon Inquisition 10.16

I’ve always enjoyed books more than the movies made from them.

Is the book really always better, and why? (feel free to give examples)

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. The book is not always better (though this is often the case). What is true is that the two are always different, due to the differences in media.

    I think that the perception is often the case that the book is better because it was the original telling of the story and the preconceptions you bring into the story are never the same as the filmmaker. I’ve enjoyed both book and movie versions of the same story for different reasons. The problem arises when you expect the movie to recreate your reading of the book.

    Moreover, books are usually longer and more in-depth, meaning that there is a good chance that parts of the story you like got cut. I think of movies as short stories or novellas, not full novels. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t equally good on their own merits.

  2. The problem is that we get stuck on the Actors rather than the characters. When you see someone famous we immediately have preconceptions about them and then role in the film. In books we don’t get this.
    There is also an issue with adapting a film from a book because you get writers and directors putting in their two cents on how the story should be and you get actors changing characters to suit themselves.

  3. In my life, there have only been two movies that I have enjoyed more than books:
    Jurassic Park (I was nine which means movie dinos are waaaaay cooler than book dinos)
    and The Haunting. Both movies are better than that book. That book almost made me swear off reading.
    Other than tat, the book is always better. More fleshed out, better developed characters, and special effects not limited by money or feasibility.

  4. I have to agree with Steve, though there are exceptions. For example, I liked the Lord of the Rings as both books and movies. Granted, a lot was lost in the translation, but the direector seemed to be trying to honor the author’s vision.

    Sometimes I am angered and disgusted when directors and actors take too many liberties with the material. The most recent and egregious case of this was The Cat in the Hat and Jim Carrey. If you can’t even TRY to be faithful and respectful to the material, don’t film it!

    In that vein, I’m not sure about the new Star Trek movie yet – I hope that it has a bit of the campy flavor that the original series had during the 1960’s.

  5. Books tend to be better because it’s the original story, told by the original author. It came right out of her head and onto the page, so assuming she’s a good writer with a good story, it’s a good book. Any time you start adding layers of translation such as directors and actors and screenwriters, it basically turns into a different story. This COULD be better but it tends not to be.

    In conclusion, reading the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was about as interesting as reading Biblical genealogies.

  6. Movies better than books:
    Rosemary’s Baby

    A good film maker can trump a poor author and vice versa. In some cases both are good, but they hit different targets.

    Books better than movies:

    Lord of the Rings
    Lord of the Flies
    Lords of Flatbush (just kidding)

    I liked the Haunting of Hill House book better than either of the movies.

  7. I find that books I’ve read before seeing the movie are nearly always better, and books I’ve seen after movies are just different. Clearly this shows Confirmation Bias at work.

    Stand By Me is a better than The Body. Shawshank Redemption is better than Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank redemption. As but 2 examples.

    Speaking of books, every skeptic/atheist/free thinker should read Terry Pratchett’s new book “Nation” and then get their friends to read it as well. It is a wonderful book with great ideas that illustrate many things we believe in.

  8. Depends on the book (as already stated). I found Lord of the Rings, Bladerunner, 1984, and Logan’s Run (mmm… Jenny Agutter…) all better than the books.

    In general, though, I’d say my imagination does better than movie special effects. Books can often analyze a little detail where a movie just doesn’t have the time or inclination.

  9. Apples and oranges.

    (Damn, am I being a scrooge about another AI?)

    If for no other reason: a movie typically takes up less than 2 hours of your life. A book takes up, what… less than six? Eight? I guess it could be much less if you don’t subvocalize. Still.

    And the languages in which each media is written is vastly different: visual versus plain English. : )

    Each has its merit.

  10. Unfair comparison.

    Books and movies are totally different forms of art… its like asking if you like holding hands or backrubs. Some people will always prefer one to the other, but that has more to do with personal preference.

    Some of us like them both because they are different and we get different things for each one.

    I have read some great books that made horrible movies… and I have seen some decent movies tht came from pretty horrible books. So, again… its an unfair comparison.

  11. Besides, I’d rather, say, go blow up Combine Striders than read or watch some completely non-interactive movie!

    Games are the new media, man. I’m tellin’ ya: in 100 years, our kids will be studying the emotial detachment of Gordon Freeman as silent protagonist as metaphor for the political malaise of Generation X…

  12. Generally, I think you get a richer experience from the book. The inner monologue from the narrator or lead character is hard to reproduce in movies without awful voice-overs, for example.

    Now, novelizations of movies are a different story. That can depend on the skill of the writer. I’ve read some awesome ones.

    Also, “The Notebook” was way better as a movie than a book, and I think it was purely on the strength of the actors involved. Gina Rowlands and James Garner are always good, Ryan Gosling is becoming phenomenal, and Rachael McAdams takes over whatever scene she’s in.

    Ummm…. of course, all you other guys read The Notebook too, right?

  13. I am a big film buff, and Kaylia beat me to the punch. Anyone who has actually written or read a script can appreciate that these are two different mediums. In that sense, the comparison is apples and oranges.

    I will take the opportunity to counter conventional wisdom and point out my top 3 movies that were much better than the books in that the movies were outstanding and the books were just so-so:
    1. The Shining (1977)
    2. The Grifters (1990)
    3. American Psycho (2000)
    4. The Shawshank Redemption (a novella in “Different Seasons”) (1994)
    5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

    (… and just so you know I am not just picking on Stephen King, ‘Pet Semetary’ was an outstanding book and lame movie.)

  14. @phlebas: 2 things:

    1. not all books have inner monolouges (thankfully)

    2. The Notebook? Oh gross! Sparks is not a writer as much as a sentimental hack. Even I, with my skewed view of “judge books and movies as very very diff things” couldn’t quite bring myself to watch the movie after suffering through the book.


  15. @wytworm: I never saw the movie. (I’m only vaguely certain that I knew there was one, even.)

    Nope, not seeing Max Payne… mostly because I’m upset they chose that game to make into a movie. : ) Deus Ex would have been a better choice, and in a similar vein. But, of course, I am partial to Half Life, which I think could make an excellent series of movies, if done right.

    But it wouldn’t hold a candle to playing the game.

    Morrowind is another game that deserves to see the big screen. They could save a bunch of money by hiring ugly actors on that one, too. ; )

  16. This is kind of a no-brainer, Sam. I don’t think anyone would deny that it’s pretty rare for a movie to meet or exceed the quality of storytelling in a good book. There are exceptions, of course.

    A more interesting question is whether a book adapted from a screenplay is ever better than the movie it was based on. Or what about books that expand on movies and television shows (Star Trek? Star Wars? Robotech?).

  17. @Kaylia_Marie: I wish you were in my film meetup group.

    @JSug: I don’t think that books are necessarily a better medium of storytelling. Film is a visual medium and a picture tells a thousand words. Arguably, more people can relate to the immediacy and brevity of the experience of film. On that note, I’ve heard some people argue that books leave more to the imagination than films, but I think even THAT depends on the book and the film.

  18. Books necessarily make you an active participant in determining the imagery, whereas a movie imposes the director and cinematographer’s imagery passively onto you. So I think that part of why books are “better” may be that they can be a more immersive and imaginative experience with pages and pages of description and exposition that may be really important to the message of the book but lasts about 1 second on a movie screen. But there’s something about the imagery, the emotion, the music, etc. of a movie that can draw you in in ways a book can’t.

    So, I think a lot depends on the versatility of the material to escape its intended medium. H2G2 translated very poorly into a movie but decently into a TV show. Harry Potter and LotR (despite the complaints of some die-hards) did pretty well, in fact I thought PoA was a better movie than a book.

    But, as with the “sex vs. chocolate” debate, to each his/her own.

  19. They are simply different.

    Some of you have said that the effects are better in your head, well I have to generally disagree. As an effects artist I work with art directors that are talented and trained to maximize a visual representation, not every one and imagine what they read as well as we can display it. Granted, sometimes that’s not the case but generally it is.

    In a similar vein if the movie is done well I prefer to watch it before reading the book. That way I can relive the amazing performances that (when done properly) bring more to the characterization than just the text on the page, while relishing in the minutia a movie hasn’t the time for.

  20. Length has a lot to do with it. You just can’t get as much story into a movie as you can a book, so book to movie translations tend to seem a bit thin to those who have read the book.

  21. SkepticalMale: In fact, I don’t read fiction books anymore, but I do watch fiction film (and TV). I find it more compelling. …And the dialogue in fiction books bugs the tar out of me more often than not.

    But I suppose I have some written-fiction baggage that makes me unique (I gave up trying to be a fiction writer). : )

  22. @JSug:

    Yes, I understand that some of these Afternoon Inquisitions may be easy for the individual to answer, but their purpose is to initiate discussion. And it seems this one has so far. So perhaps “no-brainer” is not appropriate. But your point is well taken.

    As to those who say books and movies are two different art forms, and therefore the question is apples and oranges. I submit that you are smarter and more creative than that and that answer is a bit of a cop out. Think of Shatner’s spoken word version of Rocket Man and the song. Arguably two different art forms, but it’s not difficult for anyone to give an opinion about which is better and why.

    From books to movies and vice versa, it’s all story telling. Come on, we want to know if you think one is better, or if they are equally good, and why.

  23. @Sam Ogden: I submit that you are smarter and more creative than that and saying it’s a cop-out is a bit of a cop out.

    Clearly, those of us who said as much believe each has its own merit.

  24. part of the problem with comparing movies to books is we always compare a book to it’s film adaptation.

    That’s not really a fair comparison, it’s like asking what’s better a book or it’s Italian translation?

    In fairness you need to compare original works in both film and prose. But then we are fully immersed in the subjective nature of art and my head implodes.

    But as a dyslexic I say films are better ;)

  25. @Sam Ogden: Well, Sam, if you won’t accept the apples and oranges characterization (recognizing that books and films are different mediums in terms of experience) and you look at both as merely two forms of storytelling, I guess the question is one of length. Obviously, the novel is a longer form of storytelling. So the question comes down to: Is longer better?

  26. @PrimevilKneivel: Spot on. I mean, people rarely say “That movie sucked, but the novelization kicked ass.” A lot of it is about which came first and which is the imitation.

  27. Always? “Always” is a dangerous thing to say. There have been some really crappy books that have been made into good movies.

    But in general, they are, because books can get far more detailed, in-depth, and nuanced than any movie could ever do.

    What I like to point out is, The Godfather won Oscars for best movie, best screenplay, and best actor, is preserved in the National Film Registry, and was ranked second behind Citizen Kane by the American Film Institute in their Top 100 movies list…and the book was STILL better!!!

  28. @PrimevilKneivel: I think there is a reason why there are two separate Oscars for “original” screenplays and “adapted” screenplays for that very reason. There is a sub-art/craft to adapting one form to another effectively.

  29. Sometimes the movie works differently than the book, if that makes sense. The Shining, for isntance. The first movie made, with Jack Nicholson, wasn’t really true to the book, not exactly. Stephen King wasn’t happy with it, but it was still an amazing movie (and still is). The book is amazing, as well, but for different reasons.

    Dexter, however, is a GREAT example how the tv show (not a movie, but similar) is WAAAAAAAAAAY better than the original book(s) it was based on. I tried reading the first book, and just couldn’t. The writing was so awful, and so simple. But the tv show is amazing.

  30. @shanek: Very good point – it is important to remember that good books often make good movies too, and bad books often make bad movies too (e.g., ‘Ten Commandments’).

  31. I would not say always. Of course this is all subjective, but for me, Stephen King books make great movies, but horrible books.


    But in general, they are, because books can get far more detailed, in-depth, and nuanced than any movie could ever do.

    I want to agree, I have for the most part always believed this myself, however I do not think this is absolutely true. I think the movie can do as good a job detailing a scene. The difference is the viewer is not forced to take it all in, we can be distracted by a hot chick (or guy, I suppose) in the background and not see everything relevant.

    Of course to know the background of a character is much easier and more complete in written form than on screen, and that helps alot, but a good movie can still provide all the same information. You just may need to see the movie a few times to pick up on all of it.

  32. @marilove: I think the sequence makes a difference as to what you prefer too. I saw ‘The Shining’ before I read the book, and I was completely unimpressed with the book. (I mean the animal-bushes v. the maze as a narrative device?) I should say that I have read every Stephen King book through 1990, so it’s not that I am not a fan of some of his books. I wonder if my strong preference would have changed if I read the book first.

  33. @TheSkepticalMale: Absolutely, I never thought it would be possible to adapt a John Irving novel to the screen (well) and then he did it for Cider House Rules. But he understood the essential premise of his book, surpisingly (based on his novels) he had the tlaent to write for the screen as well.

    TheCzech, there is one movie that gets blasted while it’s novelization is praised. The Abyss, Personally I think the film is underrated but the novelization which was written as the film was produced is excellent. I guess it helps to have Orson Scott Card writing your novelization.

  34. @TheSkepticalMale:

    Yes, I get that they are different forms of storytelling, but the specific question was concerning movies based on books, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. I think the limitations of the audio-visual medium and the time limit a film has to fit into will almost always detract from a story. I did allow that there are exceptions, but in my opinion they are rare.

    I will say that there are many examples of films based on *short* stories that are excellent adaptations, arguably better than the stories they were based on (Philip K. Dick stories have done very well as movies). But that’s not really the same as an entire novel being translated to the screen.


    But, as with the “sex vs. chocolate” debate, to each his/her own.

    Debate? Since when do we have to choose between the two?

    I suddenly want some chocolate.

  35. @TheSkepticalMale: I read the book first. :) But I was a HUGE King fan — I was 10 when I first read Misery! (That’s another instance where the movie was great, and the book was too, but for different reasons.) I LOVED the animal-bushes v. the maze scene! But I was like … 12. It’s been a while since I read it. I just remember really quite liking it. Also, I liked the character development with the father more in the book than I did in the movie. You felt for him way more in the book–in the movie he’s more of a villan, you know?

    The movie WAS fantastic, though. It was just more of an “adaptation”. I could see why you’d prefer it, as they are different!

    I prefered the (original) Carrie movie to the book. Also, Shawshank Redemption … I read the novella first, but I prefer the movie.

  36. @Sam Ogden: Its not a cop out if its true.

    As both a writer of fiction and a former film studies major and an opinionated zealot and champion of reading… I STILL maintain that books and movies are simply different forms of artistic expression and MUST be allowed to be different and not judged against one another.

    As for storytelling… both forms tell stories. Do I think one form does a “better” job of telling the story. No, no I do not.

    @TheSkepticalMale: Longer isn’t always better. But size matters. :P

  37. @Kaylia_Marie:

    True enough. Not all books have inner monologues per se. But there is something there that is describing to readers what their senses are experiencing. It’s been too long since I took a writing class, so I’m weak on the terminology. But when you read something like:

    “Steve Hackenscratch felt pensive, wondering for the third time if he should have tipped Margorie for the espresso even if it did have a pubic hair in it. She was his former conjoined twin, after all.”

    It might be awkward to work that into dialog, and few actors can pull that off with facial tics, no matter how much they submerge into the character. And of course a voice-over would be lame.

    Oh well, it was just an example of the types of things you get in books but not in visual non-Scrubs media :)

    And I agree with you about The Notebook. I read the book because of a bet with a friend, and I saw the movie because I was with another friend and I let her choose. She lost her movie choosing rights afterwards.

    And I would not say The Notebook was a good movie by any stretch, even though I thought the acting was superb. But the movie was better than the book.

    I’m guessing you didn’t queue up early for Nights in Rodanthe?

  38. @PrimevilKneivel: OH MAN, Cider House Rules was a tough book to get through, but it was so worth it. Loved it. I STILL haven’t seen the movie! Also, whoever made Simon Birch needs to be shot. Owen Meany is my FAAAVORITE Irving novel, and gawd, they ruined it. RUINED IT. :(

  39. @JSug: “Debate? Since when do we have to choose between the two?
    I suddenly want some chocolate.”

    I suddenly want… oh wait, back on topic.

    The idea of order, which one you were exposed to first cannot be understated. I actually took a class where all we did was watch movies and read the books based on them… then half way through the year we switched and would read first then watch. I wish you all could have taken that class with me.

  40. @Kaylia_Marie: I think it helps if you wait between the two, too. Don’t read a book and watch the movie based on the book 2 days later. Give yourself some time to distance yourself from the book — reading can be very, very personal. I tend to become VERY attached to the characters. I canNOT watch a movie based on a book right after I’ve read it. Even if the movie is fantastic, it ruins it for me.

    It’s not quite as true the other way around, though.

    I almost always read the books first, if they are the original, though.

  41. @phlebas: Nope… and I avoided A Walk To Remember as well. Actually I can’t rememeber if I read Walk and only half read Notebook or vice versa… they were basically the same tripe.

    Not that I have an opinion or anything.

    @TheSkepticalMale: Indeed! You me and Mari are soo one the right track with this one.

    And who would disagree?

  42. @Kaylia_Marie: Um … I haven’t really checked with my girlfriend about that particular combination … Would that conversation go like the old Reese’s commercials – “You got your in my chocolate! … And you got your chocolate in my sex!

  43. @Kaylia_Marie: I tried reading Atonement… It was so bad. I might watch the movie, though. Maybe I’ll like it better. I am not much into that style of book, though.

    I will NOT read Twilight and I will NOT watch the movie. Gag! Call me a snob, but man, I don’t understand the Twilight love at all. The snips I’ve read online have made me go O_o. It’s as bad as a Danielle Steele novel and that’s BAD.

  44. @marilove: “during”

    Heh, that takes me back…

    My date: Hey, why don’t you wanna make out?
    Me: We are at the movies, I want to watch the movie
    My date: Its just a movie! Lets make out!
    Me: Are you kidding? The symbolism is amazing, the cinematography is ahead of it s time…
    My date: (getting frustrated) Did we come here to actually watch the movie?
    Me: Well…. Duh!

    High School was fun.

  45. @TheSkepticalMale: oh my god, yes. i read the book years ago and it’s even more obvious. the licking of the wallpaper gets me every time. it’s like … so obvious.

    damn now i want to watch that movie! i went on a back to the future marathon this weekend…i should watch both chocolate factory movies this weekend lol.

  46. The main problems I see in movie adaptations of books are
    #1: Length. For example, even the 6-hour version of Dune left out a LOT of the story. Sure, you got the basic plot, but the intricacies and backstory were what made the book SO good.
    #2: adding crap that isn’t needed. mostly meaning WUV STORIES. H2G2 did NOT need the Arthur/Trillian romance tacked on. But sometimes seems like Hollywood can’t make anything other than a pure-testosterone action movie that doesn’t have a half-assed romance involved.

    Though I will say that sometimes, a BAD book can be made into something pretty good in another medium. Phantom of the Opera? horrible book, but there was enough of a good idea in it to salvage a good musical.

  47. @Kaylia_Marie:

    I read it via a few months ago. The main thing to me is that I just couldn’t like or seriously care for any of the characters. The men are pissy posessive brats, and Christine is rather a doormat (typical of the era, but it’s still irritating). and then I also have a wierd dislike of completely implausible over-complicated torture chambers. (Pit and the Pendulum drives me crazy)

  48. Ok, I’ll go back to work and stop ninja-ing the forum in just a sec… but Phantom actually is a good example.

    A book turned many movie adaptations turned multiple musical renditions. (Hill might not have been as good as Andrew Lloyd Webber but he did exist)

  49. seaducer:

    I agree, and I think the best movies are the ones you can watch several times and each time pick up something you missed before.

  50. I’m not trying to make the question more complicated, but I’m surprised nobody has brought this up. I’d like to submit comics as an intermediate with (potentially) the best features of both books and movies.

    Alan Moore has said that one of his goals in writing “Watchmen” was to show things comics can do that movies and books can’t.

    I’m not claiming that comics are better than the other media, just that there are things each of the three does best.

  51. The only film I’ve ever seen that I feel comfortable unequivocally asserting was better than the book is Fight Club. The book was okay, but the movie did it with so much more energy and style. I think the screenplay also made the story a lot more accessible to a general audience by changing the goal of Project Mayhem from destroying the historical record, which does and should seem outrageous to most people, to destroying the financial record and subverting the dominant power structure.

    One film adaptation that still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth is The English Patient. That that movie won the Academcy Award for Best Picture still makes me cringe. A more boring film I have rarely seen and Fiennes performance felt incredibly flat. This may be a case, however, where no film could have conveyed the original text in a satisfying way as what made the book so beautiful were the in depth historical and literary references and delicate/mysterious character development that would be next to impossible to create on screen.

    As for comics, I’m holding my breath on Watchmen. IMO, most of the best comic book movies have been more loosely adapted from the superhero comics world. Attempts to work with some of the classics like V for Vendetta turned out rather atrociously, altho in that case it was probably more bad rewrites and poor casting that killed it than any fundamental failure of film as a medium.

  52. One of the first things you learn in a screenwriting class is that novels almost always make for bad movies. A two hour movie is 120 pages with lots of white space … most books … short novellas and short stories usually fare much better.

    With that said, movies can add a compelling visual element (both human and other) to a story that not everyone can get reading a booking. From a brain perspective, it is a different experience creating a world in your imagination and feeling the mirror neurons firing when a great actor does his job.

    Can a movie be better? If you want the empathetic connection to the character on the screen, you bet. I like a bit of both, myself.

  53. Sometimes movies are better, especially if you see the movie first. That can ruin the book because then you just see the movie in your head when you read the book, instead of imagining everything.

  54. Books to Movies: Part 1

    This might surprise the hell out of everyone (myself and himself included), but I really have to agree with shanek.

    It’s a pretty darn rare occurence that a movie is better, or even can be better than the book it comes from.

    There are some exceptions to that, but I would argue they usually occur when a book has a powerful and/or uniquely interesting premise, but is written by a lousy writer. That lousy story is then adapted by a skilled director and/or writer with far greater story telling skills and abilities. And voila: a movie better than the book.

    Yes, books and movies are a different art form, a different medium. But I feel it’s incorrect to say we cannot compare and contrast them. They’re both telling the same story. If one of them fails to tell the story as well and as fully as the other, then it is not as good.

  55. Books to Movies: Part 2

    I’m sorry, but this is going to be a bit long. Can’t be helped.

    One critical thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the issue of buried theme, or implied or hidden content, the result of what folks incorrectly call reading between the lines. Buried themes almost never make it to the movies, thereby damaging, sometimes fatally, the worth of the story being told.

    Actually, buried theme is a bit of a misnomer because themes are usually not buried, they just require some work to find. Themes may be disguised or hidden in allusion. When a story’s character alludes to (refers to) some other narrative work or a poem, or anything like that, what they’re saying is “What’s happening in this story, right here and now, is very much like what I’m alluding to“. And if the reader is unaware of that allusion, they miss out on much of what the writer is writing about.

    It’s very hard to provide meaningful, in-depth examples here because of space constraints. But I’ll give it the old college try. Please bear with me.

    Most good, talented, skilled, and interesting writers (successful or otherwise) use disguised or buried themes throughout their works. Those who do not consciously do so almost invariably do so unconsciously. And yes of course there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

    There are several major issues involved in accessing these themes — buried or otherwise.

    First, it requires patience and a committed willingness to read carefully and to actively think about what you are reading.

    Second, the ability to practice close reading is essential. Close reading is,in part, the act of using critical thinking skills while reading narrative fiction. It involves some in-depth analysis of what is being said, and the narrative circumstances under which it is being said. Close reading is a challenging, difficult, learned skill, and it takes more than a few college level English course to master.

    Third, close reading skills and accessing themes demand a pretty rigorous knowledge of literature in general — contemporary, vintage, classic, and ancient.

  56. Books to Movies: Part 3

    If you’re reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden without a working familiarity with the bible — don’t worry, you don’t have to be a believer — you are missing out on the most important clues to the underlying themes of both books.

    East of Eden is more obvious (with character and place names in particular), but The Grapes of Wrath is so deeply, inextricabley layered and linked with biblical meaning, allusion, and other references that to miss it is to miss the primary meaning and intent of Steinbeck’s story.

    Another example is Easton-Ellis’s book American Psycho — and there were several themes in that book that were overlooked in the movie. In the book American Psycho the issue of rabid consumerism in North American society is a principle theme — it is in fact of greater importance (though related), and more prevalent throughout the work, than any of the horrific violence. But the movie overlooked the meat of it.

    Another thing most good books do that most movies don’t is provide compelling insight into the nuance of right and wrong, just and unjust. Good books often make it very difficult, especially when you practice close reading, to determine who or what is really right or wrong; who or what is really just or unjust.

    The movie version of such a book usually removes all nuance and turns issues of right and wrong into something black and white and easy to judge — bad guys are clearly bad and in the wrong, they have no mothers, no empathetic vulnerabilities, no doubts or uncertainties about their way in the world, and so on. Good guys too.

    People who believe that movies in general are better than the books they are based on are probably just too impatient to read carefully, and/or are either incapable of or untrained in close readings skills, and/or simply are too lazy to apply them.

    I often hear the argument that close reading is too much work, and that all stories should be clear and complete on the surface. But that’s an unrealistic approach. That requires too much simplification. It reminds me of people who demand (and amazingly enough expect to get) a clear, meaningful, in-depth explanation of evolution, or quantum physics, or rocket science in a couple of paragraphs. It can’t be done.

    If you want to look into some of this literary guff for yourself, the xxx version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and the xxx version of his East of Eden provide some insightful comments form Steinbeck on his goals and intent with allusion and theme.

    An interesting counter-argument comes from Stephen King. There are many skilled writers and academics who think King is a much better, and much deeper, writer than he is himself aware of — I happen to be one of those folks. However, King himself, who I quite like as a person, has many times said it’s all stuff and nonsense. “I’m just telling tales” he says. “Nothing more; nothing less.”

  57. the xxx version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and the xxx version of his East of Eden provide

    Should have read

    the Penguin version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and the Penguion version of his East of Eden provide

  58. @marilove: there’s a reason Simon Birch had that title and not the books title. Irving saw the film and said my book is about the faith and Vietnam, your movie is just about faith. That’s not Owen Meany. And thankfully by then he had the clout to pull the title.

    When he sold the rights to Hotel Newhampshire his first child needed braces. When he sold Garp his second child needed braces. He cried during both films.

    I personally never thought his work could translate to the screen, they always span a persons entire life. But with Ciderhouse he new what could go and what needed to stay, infact I think I understood the book even better after seeing the film, almost liked I’d looked at it through a lens (NPI).

  59. The book is not ALWAYS better.

    Men In Black movie was definitely better than the comics.

    And The Big Guy And Rusty The Boy Robot cartoon series was actually better than the book.

    Some argue that V For Vendetta is better than the book but a good case could be made either way.

    That’s all i can think of.

  60. @SicPreFix: I have to completely disagree with you. Judging a movie based on the criteria of a good book is about as smart as judging a cat using dog criteria. They both have fur and four legs but dammit that cat never brings me my slippers. And my dog isn’t litter trained either.

    The points you bring up do make many books good but even books aren’t always the same. Just because you may feel the need to separate art from entertainment doesn’t mean I have to. And that says nothing of my ability to appreciate art.

    If I watch Cloverfield it’s because I want monster porn not the human condition, and similarly if I sit down to watch Wings Of Desire I’m not expecting boobies.

    Like what ever you want man, that’s cool. But don’t try to tell me it’s better than what I like just cause theres a deep biblical subtext I have no interest in, thats not cool.

  61. I almost always prefer the book over the movie since I like using my imagination. On top of that I can control the pace I read a book… if I tried to do that with a movie I would just get the remote control taken from me.

    @shanek: On the other hand, I have it on good authority that the Ghost Rider comic books are far superior to that recent horrible horrible movie. A pox upon you, Nicholas Cage!

  62. I’m with the (apparent) majority on this one. I can’t thank of an example where I enjoyed a movie more than the book. Of the examples given in this thread of better movies, where I have seen the movie and read the book, I disagree. Lord of the Rings – good films, but no comparison to the books. I also disagree with the Stephen King examples. It may not be great literature, but I liked reading King as a kid (my mother did not like this, but my father convinced her it was better than not reading). My first experience with book and movie was Cujo. I was so excited to see the movie after I read the book. Within 5 minutes I was stunned and disappointed and a bit pissed off. I’ve learned to adjust my expectations, and I can enjoy a film version of a book I’ve read, but only because I expect it to suck in comparison. From time to time, I am pleasantly surprised by one that doesn’t completely suck (like LotR).

    Somewhere I think there was a movie I liked better, but I can’t think what it was. Oh well.

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Really? Did you read the same book I did, and see the same film I saw?

    Oh, and the ‘novelizations’ of films really needn’t be attempted.

    Believe it or not, I’m not into comics (which I do believe qualifies as ironic). But did you see the ridiculous Tick TV show? Yikes. Although there was one funny line where they were eating at a chinese restaurant and the Tick ate a fortune cookie (not knowing what it was). After a couple chews, he reached into his mouth, pulled out the slip of paper and said, “It’s a secret message from my teeth”. Okay, that was good, but other than that, yikes.

    I am a Hedge

  63. You’re comparing apples and oranges here. Completely different media. And what one “likes” is completely subjective anyway. For example, I thought Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” beat the crap out of Kubrick’s lousy adaptation; but the Lord of the Rings movies were far more exciting than Tolkien’s books (or at least, the films weren’t quite down to the level of watching paint dry, which was the sensation I got with the novels). But chacun a son goût, as the French say.

  64. @Im a Hedge: Oh, and the ‘novelizations’ of films really needn’t be attempted.

    Generally true but dang, have you read “The Abyss” by Orson Scott Card? THAT’S the way you do it. Even James Cameron thought it was awesome.

    On the other end, “The Space Vampires” was made into the enjoyably cheesy “Lifeforce.” If you thought the movie was schlock, try the book. This almost doesn’t count, though, because only ONE minor scene from the book actually made it into the film. I recommend the book as an organic substitute for sleeping pills.

  65. Okay, enough with the “apples to oranges” thing. We’re not comparing books to films. Just the results of adapting one to the other. Obviously, the results vary depending on how much the person doing the adaptation understands the differences and requirements of the film medium.

    Other great adaptations:
    Contact. Very smartly adapted, except they left out the entire main point made by the book.

    The Lathe of Heaven (The PBS version, not that “it’s so bad I want to hit someone with a hammer” version from A&E a few years ago). Made on a tiny budget with unknown actors, it nonetheless told a powerful version of the story.

  66. @KimboJones: H2G2 was only “ok” as a movie, but I think what came out was inevitable given the scripting problems and the effort to cram three books into one movie. I think they would have been better off to do it as a trilogy of movies for the first three books.

    @mighty favog: I definitely agree re: The PBS version of The Lathe of Heaven.

    @SicPreFix is right when he talks about the need to know your literature when reading some works. This is especially true of many classic authors like Melville, Faulkner, Steinbeck, etc. This is because what was considered common knowledge then and now are very different. Mythological and Biblical references were well understood when those books were written.

    I love Philip K. Dick’s work, in spite of the fact that it gives me nightmares because of how he predicted so many of today’s events. I think much of his work is incredibly visionary and somewhat underappreciated. “Minority Report” was decent as a movie, though I could have done without Tom Cruise – I don’t like his acting much (Just personal preference, I guess. I don’t care much for Kate Mulgrew, either. I don’t know why – I just…don’t.)

    Maybe the fact that Stephen King doesn’t think he’s a “great” writer is what keeps him humble and prevents him from becoming pretentious. I do like some of his work, though most horror leaves me cold.

  67. Hi there!

    Speaking of Stephen King …

    My favorite example of movie (tv mini series, actually) better than the book was Salem’s Lot. In the book, the main characters were investigating these two weird strangers who blew into town just about the same time as people began disappearing.

    The first guy, Straker, was a typical eccentric European gentleman who taunted the small-town American heroes until they finally killed him. The second guy, Barlow, was a typical European gentleman who taunted the small-town American heroes until they finally killed him. Okay, so Straker was a normal human and Barlow was a vampire, but other than that, I felt that they were pretty much the same character.

    In the movie, Straker was a typical European gentleman played brilliantly by James Mason. He was smug, cold, superior, yet an otherwise completely likable bastard. Barlow … was a THING. Instead of giving us: “Second verse, same as the first”, director Tobe Hooper turned Barlow into a hideous Nosferatu-esque beast that communicated only in growls and hisses. Straker was his manservant and personal handler. The juxtaposition between condescending effete gentleman and slavering beast was just magnificent. It was like the two had a symbiotic relationship that worked so much better than in the novel.

    Although it’s totally hokey in some parts, the movie (tv mini series) still scares me to this day.

  68. There have been some interesting yet odd answers to Sam’s question. I was quite baffled by some of them. They seemed to be so illogical. For example, insisting that the movie version of the Lord of the Rings was better than the books. How could that be? It seems so wrong, so unsupportable. Then it came to me. There are three possible reasons: The first has to do with the original question; the second with intolerance of ambiguity in storytelling; the third with short attention spans.

    Let’s go back to the original question: “Is the book really always better, and why?”

    As is often rather charmingly the case here, the question is somewhat ambiguous and a wee bit vague — even in context. But that’s okay. It adds to the variety of opinion. Hey Sam, that’s not a dig at you, I’m just having fun here.

    If I reverse engineer the answers, so to speak, it seems pretty clear that there are two (or more) different questions being answered. The following are my interpretations of the two most common questions being answered:

    1. When a movie is based on a book, is the original book always better than the movie?
    2. Is the book, or the movie, the better entertainment experience?

    In that case it makes some sense when people say the movie version of the Lord of the Rings is better than the books. I personally disagree with the conclusion; however it is fairly easy to see why some people would think the movie version of the Lord of the Rings is a better entertainment experience than the books. But when it comes to actual storytelling I would challenge anyone to effectively explain why and how the movie is a better story than the books. I would argue, I think successfully, that it cannot be done. The depth and complexity and nuance of the books is so far beyond the movies as to be in the next world.

    Secondly, some folks don’t like ambiguity in the presentation of the antagonist versus the protagonist in a story. Even though both Rings and Cuckoo’s Nest are not as ambiguous as most good books, they do have their fair share of ambiguity.

    Last, perhaps it’s about attention span. Some folks have said they felt reading Rings was like watching paint dry, which leads to the possibility that some people just can’t sit still long enough (or get away from the instantaneousness of visual entertainment) to get into the necessary zen space to read such a complex and long piece of literature.

    A wee bit more on the issue of allusion. Stephen King frequently alludes to contemporary writers in his fiction. He also has a fair sprinkling of biblical allusion in many of his books. But one of King’s, and many sci-fi writers’ favourite allusions — it pops up in more books than I can count — is the 1921 poem Second Coming by W. B. Yeats:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    — W. B. Yeats

    And I see someone else has said “Apples and Oranges.” Well, again, no it is not. They are both storytelling mediums, and if they are telling the same strory then they are open to comparison and contrast in so far as the telling of the story goes. We can’t, however, compare and contrast method or process; that is indeed apples and oranges.

  69. @SicPreFix:

    As is often rather charmingly the case here, the question is somewhat ambiguous and a wee bit vague — even in context. But that’s okay. It adds to the variety of opinion. Hey Sam, that’s not a dig at you, I’m just having fun here.

    Yes, you’re right. The vague-ness is by design intended to boost the discussion. So I took no dig from your comment.

    And it indeed looks like you’re having fun. Nice job!

  70. Very good mini-essay there, SicPreFix. I say that with no scarcasm at all. After I read your post, the thought came to me that the reason I like a book more than the movie made from it (generally) is because:

    a) I don’t care how long a book is, as long as it entertains me (talking about reading for fun, of course), and

    b) I am a writer (though it took me most of my life to discover that) and I really enjoy a well-written novel/story/etc.

    That being said, I can enjoy great visual effects with the best of them. Sometimes, the the movie modifies or replaces my internal “view” of the story, because the view of the director is better than the one I created in my head as I read the text.

  71. “sarcasm”

    I now go to hang my head in shame in the nearest corner for not reviewing my work before posting it. :-(

  72. @SicPreFix: I can sit still through a great many things and yet I find The Lord of the Rings to be terribly boring reads. I don’t claim they are bad books I just don’t like reading them. similarly I have yet to stay awake through Blade Runner. I would never claim it a bad film, I just find Ridley Scotts’ pacing to be too slow for me. However give me a Cronenberg Film fest and I’ll sit for days.

    Why do all your arguments distill down to people just not getting the book (or not being able to) I don’t make similar claims regarding your artistic appreciation being stuck in the past.

    We just like different stuff. I don’t know why my brain prefers different stimulus than yours but I do know it’s arrogant to assume one of us is right when we only perceive it from one point of view.

    Oranges are way better than apples.

    And Wild at Heart was way as better movie than as a book.

  73. @Freiddie: Subvocalizing is reading with an “inner voice”. The first step in speeding up your rate of reading is to stop *hearing* the words, and just thinking them. Personally, I can stop subvocalizing, but for whatever reason, I strongly prefer doing it. So I’m a slow reader compared to some.

    @SicPreFix: Agree with him?!? Alright, you and I can no longer be friends.

    @PrimevilKneivel: You’re right, oranges *are* better than apples.

    But apples are easier to eat.

    …And I think that sums it up.

  74. @JRice:

    Personally, I can stop subvocalizing, but for whatever reason, I strongly prefer doing it. So I’m a slow reader compared to some.

    Ditto. I understand that reading can be much faster without doing this, but somehow it seems to take some of the enjoyment away. I was a bit embarrassed when someone said something about detecting stupid people because their lips move when they read. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I do this from time to time. Some lines seem to call for reading out loud. There’s just more impact. (Like the last line of A Tale of Two Cities, for example).

    I am a Hedge

  75. I subvocalize when I read, but only when it is quoted dialogue or a first person account. Therefore, I read these things more slowly. I guess I just automatically perceive these things as a “voice” that needs to be “heard”.

    I also “hear” different characters differently based on how I imagine they would sound in real life…almost like a parent might read a story to a child.

    I also get “stuck” on some passages because I like the “sound” of them. This happens about every other sentence when I am reading Carl Sagan.

    I have no idea how typical I am in this regard.

  76. Okay, so what do we mean by “better?” SicPreFix said, “There have been some interesting yet odd answers to Sam’s question. I was quite baffled by some of them. They seemed to be so illogical. For example, insisting that the movie version of the Lord of the Rings was better than the books. How could that be?” Well, in this instance I can tell you. It’s not that the content is judged inferior. I thin we can all agree that a book always give more detail and context for its themes. SicPreFix, I admire you if you can genuinely read LotR all the way through and not be bored. I say this in all seriousness. I have spoken to a number of what I would call Tolkien fanatics and even THEY skip over vast portions. Not because they are familiar with it–they love it and that’s why they re-read it–it’s because vast portions of it are just pointless and drag for tens or more of pages without seeming to contribute anything to the story or its impact. That whole business with the Barrow Downs, for instance. Can anyone tell what that has to do with anything without getting really far-fetched?

    The quality of writing in a book is very subjective, of course. All I can say is that when I re-read Dune, as dense as it is, I am never bored. The prose in LotR is like the famous description of what it’s like to fly a fighter jet: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

    The movie version of LotR (not “movies”, it’s really one long movie) distills the main points and presents them well. So much so that a large number of people who don’t care about fantasy finally said, “NOW I get it!”

  77. @PrimevilKneivel:

    PrimevilKneivel said:

    Why do all your arguments distill down to people just not getting the book (or not being able to) I don’t make similar claims regarding your artistic appreciation being stuck in the past.

    Well, honestly, I don’t think I have done so (at least in the most recent post above — the multi-post bit was done too quickly and I may have inadvertently left in some unwanted ad hominems), but if I have then I have mis-stated myself. Or perhaps you have misunderstood me. Could you point me to specifically where it is you feel I’m doing such?

    I have no argument with the premise that we all like different things; of course we do and that’s perfectly valid. But there is a difference between liking something and that something therefore being good because we like it. Let me try and clarify my argument here.

    There is a difference between legitmate criticism and a statement of personal taste. Most contemporary movie/book reviews have devolved into little more than rather dreadful uninformed rants and oppressive statements of personal likes and dislikes. That’s not criticism; that’s ego and self gratification — I’m speaking here specifically about professional reviews, not personal or among friends.

    Disliking something doesn’t mean it is therefore bad; liking something doesn’t mean it is therefore good. It takes some self-awareness to make the distinction.

    A personal example: I do not like most of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s books. I find them overly dense, dry, convoluted, and often somewhat too intellectual and emotionally implausible. Nonetheless, I think she is a very good writer, certainly one of Canada’s best. It is clear in her prose that she knows more about writing than probably 80-90% of working authors. So, is she a good writer? Indeed. Do I like her stuff? No. Is it good writing? Absolutely. Most of her work simply doesn’t suit my personal taste — though I must admit I absolutely love her two dystopic novels The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake. Brilliant books, but even so, I get overwhelmed with the number of and complexity of the themes (and allusions) in both those books.

    Another personal example would be Mel Gibson’s movie Signs. As far as good storytelling goes it’s a pretty poor tale. The acting is questionable, the plot thin, vain, and rather sticky, the moral message plodding and didactic. Nonetheless I really like it. It gives me the WooWoo creepys, and so I suspend my disbelief and have fun watching it. Is it a good movie? No, not really.

    There are lots of good books/movies, telling powerful and well constructed stories that I do not like; there are lots of bad books/movies telling weak and poorly constructed stories that I love.

    Ah, so am I a viable critic then? Yes, I think so, because I have academic knowledge and experience of the theory of writing and storytelling as well as first-hand experience with the practice of writing and storytelling both as an amateur and as a professional. I have also read thousands of books, good and bad. I try to read at least two books (or more) every week, and have done so for more than 40 years. And all that is combined with the self-awareness of the frequent non-correlation between something being good and my liking it, or the obverse, and why.

  78. @mighty favog:

    I grant you that perhaps I am something of an oddity. I have read the Lord of the Rings approximately 20 times, that’s about once every two years or so. And I swear on my honour I skip nothing. Nothing. I even read all the appendices after I’m finished. I know it sounds like I’m obssessed, but really I’m not … gollum, gollum. Ha, ha, just joking.

    I am fascinated, really fascinated with words, with their power and effect, and with the English language in general. And with human imagination. Tolkein and many, many other writers use both in such a way that I become completely spellbound when I get in there. I am absorbed; taken over in my entirety.

    Perhaps I’m a teensy weensy bit autistic or something. I never thought of that before. Is it possible? Can one be minimally autistic?

    I can tell you a little bit about what the barrow downs have to do with the rest of it all, or why that part exists. Or at least I can try.

    It is true that Tolkien himself would sometimes get lost in his own world-vision and put bits of stuff in that didn’t really belong, and that’s part of the barrow downs.

    Also, there are quite a few dead ends in the whole long tale, things that get started but never properly end, and that too may be part of the downs.

    But mainly the downs exist as a sort of foreshadowing of Frodo’s uniqueness, his singularity that leads to his eventual acceptance into the world of the Valar — sailing off to the afterlife. And it shows in some ways how he and the other three hobbits are really worlds apart from each other in terms of Glory and the Grand Scheme of Things (caps intentional).

    It is also in a small way a precursor to both the Nazgul and to the lost souls in the dead swamp. They all represent a piece of the grand scope of history that is middle earth.

    The downs, or rather the souls who reside there, crop up in other tales, somewhere within the Silmarillion and one other book — can’t remember the title.

    The downs folk are another piece in Tolkien’s giant world-vision of middle earth and the history of all its people, especially the Valar, and the men of Numenor and Westernesse.

    It’s interesting you mention Dune. I just reread it about three months ago for, I think, the tenth time. And this time around I found myself getting a little bit bored. I suspect it will be many years before I read it agin. But perhaps not.

    On a related note, you may be curious to know that I am not a fantasy fan in general at all. As a matter of fact, the Rings is the only fantasy book I could ever read without going ZZZ’s.

    Clearly, and for some mysterious reason I can’t fully explain, it resonates deeply within me.

  79. If I may add to the LotR praise…

    Part of what I enjoy about the portions that seem to go nowhere, or seem to add little or nothing to the story, is precisely that. If you read history, it’s not all a nice tale with a single narrative thread. It’s messy. The various story lines intersect and overlap. There’s always a few leads along the way that you cannot fully explore. The real world does not have a tidy plot. The Lord of the Rings feels much more like a real world than so many other books because it has these parts that don’t “move the story forward”. You get the sense that you are learning of something that really happened, in a real world somewhere. It’s full of fantastical things that couldn’t happen in our world, but all of these little things that are tossed in make it seem as though they could really happen in that world.

    For the film these parts had to be excised. Only those scenes that advanced the plot could be included, for practical reasons. I think they did a good job of this. But you don’t get the same feeling of history from the film.

    I am a Hedge

  80. SicPreFix and Im A Hedge:

    Okay, I’ll buy that. Especially the history angle. And I’m not surprised at all that someone that’s into LotR isn’t a fantasy fan…really, that kind of fantasy literature didn’t exist before that, and virtually everything since is derivative from it.

    But are you SURE that he wasn’t just being paid by the word?

    Um…what were we talking about? Oh yeah, movies. I like movies. Movies are good. MMMMM, movies…

  81. @SicPreFix: I understand your point (and agree) about enjoyably bad movies but that’s not what I’m getting at. A narrative it supposed to tell a story and to do that well it sometimes needs to take the audience into account. If the story cannot hold the readers attention it fails in its purpose. It’s fair to criticize stories for being either too simple or too complicated. They can both be detrimental, and there is no formula to calculate whether the tale is above or below the threshold of quality, so it’s a matter of taste.

    You said you don’t like Margaret Atwoods’ writing even though you recognize it as quality (a point I made with several examples in my previous post) but we are not discussing good or bad, we are discussing better or worse and that is subjective. You seem to prefer the detail of books over the lack thereof in films. But, to use a metaphor that feels wrong on this blog, while god is in the details so is the devil.

    The problem is, I believe, you are comparing narratives when the question is really comparing mediums. Yes they are both narrative mediums but they are different in the way tell that narrative. While you are fascinated with the power and effect of words, I’m fascinated in the same way with images. They both have similar power over the way people think but the experience is partly determined y the audience. But that’s art for you.

    My professional background is live performance, I’ve worked with many performers that insist if the show fails it’s never the audience. In their opinion it’s up to them to ensure the crowd enjoys the show. It’s unfair to compare an author or director to someone like a story teller or stand up comic that has the audience right in front of them and is getting feed back on the fly as to how much the crowd is enjoying the show. I believe that while they are correct it’s unreasonable (and immensely arrogant) to expect to entertain everyone.

    Art is perception and perception is a spectrum. The same dish tasted by different diners’ yields different experiences, the same is true with music. How in human experience can it be claimed that a book or a movie can be better than the other when we have colour blindness and dyslexia in this world?

    And to answer your question to mighty favog, yes autism is also a spectrum and it is possible for you to be “a little autistic”.

    I never thought you were intentionally insulting anyone. I don’t really intend to dissect your posts but I will say you have a tendency to back up your argument by pointing out that many people don’t understand the complexity of the story. While this is often true, if you use that to claim one thing is better than another you are also saying those who disagree are too simple to understand the argument.

  82. I understand your point (and agree) about enjoyably bad movies but that’s not what I’m getting at. A narrative it supposed to tell a story and to do that well it sometimes needs to take the audience into account.

    I agree completely. Well, almost completely. :)

    The challenge (and perhaps difference of opinion) when porting/translating a book into a movie is in how we take the audience into account.

    What sort of audience do we aim for? Why? To ensure we get the desired audience, what should we take into consideration, what can we leave out, and where (and how) do we draw the line? And what methods do we undertake to determine and aim for the preferred audience? There are so many ways of thinking about this.

    Do we aim for the audience the original story aimed for? That aim would maintain the purpose and integrity of the original author’s intent, but how would it alter our preferred audience goal?

    Do we aim for a greater audience than the original work can or did reach? Can we cut corners without losing sight of the original story’s intent? In so doing do we need to aim for the lower common denominator? Do we now lower expectations so as to reach a wider audience and increase profit? How does that impact on the original narrative’s value?

    If the story cannot hold the readers attention it fails in its purpose.

    Doesn’t that depend on “its purpose”? Is the film’s purpose to educate, to reach as broad a spectrum of people as possible, to proselytize an ideology, to encourage a moral perspective, to maintain the original author’s message, meaning, and intent?

    Some set of those things will play a part in the movie’s purpose, unless the movie’s sole purpose is to just make profit and return investment for its investors, in which case I would argue that the film has then left the realm of art and has dipped into the realm of financial tool — and both our arguments become moot.

    All of those things are taken into account by any good film-maker. Should the film maker aim for the same aesthetic and literary, i.e. narrative goal and intent as the author? Or should that be set aside (to some degree or other) for the differing goals of the film?

    It’s fair to criticize stories for being either too simple or too complicated. They can both be detrimental, and there is no formula to calculate whether the tale is above or below the threshold of quality, so it’s a matter of taste.

    Yes, but that’s where we get lost isn’t it? I’m not sure that there is no formula for determing quality. I would argue that any curtailing of the deeper meaning and intent of the author is reducing the quality (the good) of the work. I think the two are inextricable.

    The problem is, I believe, you are comparing narratives when the question is really comparing mediums. Yes they are both narrative mediums but they are different in the way tell that narrative. While you are fascinated with the power and effect of words, I’m fascinated in the same way with images. They both have similar power over the way people think but the experience is partly determined y the audience. But that’s art for you.

    I’m not so sure we have any disagreement here. At least not in terms of the individual, yet different power each medium has. But if the movie discards any of the deeper meaning of the original narrative it cannot maintain the original “good” of the original work because it has discarded the content wherein the best part of the “good” of the work resides, regardless of the medium.

    Perhaps it does boil down to the definition of what does “good” mean in this context. If it boils down to entertainment value, then that’s one thing, and we are on the same page — or should that be frame? If “good” means the entirety of the intent, meaning, messages, etc. in the original author’s narrative, then that good is lost when any of its constituent parts are lost.

    I’ve worked with many performers that insist if the show fails it’s never the audience. In their opinion it’s up to them to ensure the crowd enjoys the show.

    I can provisionally agree with that. However, I think performers who feel that a performance’s success is wholly up to the performer are being a bit naive or perhaps disingenuous. My background is largely in live performance too — I was a professional touring musician for 15 years.

    Yes, in many instances a failed performance is be due to the performer, but audience’s play a role in all performances, live or otherwise, and audience/performer relationships are dynamic. The audience also participates in a performance.

    Audiences are not passive, disinterested, neutral players. Audiences bring ideology with them; they bring attitude, mood, a whole set of determinants that flavours their participation in any performance, and the performer feeds on that — in both directions, good and bad.

    If a performer is giving a simply good performance to an exceptionally involved audience, that performance will be strongly affected by the audience’s reaction and participation, and the other way around too. Audience-performer dynamics are not one-way, nor two-way, they are a kind of triangulated feedback loop of multidirectional influence: audience to/from performer to/from audience to/from audience, and around again..

    It’s unfair to compare an author or director to someone like a story teller or stand up comic that has the audience right in front of them and is getting feed back on the fly as to how much the crowd is enjoying the show.

    Perhaps, but directors and authors get immense feedback in the form of letters, sales, newspaper reviews, etc. The only real difference is immediacy. And a good film maker plans on and prepares for a specific goal audience long before, during, and after fliming, and when they’re successful they get pretty much exactly the kind of audience they aimed for.

    Art is perception and perception is a spectrum. The same dish tasted by different diners’ yields different experiences, the same is true with music. How in human experience can it be claimed that a book or a movie can be better than the other when we have colour blindness and dyslexia in this world?

    No. Not applicable in this case. We’re not talking about a range of individual perception of value in a rangeable/variable entity. We’re talking about the net result of porting/translating one specific narrative from one medium to another medium. If, in the act of porting/translating the narrative loses any of its fundamental content and intended meaning, it then unavoidably loses some of its quality: its “good” is reduced.

    That doesn’t mean the narrative is any less enjoyable, or any less good in the immediate abstract of audience involvement and enjoyment, but it does mean the original narrative’s essential character, defining meaning, and the creator’s intent and purpose are diminished, lessened, reduced, and therefore, in that sense, the book is better than the movie.

    In the end, and although it may not look like it, I think much of what you say carries weight, but just leaves some things out.

    And finally, if my posts appear to claim some folks are too simple to understand the argument, that may or may not be my intent. But is it not possible that it is true? And if it is possibly true should we avoid crossing that ground out of some kind of misguided regard in favour of ignorance? That’s polite, but while I too may be wrong and missing the point it nonetheless feels a bit too politically correct to me.

  83. @SicPreFix: Make the film for any audience you want.
    You still assume that the original must be preserved but for those that don’t care for it in that detail the film is better.

    No amount of verbosity or over thinking the matter will change that. For you Tolkiens’ books are better, for me Jacksons films are. Two different perspectives on enjoying a story.

    No wright or wrong on either side, just different.

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