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Book vs. Movie February 2, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

This post can contain no original thoughts. I’m a reader—although I don’t read as much I’d like to—and of course I can make all the arguments of why the book will be better than the movie, of how much more detail and texture and exposition the reader gets, how possibly more actively involved reader is than watcher. Still, having loved a book, I can love its movie, in part because I love movies and in part because I have accepted that it’s not fair to compare two entirely different media (apples and oranges).

I remember the first time I felt betrayed by a movie. (Many of my friends have heard me rant about this one.) One of my favorite books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, had been made into a movie, for some reason called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I was excited to see it. I went to see it. Had the abbreviation WTF been in my vocabulary at the time, it would have been useful to describe my reaction: WTF have they done to my book?

Since then, of course, I’ve grown up and realized that books are books and movies are movies. I’ve even revisited Willy Wonka and cut everyone some slack. Still, when Johnny Depp starred in an extremely faithful-to-the-book version, I couldn’t help but feel a bit redeemed. (And yet they did add a completely unnecessary backstory for Wonka—seems everyone has to tinker.)

Back in November, the week before Thanksgiving, I embarked on a project that will shock the more literary snobs among you: I decided I would reread all the Harry Potter books. After each book, I would watch the corresponding movie. (Seven books. Eight movies.) Given that I read all day for work and that my reading for pleasure tends to be limited to just before I fall asleep, I thought this project would take me half a year. I finished the last book last night. (Two movies to go!)

I’d read all the books before, and I’d seen all the movies. But I read the books as they came out, and I saw the movies as they came out. I’m lucky to remember something I’ve read from one day to the next, so by the time I was seeing a movie based on a book, I could no longer remember much about the book. It was practically a separate experience. And there’s something to be said for that.

I was never critical of the books or films. I went in just wanting to be entertained, and I was. The movies were beautiful. No one seemed afraid of the darkness of the story.

With this “project,” I wanted to look at adaptations. I wanted to see what decisions the filmmakers had made. In the first few films, the deletions of particular details made good sense. Assigning actions one character might have performed to another for simplicity usually worked well.

But with the fourth installment—and this is the point at which the page counts become very high—it felt as if filmmakers made a leap from shortcuts to shorthand. I began viewing scenes that I felt people could only fully comprehend if they had read the book, because the filmmakers didn’t have time to give you enough backstory. They seemed to assume that most viewers had read the book—and they were likely correct. Certain scenes in certain films must surely confuse nonreaders, I thought, for as far as I could tell, certain corresponding explanations lay only in the book. Of course, I can’t know if nonreaders were confused or not.

Ultimately, I was surprised by just how much more there is to the books. I shouldn’t have been. Of course there’s much more. They’re books.

I broke my Harry Potter stride only long enough to reread The Invention of Hugo Cabret right before I went to see Hugo. This gorgeous book had been one of my favorites; in fact, I had given it to several people. And as I was in a book-into-movie mode, and as it had been several years since I’d read the book, I decided to take a look.

The movie was gorgeous but was in fact sapped up. That whole station master subplot/backstory? Slapsticky and unnecessary. I understood why they dropped a certain character, merging his actions into two others, but I missed him. The saddest change for me is what they did to the Isabelle character. In the book, it is she, not Hugo, who can pick locks. It is she who sneaks them into the movies. Her character is strong, but the film diminishes her a bit. And so it goes.

Still, a lovely movie (and I didn’t even get a chance to see it in 3D).

No doubt many of the best films are ones that were born films, films never encumbered by the limits of a book and readers’ expectations.

Soon I will watch the last two Potter movies. But more exciting is the stack of twentyish books next to my bed, many of which I want so much to read that I don’t know which to grab first.


1. Eulalia Benejam Cobb - February 2, 2012

Really identified with your feelings of betrayal with regard to Charlie/Willy. This happened to me with the Mary Poppins books–bracing, ironic, funny–and the MP movie–sappy, pathetic, awful!

2. Bar Guy Portland, ME - February 3, 2012

I always see a movie as a great emptying when distilled from a book. Its sometimes good but detail and charactor almost always suffer. Almost. But then these things can be compensated for with good movie things. Like immediate texture and tangible image. Anyway.. as always thanks for sticking to your blog. I still read regularly..and I saw this in a New Yorker piece by Franzen on DFW among other things and thought of you..
” When I go looking for new bird species, I’m searching for a mostly lost authenticity, for the remnants of a world now largely overrun by human beings but still beautifully indifferent to us; to glimpse a rare bird somehow persisting in its life of breeding and feeding is an enduringly transcendent delight.”

Bar Guy Portand, ME

indigo bunting - February 6, 2012

Bar Guy! Just when I think you have disappeared forever…glad to hear you are lurking. If you ever see me on the streets of Portland, be sure to say hello. (I fear I would not recognize you.)

I’ve found the article and have printed it out to stack on top of those books. Lovely quote.

3. Dona - February 3, 2012

Oh, I think I need to blog about this too. Maybe this weekend….

I can so identify with this — although in my case I was introduced to both Roald Dahl and P. L. Travers through the films of their books — so for me the films were a good thing.

The book-turned-movie that broke my heart was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Yep. I feel a blog post coming on. Thanks IB for yours.

4. Dona - February 3, 2012

Oops. I forgot a >. Can you fix that IB?

indigo bunting - February 6, 2012


5. Mali - February 6, 2012

I like your project – read the book then watch the movie, then move on to the next one. I thought the Harry Potter movies we’re generally excellent adaptations of the books, as I did the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy movies (Swedish versions -haven’t yet seen the Daniel Craig one). But I appreciated them because I’d read the books, I think. I must get the Hugo book, as don’t think I ever read it. And I recommend the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie too. Read the book so long ago I couldn’t remember it and it didn’t matter. Movies and books – they’re so different I think I’ve usually prepared myself to accept the differences rather than feel disappointed.

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