I was watching a movie last week that was recently adapted from a book. I knew going in that there would be changes from what I had read in the book. I really enjoyed the book and was looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. However, from experience, I know that sometimes producers and directors take dramatic license with interpretation and content. So, I prepared myself for the worst.
I love to read. And most of the time I will choose to read a book over watching a movie. It may seem tedious to some to spend a week reading a book when you can watch the movie in two hours. Yes, there is some logic in that, but with the quick flash of a movie, you lose so much. I have thought a lot about this and have come up with a few reasons why a book will always be better than the movie.
The Characters Are More Real
Katniss Everdeen. Tris Prior. Harry Potter. John Smith. Thomas. All are names of main characters in Young Adult novels. Authors took hours if not weeks to develop each of these characters. From the color of their eyes to the types of food they like. After reading an author interpretation of a character, we learn to love them. We experience their development from the first page, through their struggles, and into the culmination of the final chapter.
These characters become our friends, if not family in some sense. We become eager to crack open the pages of a new chapter to see what happens next, until the final book of a series. Then as we close the last book, we feel like a significant part of our life has ended. That sense of loss runs deep, that is until we pick up another series and dive into those characters.
When authors write a character, they will often give specifics as to what that character looks like. Our internal eyes see that picture and carry it through the pages we read. So, when Hollywood brings that character to life, we have certain expectations. The same with personality. We learn their behaviors, mannerisms, and their outlook on the life around them. We grow closer to the characters in the books we read.
When we hear that they are making one of our favorite books into a movie, we get excited and eagerly anticipate the trip to the theater to see words brought to life. But if you have read any of the above novels; The Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter, I Am Four, or The Maze Runner, you may have walked out of the lobby feeling cheated.
The main character generally is not fooled with too much. The shortchange usually comes with the secondary characters. Either they are not as integral, or they are not even mentioned at all. Their part is given to one of the other primary characters. The story comes across, but it is never how you, or the writer of the novel, expected it.
Inner Dialogue is probably the main thing that is missing when a book is made into a movie. In a book, you can read about what a character is thinking, how they feel about a situation and their emotional state. Emotions are clearly spelled out. A good writer can draw you into the scene with the internal dialogue of a character. A great writer will make you have to remember where you are at when you put the book down.
Yes, a good actor can aid the moviegoer with facial features and their actions, but nothing replaces the well-written inner dialogue that a book brings. Internal dialogue connects you with the character. It places you in that moment with them. In a movie, you lose that personal connection. If you have never read the book, then some scenes can leave you guessing.
Setting is the easiest thing for movies to get right. Authors can describe a scene down to the color of the floorboard nails. So much detail is given that it would be difficult to get it wrong. So, it boggles my mind when settings are changed on the big screen. I guess it really doesn’t matter if a scene is set in Columbus, OH, when the book has the same event taking place in Oklahoma City. Although, sometimes the setting means something to the character and their actions. But you would only know that through the aforementioned internal dialogue.
Setting modifications are sometimes meant to make a story more interesting. Some are subtle, but if you know the difference between an airplane and a spaceship, then those types of changes leave you confused. In books, you have a better flow of what is happening and where it is going. Time constraints force movies to cut parts that may not seem important at the time, but those omissions can leave a character underdeveloped.
Plot twists and Endings. Sometimes a movie production company will modernize a movie to fit what is popular at the time. With what is hipper than what actually happened. And sometimes when those end credits start to roll, you say to yourself… that’s not what happened in the book. This mainly revolves around character deaths. This goes all over the place. Sometimes it is who dies, or doesn’t die, or it’s in how they meet their demise, or who dispenses that demise.
The changes I experienced with Ready Player One last week have been better than some. The premise of the story was there, but there were scenes I was anticipating seeing on screen. Then some scenes they did include were not in the book. When the movie was over, I really didn’t think about those left out scenes because the movie was just as good. Even though I enjoyed the movie, the book was better. I read somewhere that Ernest Cline is ready to write a sequel to his novel. I, for one, hope it’s true.
I have read several Young Adult series’. Hunger Games was probably the best at sticking to the substance of the book. Minor changes that don’t have any real significance. Now, Divergent was somewhat of a disappointment for me. Yes, the story remains the same, but the changes made were so bad that the final movie in the series will probably not be made.
While I do admit that a movie can give a certain level of suspense that a book cannot give, this is thanks to a musical score that heightens a moviegoers experience; a good book can build enough suspense on its own. But a good reading experience provides more than a well-executed score. It’s about connection. And I do not find that connection watching a movie. The changes made often take away from the story itself, and the author’s intentions. It is these differences that will always have me picking up a book instead of the remote.