Books vs Movies

This Thursday’s Booking Through Thursday is Books vs Movies:

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

Interesting question, and I was actually talking about this in brief with Faye recently. I’m not a book purist, and I think that on average, I do enjoy movie/TV adaptations a lot, certainly on varying degrees of enjoyment. To me, a movie generally has to be more compact, but that’s because it has a lot of power to convey more in a short period of time, since movies and TV shows are highly visual. Show, don’t tell, is definitely the rule. It’s easier to reach a lot more people with movies, because they’re so much easier to stomach — what’s two hours, after all, in one day, in one week?

Books, on the other hand, require a bit more patience than a movie (since it won’t end after two hours I’m sure, unless it’s a very short book or you’re an amazing speed reader) but a well-written book can go so much deeper than a movie has time for, which I feel is great. It gives one the leeway to imagine as one wills, which can give a more powerful impact to the story than a movie, with its “set” visuals, can give. Those imaginings are highly personal, tainted by one’s own preferences, and one can definitely end up enjoying a book more than a movie simply because of the highly personal nature of one’s imagination.

Going back to the book versus movie debate, I sometimes even like it when adaptations deviate from the book, as long as the premise and spirit is the same, and this definitely has a lot of bearing on the skill of the actors and the screenwriter. For example, there was a bit of flack about the BBC 2006 Jane Eyre adaptation being rather, well, “forward”, but I thought it worked well, and I enjoyed the TV mini-series immensely. The 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation was also rather different, but it was admittedly pretty (even though I’ve found a lot of ways to poke fun at the movie).

This isn’t always the case, though. Just recently, since I had just finished reading Eragon (and Eldest), I tried watching the movie. Oh shock horror. I couldn’t get past Saphira flying down from the sky suddenly full-grown and wise. (Maybe I should have stuck to it more, since I later on found out that Rachel Weisz had voiced Saphira.) While I don’t think Eragon is omgamazingfabulous, the movie felt quite botched together. Roran not going off to find money to wed Katrina is alright, but everyone knowing about the new farm-boy dragon rider? Uh, no thank you. I don’t think I want to know how else they managed to make a rather stereotypical, predictable fantasy epic worse.

But naturally, there are also exceptions for me when a movie is better than a book. I quite enjoyed the 1999 Mansfield Park adaptation more than the book, even though I’m a staunch Jane Austen fan. Sadly, this is the only one example I can give of a movie being better than a book, but then my sister would say the same about Lord of the Rings (she couldn’t get past Fellowship of the Ring) — something we obviously disagree about ;)

Your mileage may vary.


  • […] watched Prince Caspian with friends last Thursday at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard. Like previously mentioned, I’m not a book purist, but there is that line that mustn’t be crossed when we’re […]

  • Kya, I totally agree with you. Our receptions of books and movies are largely fueled by our own personal takes and reactions to the books/movies. I know I have found a couple of my favorites via movies too, like Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing–I’m certain that Ken Branagh’s performance made the book wonderful for me while reading it. :)

  • It’s interesting to read other peoples opinions on this. I enjoy movies and reading both a great deal and to me it really depends. Sometimes I have loved a book so much more, because my imagination has run wild and that has seemed so real, only to watch the movie and it be totally different and out of sync with how it was in my own world. But other times, I have been more entertained and enthralled by the movie, and sometimes watching a movie has made reading the book more interesting because I can see the characters and watch them do things from the book not in the movie, in a mini-movie in my mind.

    It really just depends on what it is, and how well the medium has been crafted. If it’s good, I’m not going to put it down simply because it’s a book or movie and that ‘isn’t cool’. XP

  • @Judy: That’s always an annoyance, I have to agree with you there. Or taking their characters to the extreme, ala Bingley in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice. It’s annoying!

    @pussreboots: Interesting name! Austen is one of those authors whose work always gets adapted to the screen ;) and I agree that some of her work is more enjoyable on-screen (like I mentioned above). :)

  • Although I never managed to make it through a complete Jane Austen book, I have seen a number of adaptations of her work that I’ve enjoyed. Happy BTT.

  • My main problem with movie adaptations is when they change the characters to be someone they are not. I can live with the fact the characters aren’t the way I pictured them physically (esp. if it’s been a while since I’ve read the book) but to change who they basically are? Why bother even claiming it’s the same story in that case?

  • @Jennifer: entirely too true. Although for episodes, I find I prefer watching TV eps one after another versus waiting for the next installment the next week :D

  • @Gautami: well, I wouldn’t expect adaptations to follow the books to the letter, nor do I want them to, actually. I do expect that they follow major plot points, that characters stay true to their spirit — but other than that, I believe it’s fair game. Movies and TV shows are a different medium altogether, having its own strengths and weaknesses, and if I wanted the book exactly as it is, I’d prefer to read, or get an audio book (which is also open to the reader’s interpretation).

    I wish I had the time to read four books on average per week! I can only manage one nowadays, on average, maybe two to three if they’re books like Coelho’s or YA fantasy/adventure books.

    @Ann: Eragon the movie? After my attempt to watch it, I went looking at reviews, and that does seem the norm! Jeremy Irons was pretty interesting as Brom, but all the rest seemed rather… meh. :P

  • I like your point about movies having the power to convey more in less time. Books are more intense and informative overall, I think, but for information-per-second, movies would win! I agree about the length issue – I find it easier to start a movie than a book, and even easier to watch an episode of tv.

  • ‘Eragon’ was so bad as to be almost laughable (on the ‘if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry’ basis). What was an actor like Jeremy Irons doing agreeing to have anything to do with such a farce?

  • I read 4 books a week in average. I read reasonably fast. I prefer books to movies. The adaptations, most of the times, are different from the books. Somehow I am put off by that!

    My BTT post!