It was recently TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) season here in Toronto. It sends the city into a frenzy, mostly with all the celebrity watching. In addition to being a book nerd, I am also a bit of a film nerd so I get excited about the actual films at the festival. (Not that I would be mad to have a George Clooney or Idris Elba sighting.)
Anyway, while standing in the lines to get admitted to the films I was seeing, I was thinking about the common belief that the film is always better than the book. And not to bury the lede, I am also in this camp.
The book will far and away give you more information than a film ever could. You get all the nuances in the characters, and the story. It has the added benefit of letting you use your imagination (following the author’s lead) to conjure up what characters look like, what their world looks like, and basically everything. It is one of the things that I like about reading is that you can create these entire worlds in your mind. Certain characteristics will jump out at you because they are more meaningful to you, and certain ones will fade into the background. This makes the experience of reading a story very personal. No two people will read it the same way.
On the other hand, a film version of a book is a director’s (writer/producer/etc.) interpretation of the story. It also has to fit into a defined space – both literally on a screen, and in a specified time period (in my opinion, no longer than 90 minutes). By the very nature of the process, you will lose a lot by trying to compress 300 pages into 90 minutes. You lose the nuances. But you do gain a perspective or interpretation that maybe you missed.
Generally speaking, I either read the book or see the film. I try to read the book, but let’s face it, one only has so much time and there are so many books. When the occasion has arisen where I have done both – my judgement is most likely that the book was better.
Having said all of that, there are some exceptions:
Bridget Jones’ Diary. The film was better. I found the book funny and generally enjoyable. But Bridget did become a bit annoying and irritating. They seemed to be able to claw that back in the film. And let’s face it Colin Firth makes everything better. (I point you to Pride and Prejudice.)
Perks of Being a Wallflower. I loved the book AND it’s possible that the movie was actually better. In this case the writer of the book wrote and directed the film. So it was basically the author’s interpretation.
Moneyball. This one completely surprised me. I really enjoyed the book. I think that Michael Lewis did a great job intertwining the Bill James narrative and the data/number piece of the story, with the Oakland A’s narrative. When I heard that they were going to make a movie I was highly skeptical. But it worked. And I enjoyed the film and book equally.
Here is the other thing, sometimes the film does the trick instead of reading the book. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy films (hello Viggo Mortensen!) but I have 0% interest in reading the books. Have I missed out on the depth of the story, probably. But in this case, it’s ok with me. It was after this experience that I (mostly) stopped being judgmental of people who choose the film over the book……most of the time.