“The book is always better than the movie.” I guess this is a sentence most of us have read or heard at some point when it comes to book adaptations. But how do we define ‘better’? Why are books so often put on a pedestal and movies easily dismissed?
Personally, whenever I hear that a book I’ve read is being adapted as movie or TV series, I’m quite excited to finally see the story ‘come to life.’ I want to know how the visuals in my head compare to those on screen. And more often than not, the two versions are completely different. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Because every book adaptation is in a way an interpretation. And as such, it might differ completely from my take on the story, which in turn varies greatly from your take. The point I’m trying to make is that an adaptation is just one of many interpretations of a story. It isn’t the final interpretation. Your version is just as valid as that of the directors or even the author.
It’s also important to see that every medium has its advantages and disadvantages. In media theory, we speak of narrative affordances and limitations. One of the greatest affordances of a novel, for example, is its ability to give us insight into characters’ minds. We often perceive a story from a character’s perspective, we follow them around and get to know their thoughts. Because a book isn’t as limited in length, we can get detailed descriptions of settings, events and characters, which certainly makes it easier for us to connect to the story.
This is obviously the greatest disadvantage a movie has compared to a book as it’s quite limited in time. Directors have to select and cut scenes because no one would want to see a film that runs 10 hours (or more). I think very often when people say they liked the book better it’s cause the book is just much more detailed. Yet we shouldn’t forget that movies have the huge benefit of visualization and sound. They can depict visuals of characters and setting and literally give characters a voice. The meaning a book conveys verbally is often conveyed non-verbally in film, through visuals, film techniques like camera angles, editing, cuts or music and lighting.
Though there are movie adaptations that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Stephen King once said: “Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” And I think I’ll leave it at that.
What do you think? Is the book always better than the movie? Let me know in the comment section below!