Books vs. Movies

Books and movies are both stories produced for our entertainment, but is one truly better than the other? It seems every time I watch a book-turned-movie I’m disappointed. Inevitably the book is always better and I curse Hollywood with dark magic for destroying a favorite story of mine. Well, maybe that’s my own imagination talking too much.

I do believe a great story can be told through both books and movies. (So don’t start posting comments calling me a movie-Nazi.) But I can’t think of a single movie I’ve watched and thought to myself, Wow! That was so much better than the book. Of course, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy watching a good flick while munching on some butter soaked popcorn. I am human after all.

Jack ReacherHollywood loves to reinvent popular books on the silver screen. I’m just not convinced their interpretation is always correct (or even close). Consider the actors chosen for some of the books turned into films. The recent movie, Jack Reacher, is a perfect example. However you feel about Tom Cruise is moot when considering the character described in Lee Child’s book series. Jack Reacher is supposedly 6’5″ tall with a broad 50-inch chest and weighs about 250 pounds. Seriously? Maybe I’m thinking of a different Tom Cruise.

Hunger Games is another good example of character differences. In the story, the blonde curly-haired Peeta Mellark is a baker’s son. Consequently he never goes hungry and his family is considered part of the privileged merchant class in District 12. Readers in my book club pictured him as a sweet boy with a little extra dough around his middle. Whereas the movie avoids portraying Peeta as a chunky teen and opts for a hunky muscular adolescent instead (I guess the teen/tween market for ticket sales is too big for Hollywood to ignore).

world war zMany movies are successful at drawing the crowds, but that doesn’t mean they represent the original story the author created. The film World War Z has little more than its title in common with Max Brooks’ novel of the same title. I enjoyed watching Brad Pitt’s action-packed movie version on the massive theater screen, but it’s not a good representation of the book. The movie focuses on a resourceful main character and his fight to keep his family safe while helping save the world. (Um, typical action movie plot here.) In the book, Pitt’s character is only one of many who give their accounts of the Zombie War throughout the globe. The novel falls into the horror genre and explores the global human fear of the end of the world.

Movies are in fact an interpretation of the combined efforts of a director, producer, screen writer and cinematographer. These few people decide what’s important enough for me and the rest of their audience to see on the big screen. It’s a carefully constructed experience – no imagination required for the viewer.

A book is much more personal to its audience than a movie. Every reader brings their own experiences to the interpretation of a book. Every book needs its reader’s imagination to be involved in its story and create a world unique to their own mind. There is no cinematographer to decide details on the setting for us. We, as readers, get to picture what it will all look like as we digest word after word. This gives us endless possibilities within our own imaginations. Interpretation is everything. Readers make their own perfect movie version of every novel they read because they visualize it in their minds.

So which is better: books or movies? Because two things are different doesn’t make one better than the other. I enjoy the entertainment and inspiration they both bring me. But because they are indeed different, I need to judge them as such. Otherwise, a comparison to the book usually leaves the film in the dust.
What do you think: books or movies? Do you prefer one over the other? Are there any books-turned-movies you’ve enjoyed?

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