Tuesday, June 1, 2010

REPOST: Books vs. Movies

This post on the differences between books and movies based on books originally appeared on July 20, 2009. I'm reposting it now because I've been thinking about this again lately, and wanted to reference it without rehashing my thoughts (which haven't changed).

I saw the newest Harry Potter movie yesterday, and I got to thinking afterward about the differences between books and movies. J.K. Rowling's books are a perfect guinea pig here because both the books and movies are wildly popular, so a wide swath of the population will see the movies after reading the books and go "wait a second here, they cut x, y, and z out."

That's enough of a lead-in I think, so onto the discussion (read: my thoughts). Books are, by their nature, more detailed than movies. Think about it ... a movie can be at most 2 to 2 1/2 hours long. Any lengthier and people tend to stop paying attention (Lord of the Rings notwithstanding) and begin wondering when they're going to be able to go home. These same people may happily spend 12 hours reading a book however, and there's usually enough detail in the really good stories to keep the average reader entertained for at least that long, between the multiple subplots and supporting character motivations that thread most novels.

Movies can focus on one, maybe two storylines at any given point. Books can have as many subplots and tangents as you the writer can shove into 300 pages, and have those subplots be woven into the fabric of the main story. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the novel does this several times: Remus and Tonks' romance, Fleur and Bill getting engaged, Harry and Ginny getting together, Kreacher is gone, so is anything about 12 Grimmauld Place, and an entire bit with Dobby gets lost. The scriptwriter of the movie decided, rightly, that we want to mostly see the story directly involving the Golden Trio. But to do that, the scriptwriter was forced to cut out huge swathes of the book, losing a lot of the rich characterization those subplots afforded.

Side note: Joe Queenan over at The Guardian wrote an article recently about movie novelizations and how they work (link taken from Pimp My Novel -- thank you Laura and Eric!).

I'm not saying books are better than movies, and if this post came across that way I apologize. Both forms of storytelling have their pros and cons, and there's something magical about watching your favorite books come to life on the big screen (anyone else think Dumbledore looked cool in the scene with the Inferi?) that can't be described. So in the end, movies made from books will almost inevitably leave things out in order to translate the story from one medium to another.

Doesn't mean it's bad. Just means it's different.


Linda G. said...

But...books ARE better than movies. Not that I don't enjoy a good movie. But, come on...books! :)

Adam Heine said...

I love movies. Love, love, love. That said, I've always thought movies are more akin to novellas than novels, in terms of what can fit.

Natalie said...

Very true. I've felt pretty satisfied with all the Harry Potter movies. I think bad movies made from a good books come when the scriptwriter picks the wrong plots to focus on, or worse, brings in stuff that wasn't even in the book (like City of Ember and the giant rodents--those killed the movie version in my opinion).

JournoMich said...

Ok...But some books ARE better than movies. Mostly because of what you have said here--they bring you into characters in a way some movies just don't. Where movies concentrate on action and movement, well-written books should show you deep characters plus all the movement, etc.

That being said, many movies are Art. 'Life is Beautiful,' 'Atonement,' 'The Lady Eve,' to name a few.

Never the twain shall meet? No. But they should be seen as separate things. Hopefully the author is an artist in his/her craft, and hopefully the movie director is as well. They are different arts--which is what you said.

Southern City Mysteries

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I agree that the different media give different expressions to the story. Harry Potter is a great example, but recently How to Train Your Dragon is a great example of how a book and movie aren't even the same story! They were so completely different that the only thing they shared were some of the character names and the setting. Amazing. (And I thought the movie was better, which is hardly ever the case)

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Oh, man. The Harry Potter adaptations are really great, and so fun to see translated onto film just because of all the fun magic.

But the absolute WORST adaptation of a good book to screen has got to be "The Seeker," based on "The Dark Is Rising." Even when there was an element in the book that made perfect sense, was a stronger choice thematically and visually, the movie went out of its way to change it to something boring. It was incredibly bizarre. (Apologies of course to anyone who actually prefers watching mall kiosks that sell wind socks to seeing ancient magic.)