The book is better than the movie

Via Flickr user Ian Wilson.

Via Flickr user Ian Wilson.

“The book is so much better than the movie.”

Sound familiar?

It’s oft-used refrain when talking about any movie based on a book. There’s The HelpThe Kite RunnerBreakfast at Tiffany’sTo Kill a Mockingbird, and now the latest will be The Great Gatsby, which comes out May 10.

Over and over, people will say that the book is so much better than the movie. I suppose it’s a way of showing that they actually read the book and are therefore more than just movie and TV consumers.

But this sentiment irks me because a book and a movie are two different beasts. One tells and the other shows.

First of all, a book will contain more details than a movie simply because a book is a medium that lends itself to details. An author must write everything out. If he wants to convey a character’s emotions, he needs to describe the character’s actions, body language, or facial expressions or he could say outright what that character is thinking. Either way, the author must provide details in order to make the picture clear for the reader.

On the other hand, a movie doesn’t need to give the character’s  inner-monologue or describe actions or expressions; the actors can show the audience visually.

Another difference between movies and books is that books tend to have more scenes. Part of the reason for that is another scene in the book doesn’t take much more time (for the reader) or money. The author just needs to write a few more pages. Meanwhile in a movie, adding another scene is costly and can lengthen a movie past the point that audiences will watch. American audiences generally expect a movie to last two hours. Putting in more scenes from the book can make a movie go three or four hours.

Think of Gone With the Wind. which is four hours long. Has anyone ever watched that in one sitting?

Lastly, a book requires much more work on the part of the reader because he must visualize the story. Based on the author’s descriptions, the reader imagines how a character appears and talks, what a setting looks like, etc.

Movies are much easier to grasp. The director has done the visualizing for the audience, so we just need to sit back and watch the film. No imagination required.

Saying a book is better than a movie is an unfair comparison because the media are so different.

One gives you a blank canvas and a paintbrush; the other hands everything to you on a silver platter.

  1. Azevedo said:

    As you, I believe that the comparison might be unfair, and the statement that the book is always better is bs. It’s a preconceived notion. Like my childhood was better than today’s kids. It’s the Golden Age syndrome applied to books vs movies. What you can do is critic the movie and the film and come to the conclusion that one is a better in its medium than the other. And that’s not unfair.
    Recently I saw “Great Expectations”, based on one of Dickens best novels. Is it unfair to say the movie sucked in comparison, even though I could probably give it a passing grade, had I not read it? I don’t think so.
    You choose to adapt Dickens, you owe it to the author to try to either equal it or improve it. What’s the point of attempting less than that if you already have a masterpiece in the original?
    Lastly, I disagree that a book requires more work. I requires different work. A movie is meant to be watched linearly. You can’t read back, or stop to understand something you think you might have missed. Also, is it harder to read on a characters’ face his emotions, or have them narrated in detail to you? Is it easier to grasp the meaning of the color of a flower when it is described to you, or to see it in a frame, accompanied with so much more information?
    You got irked by an unfair comparison of mediums but you ended up doing another yourself.

    • Thanks for weighing in! I didn’t think of a movie being more linear. It’s true that if you don’t understand something in a book or you spaced out, you can just read it again easily. Though sometimes that’s possible with a movie too. Some movies are dense and are meant to be watched more than once. You can also go back to the last scene if you’re watching online or on a DVD. I feel like you’re working from old information on that point.

      • I don’t think I am. The proper way to watch a movie is on a theatre, linearly. You can watch it on your phone. You can watch it at half speed. You can watch it in reverse. But that’s not the true experience. Pausing and reversing are counter intuitive and disruptive.
        A book is different. You’re meant to sometimes stop and think about what you’ve read. You can choose to read 1 page or a hundred are all the pages for that matter.
        But that’s beside the point. I just meant to point out that you corrected a generalization with a similarly wrong one.
        I think we can both agree on the merits of both mediums 🙂

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