Book First? Movie First? Or Does It Really Matter?

I’m really curious to know where people stand on this!

I am primarily a book-before-the-movie person. For me, it’s about experiencing the story in its original format – I want to embrace it the way the author imagined it, not the way the director interpreted it. I do love to see the adaptations afterwards but I prefer my first encounter to be with the words on the page.

When comparing the two versions, I find the book wins the majority of the time. In a book you get a more complete plot and a richer back story, things which a movie necessarily has to abbreviate due to time restrictions. It is also harder to convey a character’s thoughts in a movie – a reader is privy to the workings of a character’s mind far better than a film viewer can ever be. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is one example of this. While Scarlett Johansson does a fine job in the movie, I feel that the depth of Griet’s turmoil can only be fully understood in the first-person narrative of the book.

But the book doesn’t always win.

Sometimes the movie is simply better than the original – it takes a rambling novel and boils it down to a more concise plot or it brings characters to life that just never made the same impact on the page. I have to confess that I think the Lord of the Rings movies beat JRR Tolkien’s books by a long shot. The action, visuals and score are amazing and all I can say is thank goodness there wasn’t room in the script for forty verses sung by Tom Bombadil…

On the other hand, making The Hobbit into three movies was plain ridiculous (stupid profit-driven film studios).

Every now and then I watch a movie actually hoping that it does a better job than the book. The final instalment in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy was a disappointment for me and the idea of splitting a weak book into two movies (again, stupid profit-driven film studios) was frustrating. However, Mockingjay Part 1 turned out to be a decent adaptation and Mockingjay Part 2 has just been released in the cinema and is on my to-see list. I am quietly hopeful that it will deliver a more satisfying conclusion to the series than the book did.

There are some books that I would love to see made into movies but I have to resign myself to the fact that they never will be. For example, I adored Philip Pullman’s fantasy series His Dark Materials and was thrilled when I heard that the first book was being adapted for the screen. Unfortunately though, The Golden Compass ended up not being a huge success and the movie sequels were never made. Despite the fact that the first one fell short of the mark, I still wanted the other two books in the series to be made into movies and I have been left with a distinct lack of closure because they weren’t. (Stupid profit-driven…well, you get where I’m going with this.)

While a book is always going to be my first preference, there have been occasions where I have ended up encountering the movie first but still wanted to read the book afterwards anyway, e.g. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (no surprises there, given my predilection for historical fiction). In these cases, I am able to disregard the fact that I already know what is going to happen and can enjoy experiencing the story again in a deeper way than the brief two-hour movie.

What’s interesting to note is how much the film industry draws upon the book industry for its source material. In this article on her website, editor Jamie Chavez talks about a similar subject to this and reveals it has been estimated that a third of all movies ever made have been adapted from novels. That is a serious statistic. It just goes to show how passion for a book can so frequently compel a person to tell the story in a different way.

And it is great to have such variety in storytelling. Still, I think I will continue to stick to my original choice – book, you first…but, movie, wait your turn, I’ll get to you too.

So what’s YOUR preference? Have you ever watched a movie and wished you’d read the book first? Are there any books you’ve read that you really want to see made into movies? Do you have examples where you feel strongly that the book wins over the movie or vice versa? I’d love to hear what you think!

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6 thoughts on “Book First? Movie First? Or Does It Really Matter?

  1. calapix says:

    The first time I had this issue myself was with The Bone Collector. My sister was raving about the book and excitedly telling me it’s in the cinema so read it quickly.
    No pressure like 😉
    I read…sorry, gobbled the book down in four days. A, still standing, best record for me. Loved it, total page turner.
    Within a week of finishing the book, we went to the cinema to see it. Both excited. We loved our guts and gore.
    Within the first ten minutes it was obvious the changes they made..I was disgusted. For the rest of the movie, I couldn’t ignore the huge changes they’d made. The movie was nothing like how I’d visualised it! I felt cheated.
    My sister on the other hand, absolutely loved it. It had been a few months since she’d read the book and had forgotten the specifics.
    Clearly it was too fresh in my mind. Never again, I decided that day.
    The book is always better as, like you said, you see it through your imagination. Always the better option 😉
    I now will, eventually go see it in film but will leave a good bit of time inbetween. Sometimes it’s interesting to see some else’s take on a story 🙂

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    • Susie Murphy says:

      I haven’t read or seen The Bone Collector yet but I can imagine how frustrating that must have been for you, especially after having loved the book so much! I did the same thing with The Martian recently, I raced through the book before going to see it at the cinema – luckily the movie delivered but it’s always a risky move. There is such a sense of indignation when the movie messes too much with the original material. I like your policy of leaving a gap between the two, good thinking! 🙂

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  2. Grace Hennessy says:

    Book first every time! I just think reading’s a much more immersive experience that always leaves a longer impression on me than watching a movie. I guess the downside is that I have preconceived notions about how the characters look and speak and am more often than not disappointed when I see the film. Though I have to say Stardust is one where I think the scriptwriters did well to deviate from the novel.

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    • Susie Murphy says:

      That’s very true that a book tends to leave a deeper impression. I guess that’s only natural after having spent so long with the book – I know for me it can take weeks to read a book sometimes and that’s way more time living with the characters than a couple of hours at the cinema or in front of the TV.

      Although, now that you mention it, Stardust is actually a really good example of an improvement from book to movie. That was one where I read the book after seeing the movie but the movie definitely won in the comparison between the two. Thanks for reminding me of it!

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  3. Mam says:

    A lot of detail from a book can be lost in the movie – I know they have to pick and choose for the movie – but you can be left with a character whose depth hasn’t translated well from book to movie or in one case, from book to a 3 part TV mini-series – The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling. The young girl, Krystal, worked very hard to keep her family together and to prevent her young brother from being taken into care (her mother was a drug addict) but a lot of this was lost in the series.

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    • Susie Murphy says:

      That’s the big conundrum when making an adaptation, isn’t it? What should the scriptwriters keep in and what can they afford to leave out. But if it’s a really important element of the book and makes such an impact on the reader, then how can they choose to omit it from the screen translation? It makes you question whether they should adapt it at all unless they can do proper justice to it.

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