The Book is Better than the Movie

How many times have you read a book that sparked your imagination and made you long for more? When you discover that someone has optioned the movie rights for the story, you thrill at the possibilities. Then you see the movie, and disappointment sets in.

Why do they never get it right?

I used to get so frustrated about book-to-movie productions. They always changed things.

In the classic, The Wizard of Oz, they changed Baum’s silver slippers to ruby slippers to take advantage of Technicolor—especially appealing since part of the movie is black and white and part is color. Okay, I get that.

In Runaway Jury, they changed Grisham’s big court case against the tobacco industry into one against the gun lobbyists. Very Hollywood PC.

These days I try to be understanding. The old saying ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words’ somehow doesn’t always apply to movies. Words on a page are inclusive. They trigger your imagination. You see the characters as you wish them to be. The places they go extend far beyond the width of a theatre.

Images on the screen are concrete. Real people portray the characters. The actors now define the protagonist’s appearance and limitations with their own.

Frodo will forever have Elijah Wood’s baby-face. Aslan will always growl and purr with Liam Neeson’s deep voice.

What is the solution? How does the film industry communicate a classic story without diminishing the literary value? Every weekend millions of people worldwide flock to movie theatres to see the newest blockbuster, while libraries across the country sit nearly empty.

I’m not saying this is good—it’s just a fact. In addition, I’m certainly not against movies adapted from books. I love that the movie medium extends the boundaries of literature.

I suppose what I’m saying is, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

If I’m going to see a film based on a book that I already love, I try to walk a mile in the director’s shoes. What challenges did he face to make this story? Think about it—he must really love this book, too, or he wouldn’t have messed with it.

It’s even better if a movie leads me to read a book. In those instances, I typically end up liking both incarnations of the story.

I no longer dismiss movie adaptations simply because of the innate limitations. I try to embrace the experience as an opportunity to share a good story. After all, that’s the common ground of film and literature.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!

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