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Which to enjoy first: the book, or the movie?

August 11, 2009

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard (or said), “Sure, the movie’s okay, but it’s nothing compared to the book.”

The problem with that statement is that the only response I have to it is, “Well, duh.” Books and movies are two entirely different formats, and it goes without saying that some of the things that people truly enjoy about the book from which a movie is based are going to be lost in translation.

Still, that doesn’t always explain why some movies are so horribly bad, when compared to their books (and the book doesn’t even have to be that good).

A few examples off the top of my head of decent books and bad movies:

(Many people say that they thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but the book was my favorite at the time, and the movie left out some things that I felt could easily have been included.) You get the idea.

But even if a movie based on a book is brilliant (like each of the Lord of the Rings movies, The Princess Bride, etc.), it’s still going to pale in comparison to the book, in 99.9% of all cases.

Which, of course, begs the question: which to enjoy first, the book, or the movie?

For my part, the answer is easy. Since I know and understand that the movie (almost always) pales in comparison to the book, I often vote to see the movie first. Doing it that way, even a truly mediocre movie, like Timeline, can be enjoyable, or even fun, until it’s completely ruined for you by the book.

Now, this solution only really works if you’re a dedicated movie-goer like I am. I really like seeing movies on the big screen. If I can see a movie projected for me across twenty-four plus feet of big screen glory, I will, often regardless of cost (it’s one of the frivolities built into my budget). So I’d rather get my money’s worth from the movies I’m seeing by enjoying them as much as possible. And for me, that means reading the book second.

Of course, that’s the other thing. If you see the movie first, you should still read the book. Because even if the movie was awesome, there is still a lot of merit to enjoying the story in its original format.

And then, there are those few movies which are actually terrible and make no sense if you haven’t read the book (or books), which is another facet of this conundrum. For example, I maintain that the Harry Potter movies are all far more enjoyable if you have read the books, than if you haven’t. The same might be said of the Lord of the Rings movies, but I enjoy both the movies and the books so much, that it’s hard for me to say.

All that waffling aside, here’s a list of movies (based on books or graphic novels) that I highly recommend, and whether or not you should read the book before, or after.

Movie: The Princess Bride
Book: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman
Read the book…: Either before or after. Or not at all, although I hear it’s brilliant.

Movie: The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King
Book:: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkein
Read the book…: Either, probably, but I read them before and it helped me to understand a lot of what was going on, since the movies (and the books) are so complicated.

Movie: V for Vendetta
Book:: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Read the book…: After. I only say this because I loved this movie and almost everyone I talked to who had read the graphic novel before seeing it didn’t like it. It’s a fun, well-constructed movie, and it’s worth being able to enjoy it. I’m hesitating to read it (despite my own advice), because I don’t want to diminish my enjoyment of the movie, which I know is stupid, but there you are.

Movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, HP and the Chamber of Secrets, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, HP and the Goblet of Fire, HP and the Order of the Phoenix, and now HP and the Half-Blood Prince
Book:: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Read the book…: Before, and realize that they’re not going to be able to cram 400 – 700 pages of book into two hours of movie; some judicious editing is required. It’s really neat to see the books put to film, though. As I noted above, howeer, the third book, which is my favorite, turned into a very bad third movie, because of everything that they decided (unnecessarily) to cut.

Also, and I hope to write a recommendation for it in the near future, the sixth movie is by far the best adaptation from the books. It perfectly distills the essence of the book into a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Movie: The Devil Wears Prada
Book:: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Read the book…: After. The movie is brilliant (as I’ve said), and the book is very, very good. Better than the movie, in some ways. But they’re different enough that I found I appreciated them both more reading the book after seeing the movie.

Movie: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Book:: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Read the book…: Either. Truly. The book is excellent, and this is the first movie I’ve seen where the book was short enough, and the vision of the team creating the movie was true enough that there is very little lost between the books and the movies. They didn’t have to cut hardly anything, and it was incredibly magical to see all of the scenes from my childhood projected on the big screen.

So which do you prefer, dear reader? To read the book first or second? And which is your favorite book based on a movie?

Coming Soon…

My take on (and recommendation of) M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2009 11:01 am

    Hi Megan, really enjoyed reading your post because it is the universal dilemma of every movie lover.

    Special thanks for pointing out that the third Harry Potter (Azkaban) falls behind the book like no other Potter. It is listed in so many top ten lists and it’s refreshing to have it highlighted as an example for adaption going wrong (well for me at least)

    I personally read the book first (if I would happen to know it’s based on a book) since I don’t like to have images of settings or character put into my head before I read it.

    Worst book to movie was for me THE BONE COLLECTOR, whereas the book had a very clever motive for the killer, the movie changes the motive to something dull. Read the book and forget the film. Just as a movie, it is ok though.

    Favourite book to movie adaptaions has to be LORD OF THE RINGS, rarely has a movie managed to encapsulate the grand scale of the books. In my opinion that’s where NARNIA is falling short. It’s not able to visually achieve Lewis’ great imagination.

    Thanks for your post!

  2. Kelly permalink
    August 31, 2009 6:17 pm

    I’ve never been able to watch a film before reading the book. It feels weird – I agree with the above poster. If I’ve read the book first my initial character designs or whatever stay no matter how many times I see the film but if I watch the film first then thats all I can see in my head. Which is lame.

    Favorite is either the Pride and Prejudice AMC with Collin Firth or the LOtRs (which you could probably guess :P).

    Also – what do you mean “so I’ve heard” about the Princess Bride book. HAVEN’T YOU READ IT?! Seriously. Read it. Sheesh, how are we still friends…

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