Today's Booking Through Thursday question was suggested by: Superfastreader:
Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to read screenplays for a movie studio for a living. It made me look at movies very differently than I had before. A screenplay is essentially a blueprint for a movie, so reading a screenplay is nothing like seeing the film. But the blueprint has to be solid for the film to be good--in the screenplay there has to be a strong three-act structure, characters we care about, and dialogue that is witty or natural, rather than wooden. Then casting, production design, and the director's vision all come into play, hopefully making the film a visual delight that allows you to immerse yourself in a good story.
So for me, enjoying a film means using different muscles than reading a good book. The visual immersion of a film, for me, is slightly more passive, and more of a roller-coaster ride, than the immersion I have in reading. Reading a good book may be just as immersive, but like I said, it involves different mental muscles. For me, reading is slower, and I will sometimes put down a book after reading something I want to ponder further, and savor it. (I can't imagine getting up from my theater seat and going into the lobby to ponder the theme of a film I'm watching, though I might get up to get more popcorn!)
Novels are a word-based medium, and in a good novel, every word counts. Film is word-based, but is more importantly a visual medium. Here's an exercise for you: The next time you rent a movie, watch it with the sound off, and see how much of the story you can follow. My husband (who works with new directors all the time) would say that the mark of a good director is that his or her film will be almost as good with the sound off.
So, I value books and movies for some of the same things--important themes, characters I relate to, vicarious experiences (like travel to exotic locales), witty dialogue, immersion in imaginary worlds, emotional connection to a story--but for me, movies and books achieve these things in vastly different ways.
There's also the question of whether books and movies mix--what makes for a good adaptation from book to film? I'm sure there are theses out there written on this subject, but I will give you my two cents. One thing I've noticed is that short stories and novellas are easier to adapt to film than really long, complicated novels. I'm not sure exactly why this is, other than the obvious two-hour time limit, but some of my favorite movies based on books have come from shorter works: Brokeback Mountain, Rear Window, The Birds, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me. I'm not saying that adaptations of big books aren't always good, but it almost always feels like a bigger compromise to me.
And the other thing I have to say is that it is better not to judge the book by the movie, or the movie by the book. They just aren't the same thing. I have found that there are some books I didn't like that made good movies, and some really bad movies made from books I loved.
Some of the adaptations to film I really like (other than the list above) are: Ordinary People, Adaptation, Sense and Sensibility (the Emma Thompson version--she wrote and stars in it), Dangerous Liaisons, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Year of Living Dangerously, Blade Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Godfather, The English Patient, Schindler's List, The Remains of the Day, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Apocalypse Now.
What are your favorite movie adaptations?