Which One is Better–the Book or the Movie?

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The dictum says the book is always better than the movie. Consider: you read a great novel, get absorbed in the fictional world, accompany the characters on their journeys. Your imagination creates every face, pictures every scene. You lose yourself for pages and pages.

You loved the book.

You hate the movie. Or, at best, the movie is okay. They did a pretty good job repurposing this incredible reading experience into a two-hour, three-act format. But you never would have cast that actor in the lead. Then there was the scene that wasn’t in the book. Also, they left out an entire, important subplot. And where was the rain–in the book it was raining all the time.

So of course the book was better. And I agree: the book is always better–but only if you read the book before you see the movie. If you see the movie first and love it so much that you are compelled to read the novel, I think you might be underwhelmed.

Not because the novel isn’t great. It had to be great to be made into a movie, right? (No, but that’s a different topic). But everyone already told you how much they loved the book. The film simply couldn’t capture the complexity and depth of the novel, and therefore wasn’t as good.

Which brings us to my theory: A story is most compelling and satisfying the way you first experience it–whether a book or film.

A story is most compelling and satisfying the way you first experience it–book or film.

If you see a movie (or the miniseries) before you read the book it is based on, you will already have a complete story world in your mind before you read the first sentence. You already see the characters and the settings–in this case, a picture literally is worth a thousand words.

Before you pick up the book, you have heard the music and the sound effects. You know the pacing, the plot points, the big scenes. You know the ending is hugely satisfying. You’ve already talked about the movie with others.

You can still appreciate the book. But as much?

Some movies are better than the book, no matter what order you experience the story in. Jaws comes to mind. So does the Godfather. The Graduate.

Sometimes the books and the movies are both beloved by audiences: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings.

I remember once reading a novel, loving it, and then seeing the movie a few years later, and loving that, too. The World According to Garp, by John Irving. It was a seminal novel for me, my first Irving, and I was taken by his voice and the inventive characters and plot. I remember imitating his writing style for a while.

I thought the movie was fantastic. Robin Williams was perfect as Garp, as was Glenn Close as his mother, Jenny, and John Lithgow as Roberta Muldoon. The episodic and comedic complexity of the novel was in the film told in a series of short scenes, most of them 90 seconds or less, written by Steve Tesich, directed by George Roy Hill.

For me, the movie hit all the right notes. As did the novel.

What’s better–the book or the movie? If we’re lucky, the answer is both.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

Novels

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