Monday, August 10, 2009

Reading the book or seeing the movie first?

The Time Traveler’s Wife is coming out and I really want to see the movie. However, as an avid reader, I also want to read the book. My concern is which I should do first: see the movie or read the book. For me doing both is not a problem. The problem is while I prefer to have read the book before the movie; it makes me enjoy the movie less.

I love reading. To me, what makes a good story is when I see the movie play out in my head as I devour each word. I cast characters. I envision locations. I do everything that movie producers do, but in my head. Then, when I go to see the movie I always try to prepare myself. One, I know that the story, in plot and dialogue, will not be told exactly as in the book. Two, the characters will most definitely not look as I have envisioned them. Three, the scenes or moments that I think are critical will not be the same ones the writers and directors see as critical and therefore included in the film. And so on, and so on…

But even with all of my preparations the best reaction I have had to date is, “It wasn’t the fiasco I was expecting (Twilight, Stephenie Meyer).” The worst reaction I have had was, “That was such a horrible adaptation it makes me not want to read the writer again (Needful Things, Stephen King)." But there are some adaptations that differ from the books on which they are based but are still very good. The example for this is the Trueblood series on HBO based on the Southern Vampire series or Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris.

After watching the first season I proceeded to buy and read all of the books she has written. While my feelings about the books actually fluctuate (some I love and some I read just to get to the next one) so far, I do love the TV show better.

And maybe that’s the secret. Part of the problem of adapting a novel into a movie is that you have to force the story into something that’s told in roughly 110 minutes. Therefore many of the small subtleties are left out or butchered. Whereas with television, you have at least twelve to thirteen sixty-minute episodes over which to tell the story on HBO and other pay channels; on network TV you usually have a minimum of twenty episodes.

Well, I guess the verdict is when the adaptation is a movie, watch the movie first to minimize disappointment. If the adaptation is a television series, reading the book first is safe.



Sheryl Tuttle said...

I like your post and it makes sense to me. Like you, I want to see Time Travelers Wife and read the book. I think maybe this time I'll try seeing the movie first.

Anonymous said...

There is something deliciously special about reading a book and then later watching it play out on the big screen. However, I find that there's something masochistic in this process as well. For one, the movie thereafter deletes the character you had created in your mind. (Harry Potter is and forever will be Daniel Radcliffe.) Also, the memories of movie and book begin to merge, so that in the end you may not remember whether or not a scene had occurred originally. Generally, the book is better than the film, but even when the movie is better, like Twilight, it's still delightful to see what was edited out, what was added, and then try to figure out why. It's like belonging to a secret club.

Dorlana said...

I don't think I have ever read a book after I watched the movie, but I've been thinking about reading Stardust because I loved the movie. With this one, and Julie and Julia I wanted to read the book first - but if the opportunity arrives to see one of these first, I wouldn't say no.

Paramitch said...

As someone also inspired by fairy tales and archetypes in her fiction, first off, kudos! I love your work and websites.

On Time Traveler's Wife, I really disliked the book. It was cold and unlikeable, fussily written (it felt like a writing exercise) and the main character (the wife) just felt completely unreal to me. There are few characters to like or actively root for (and the main characters' "friends" are just awful people). But it was beautifully plotted, and the final moments would have been moving if I hadn't hated the characters so much.

However, weirdly enough I can't wait to see the movie. The book was well-plotted, and with a strong story and two enormously talented and likeable actors, it will probably be far more moving and believable to me than the book was.

I'd honestly recommend skipping the book until you see the film. The film's portrayals will probably make the book characters seem more likeable than they were to me, and the book will add depth to the film you just saw without detracting from it.

Just my 2 cents in case it helps! And totally agree on "True Blood." (The show is far better than the books.)


Angela Mitchell

Humble Fiction Cafe said...

Well if the book is hard to follow I guess seeing the movie first is an even better idea. But I will eventually go back and read the book because I do like knowing those secret details and the changes made for the adaptation as well.

When an adaptation is well done then the details will start to merge in my memory as well.