In Defense of Movies Based on Books

[I actually wrote this ages ago for my Livejournal in college… but I still stand by it.]

A surprising amount of movies are based on novels, or short stories, or other original sources. Some of them are faithful adaptations, some of them are wildly different (“A Walk to Remember,” anyone?). Most people agree that movies are rarely as good as the books they are based on, but sometimes, albeit rarely, the movies can even improve on the book. Whether good or bad, film adaptations of novels are most often judged based on their relation to the novel they’re adapting – and it is this which I wholeheartedly protest.

This may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked that films and novels are completely different mediums. A novel is all words, but with those words it can dive into the thoughts of characters and move across centuries of history in a few paragraphs. A film, on the other hand, can include visuals, sounds, and even words, and it can show you an entire room in intimate detail with a single shot, versus the pages of description a novel would require. And visuals can carry far more connotations and suggestions than prose alone.

One random example for something that differs between novels and movies is the use of “strangers” – in a novel, a character must be identified in some manner, either through an epithet or a name, or else it can be impossible to link them from one scene to another; in a movie, a character can be identified by appearance alone, and so maintain a level of mystery that is difficult to sustain in a novel. A movie also has the advantage of “omniscient” POV without the contortions and immense planning a novel has to go through to portray all the different character moments as separate POVs.

Despite the fact that movies and books are completely different mediums, and so are forced to tell stories in different ways, people still insist that film adaptations be identical to their novels. I’ve read plenty of comments on the internet which will bash a film because it made changes from the book – to which I say, which film adaptation doesn’t make changes? Did the author write the exact color of the walls, or the length of the skirt, or the number of books on the shelves? A film adaptation can NEVER be what you have in your mind as you read the book; it can only be the director’s own vision of the screenwriter’s adaptation of the novel. People who criticize films because they don’t represent the book faithfully are missing the point. Watching the film and reading the book are two entirely different experiences, no matter what the director or actors did or didn’t do.

The solution? People must learn to separate the film entirely from the book. View it as its own entity, its own experience, and evaluate it only as a movie, not as a filmed book. The movie can be good or bad based on its own merit, not on the merit of the book it was based on, or on its relation to that book. If a movie completely changes the book, that alone does not make it “bad” – rather, ask yourself whether or not you enjoyed the film. The faithfulness of the movie to the book does not determine whether or not it is a good film. And even the worst or most different movie can never take away from the book itself.

I know it’s not a world-changing issue, but it has just always annoyed me how people bash movies because they’re different from the book. As a lover of both books and movies, I just want people to feel the love.


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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