Book or Movie?

July 27, 2020  •  2 Comments

Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego A while back I had an interesting e-mail conversation with Tracy Schultze about movies and TV series adapted from books.  The specific show was Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick) that was on Amazon Prime. The discussion awakened some of the thoughts I've had brewing inside for years as I was once a film buff and always a reader.  


I’ve come to accept that books and their adapted films are two valid and valued art forms with their own positive and negative characteristics. The book, of course, will be the primary source and where we go for the authentic narrative. But, film can be a masterful art form and, if done right, offers an enriching experience to an author’s work (a soundtrack for one!). What I get from a film version is the director’s re-telling of a story as he/she experienced it and with his or her artistic input. Some do it better than others and some directors I trust with story more than others but I have no qualms about film adaptions. For the most part I welcome them.

WRT High Castle I only saw the first season and enjoyed it enough to watch more but just haven’t gotten to it. I’ve not read the book(s?) and actually I’ve only read one of DIck’s books so I’m not in any way qualified to say whether this adaptation is good or bad. I just know i enjoyed the film. It’s a common complaint that a film isn’t true to the source but that’s the nature of film making. I’ve read LOTR twice, once just a few months before Jackson’s trilogy started, and found his movies exceptional and I’ve watched them multiple times. I sincerely doubt anyone outside of academia is more well versed in Tolkein’s narrative than Jackson and his team. They loved the books probably more that I do so I trust them to present as close to an authentic telling as possible within the bounds of film making. Of course I saw the missing bits and some changes but it was not distracting in the least and I’d be very willing to both read the book and see the movies again and again.

The same goes for the Ice and Fire series (adapted to Game of Thrones). I read the first three books before seeing any of the HBO series and I read the next two after seeing a season or two but other than I now have Peter Dinkledge imprinted on me as Tyrion along with the actors playing Arya, Cerci, Jamie and the rest I understood why some plot lines were cast aside in favor of expedience or pacing the films. I wanted to see Lady Stoneheart come on screen and grumbled a bit when she didn’t but I’ll always have the books if I want to follow that plot line. I don’t see it as a reason for rejecting what is really an excellent series in favor of some purity test. Take each for what they offer and allow them to compliment each other rather than oppose.

You can extend this argument to nearly all of the classic films that were adaptations but who wants to judge Gone with the Wind or The Maltese Falcon against their respective novels? Just enjoy them for what they are—entertainment.

I’ve always been a book-first, movie-second person but over the years (many, many years) I’ve adjusted that attitude a bit. There are hundreds of movies I’ve seen and loved where I never read the book. So, Judy Garland will forever be Dorothy Gale and Anthony Perkins will always be Norman Bates. And, if I should ever get around to reading the books I doubt I’d be annoyed if they were described differently in the pages. It becomes sort of a chicken-and-egg thing (whichever entered my life first is the ‘real’ version).

I’m rambling now. This question of book vs. movie has rambled around in my head for years so this gave me an opportunity to spill some of it. Probably more than you expected or wanted.


Todd Henson(non-registered)
I've always gone back and forth with this and find it very much depends on both the specific material in question and my mood at the time. If it's a genre or story that really resonates with me I'll typically want to read the book first. And in some cases I may choose to never watch the film/show, but oftentimes I will. But there are some cases where I suspect the story is such that I might enjoy it just as much in movie form so I may skip the book and just watch the film. This doesn't happen often, but sometimes. I do find myself craving films that are written as films, though, instead of adapted from some other medium. Films that are best suited to that medium because that's the medium the creator had in mind in the first place. There's something about each creator creating something specific to their medium of choice that really appeals to me. But I do also enjoy many adaptations. The LotR series is a good example. I much preferred the books, but I thought the movies were very well done. They differed in many ways but I felt they were true to the spirit of the source material. Honestly, though, I do sometimes find it annoying how watching a film can then influence how I picture characters or scenes. Sometimes it feels as if I've lost something, that I've lost my own image of the character or scene and had it replaced by someone else's. Perhaps that's why I prefer books, I'm the one imaging everything based only on description. I'm currently watching It: Chapter 2, based on Stephen King's book. And as is usually the case, I much prefer the book but I'm also enjoying seeing how someone else interprets the work and how they adapt it into film. Some parts I don't care much for, others I very much do. I fully expect my views on this to continue to change over the years, flowing back and forth, back and forth. :-)
An excellent premise for a post Joe. With my son as an author and my daughter as a budding director of photography, we have often discussed this very topic. For the three of us, books come first, movies second. Even for my daughter who will refuse to see a book-based film without reading the book first. She also refuses to watch movie trailers for similar reasons, that being that she does not want to be influenced by someone else's interpretation. I attest to being much the same. For me, movies take away any interpretations one makes when reading a book. It's not a bad thing but I do like to see where my mind goes, where my imagination takes me when reading a book. Seeing a movie first short-circuits the experience. It is much the same with art. I do not like to read an artist's note on an art piece until after I have had a chance to see where it takes me all on its own. It is a joyful experience when a movie matches my imagination (LOTR being a good example) but it can be an equally worthwhile experience when the movie deviates from my imaginings, giving me an entirely new perspective.
Interestingly, my son is less picky about what he sees first, book or movie makes no difference. He seems to be able to interpret each without bias or influence. Taking from each medium whatever he wishes. However, when it comes to his own books, I don't think he would appreciate any deviation or artistic interpretations. Considering that one of his stories is as large as R. R. Martin's Ice and Fire series, he could work with the likes of Jackson and his team but not with the HBO GoT team (especially after what they did in the last season :) ).
Anyway, thanks for a good read Joe..
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