15 August, 2011

Chicken or Egg, Book or Movie?

Do you read the book or watch the move first?  Come on, you know it's an either-or question.

I figure there are two types of people in the world. Actually there are three, but I don't count those who never pick up a book and actually read it.  Of the remaining, some read a book and, if they like it, go to see the movie when it comes out...maybe.  Others rush to the local MulitPlex and only read the book if a) the movie was really good or b) the movie was really bad and they're curious to find out if the book is any better.

I fall securely in the first camp.  I'm a writer ergo I read.  I rarely go to the movies. I don't want my sense of time, place and character influenced by a casting manager, set designer or film director.  I hate seeing a movie where the characters look and sound nothing like what I'd imagined while reading the novel. I'm still trying to process the myriad of Miss Marples's I've seen paraded across the screen: fat, skinny, tall, short.

I loved the Harry Potter books, and I'm amazed at the films' casting.  Everyone looks just as they should, in my mind at least.  And the movies are true to J.K. Rowling's' writing.  But whole chunks were left out.  What happened to the house elves and their revolt, for example? You miss a lot if you don't read the books.

Cinematographers take "artistic" license, some to the extent that the original novel is unrecognizable.  Filmmakers invent or amplify characters to appeal to a segment of their audience, such as the part of Meryl Streep in Ironweed.  Can't fault them for making a good movie, but can't love them for butchering an author's work, either.  Would have recognized Robinson Crusoe when watching Tom Hanks in Cast Away? Ok, maybe that's not the best analogy, but you get my point.

Brian De Palma 's adaptation of Wolfe's social satire The Bonfire Of The Vanities totally missed the book's tone.  Where are Wolfe's from-the-inside-out descriptions of stockbrokers, social activists, tabloid reporters, and civil servants?

Bicentennial Man and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen are other adaptations which widely missed the mark - or the novel.

The Scarlet Letter is textbook Hollywood-style revisionism. The film was labeld as a "free adaptation" of Hawthorne's book, which apparently meant including a softcore coupling scene between Prynne and Rev. Dimmesdale that would have had Hawthorne running screaming from the theatre. Not to mention all that PC dribble about Prynne's long-lost husband going native with the local Algonquin tribe, the voyeuristic interlude featuring a horny slave girl, and Prynne furtively pleasuring herself in a bath. And, last but not least, the "happy ending" that never entered Hawthorne's literary mind.

It poured all weekend here – 8 inches (with 2 more predicted for today). It was the perfect weekend for a movie and I really wanted to see The Help.  But I bought the book on Thursday and haven't even had time to read the first chapter. So, no movie theater and pop corn for me.  Instead, I watched five BBC productions of Jane Austen novels on DVD, with a glass of wine and a plate of assorted cheeses for nourishment.

So which are you: reader first or viewer first? Note: non-readers need not reply.


  1. Absolutely, a reader first!

    When the Harry Potter films came out, I was asked by a lot of friends with children if they should see the movie if they hadn't read the books. I always said no. I believe I may have added they should not even have been allowed in the theater.

    I wasn't very popular, LOL.

  2. Dixon Rice NovelistAugust 17, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Usually the book first, but sometimes a movie will introduce you to an interesting author. Also, Crichton, Baldacci & others wrote some stinkers from time to time, but the concepts were turned into pretty good flicks.

  3. +1 to Dixon - I only watch certain types of films anyway and they tend to be ones that I've already read in book form...

  4. I will never read the book after I watched the movie again. Never ever. Did it once and was mightily disappointed. It always works to read the book first and then watch the movie, never the other way round. At least not for me.

  5. After being incredibly disappointed by a couple of movies after reading the books first...I never want to read the book first anymore. Or if I do, never read and watch within the same year.

  6. I always want to read the book before the movie. If I do - like if it is a classic - I am usually so disappointed by the movie because they seem to leave out my favorite part. Since my memory of movies is fading... lol... I am much safer no...