Monday, February 16, 2009

books on film

It's Oscar week.  Meaning, that on Sunday night you should be able to find me on a couch somewhere with popcorn, Reeses Pieces, and a Diet Coke literally glued to a television screen while Hollywood celebrates itself and produces the most glamorous commercial ever for pretentious movies we might not otherwise have seen - as well as a few nods to those we all saw.  

In honor of that, my favorite night in television, I'm talking movies this week.  That may mean this is the only post you get, because it's not like I have it all planned out.

You may notice this is not a picture of a movie but of the book that birthed a movie.  I just read it as I loved the movie, and friends told me the book was so much better.  I assumed I would agree with them but also felt a little trepidation having seen the movie first and loved it so much.  Sure enough, in this case, I prefer the movie.  Now, I'm pretty sure there's a club I'm being kicked out of right now.  It's literary and writer-supportive and thoroughly convinced that the book is always better.  And I just totally shamed them.

I love books.  Love, love, love them.  I write them for goodness' sake.  And I read them, and I adore them.  This one is truly lovely.  The premise is absolutely beautiful, the characters are loveable, it's realistic and uplifting.  It's just very good.  Almost the only major plot difference is that the movie is set in America about an American who fell in love with an Irishman.  In the book, they are all, of course, Irish.  I really enjoyed that aspect of the movie - probably because I saw it that way first.  The relationship between Holly and her husband in the book is kind of plain in comparison.  In the movie, it is rich and poetic and unique.  Also, his letters to her in the movie just have more umph.  He is not just giving her a list of things to get done but a journey for finding herself again.  I think this was the point of the book as well, but it wasn't as poignant.  I missed the soundtrack, the gorgeous clothes, and the tighter humor that comes with the collaborative effort and condensed time frame of film.

Also, I missed the creative aspect.  That was the most relatable part of the film for me - the way she used to want to create things.  In the book, she simply finds a job.  In the movie, she finds a beautiful creative outlet you can't help but think she was destined for.  

I think the reason the book is usually better is because it is more.  It develops the characters more thoroughly.  It tells the story at a slower, richer pace.  It requires more imagination and therefore gets inside you in a way movies sometimes can't.  In this case, I felt the film gave me more.  It's possible that I was just swept up by the dreamy Irish guys, the moving music, and the pretty shoes.  Which are all things the film medium loves to give us.  There's another club that celebrates that.  I'm a member of it too, but you just can't always please them both at once.


Brett said...


You have fallen victim to the phenomenon of "media first impression" (for lack of a better term). As is almost always the case, you find yourself preferring whatever medium (book, movie, play) with which you first experienced a story. While a book is almost always superior to the movie, the first impression carries a bunch of power and should never be underestimated.

Personally, I am a huge sucker for first impression. I can only think of a few times when I have overcome this condition, but even those were not fair fights. For example, something compelled me to read the book Ben-Hur even though I found the movie to be rather long and tedious. Much to my surprise, the book was fanstastic.

P.S. I thought P.S. I Love You was average (too chick-flicky for me).

Sarah said...

I also preferred the movie to the book! I think it might have something to do with whether you watched or read it first. I also read it after the movie. On the other hand, most of my friends that read it first have written me off as a lost cause as they didn't care much for the movie.

serenity said...

It's always such a bummer to realize you're a walking cliche. But it's so often true for me that I usually just embrace it. I'm so going to be on the lookout for this media first impression thing and see if I ever break it - Princess Bride comes to mind. Love both, but the book is just so much more of all the goodness.

WidneyWoman said...

Have you seen the list of Hollywood star bankability? I looked at the bottom first. I had to see who was ranked least bankable. I felt sorry for them.

Den said...

I'm not convinced that the accusation of "media first impression" sticks here. I haven't read the book, and I'm not a huge fan of the movie (nothing against it per se and I do love Gerard Butler since I first saw him in Dear Frankie, which I hope you have seen), but I think you gave good reasons for why you preferred the movie. Movie humor does often trump book humor, though I would not at all put that as a universal standard I just mean that some movies are funnier than the books from which they are drawn. To add my anecdotal evidence to your analysis of why you liked it better, I have done both movie first and book first on several occasions. I don't generally find that the first exposure I have is the one I prefer, it depends a great deal upon the details.

As one final note on this theme, last year I read The Prestige. I loved the film and wanted to see what the book was like. In this case, I prefer the film, but I don't know that I would say it was better. The two were different enough that they are like different tellings of the same story. Perhaps this is due to the screenwriters (I think the Nolans are really smart about storytelling). However, I didn't think that the book suffers from this comparison, it is just a different story and it clearly inspired another great story.

Okay, I lied about one more point, I've got another (I like movies and books too much to pass this conversation up). I recently watched Brideshead Revisited. The novel is highly acclaimed and justly so. I think it would be enormously difficult to make a film version of it, though I have heard that the BBC production was quite good (though also something like 8 hours). The film does a fantastic job telling the story, in part because they took narrative liberties to make it work as a film. They did this while also evoking the atmosphere and the characters beyond what I would have imagined they could (I even read about alternative choices for actors that were considered and I think it would have ruined the film). So, here's a case where I love the film because it evoked the book so well without trying to be (or beat) the book.

All that to say that I think that there are a great number of ways that books and films can be related, and I support you in your claim that you can have reasons other than order of encounter for loving one over the other. I also think your bit about usually the book being more is pretty sharp.

serenity said...

I love that line, Den, that you like books and movies too much to pass this conversation up. That is just how I feel. I think you definitely understand where I'm coming from. I'm hoping a dissenting voice will pipe up and tell me exactly why they preferred the book, so I can see if I did miss some of its riches due to the first impression phenomenon. (If not, maybe it's they who suffer from it!) Thanks for the compliment at the end, and I have NOT seen Dear Frankie but will put it on my list immediately.

serenity said...

Simone, I haven't seen that list. It sounds harsh. I'll see if it's still online.

Brett said...

While a book does have more, that isn't always a positive, in my opinion. Moby Dick is a good example of this. (I prefer the original movie with Gregory Peck, having watched it before reading the book.) There are chapters of the book which are almost unreadable due to their highly detailed depictions of all things related to whales and whaling. While the book is without a doubt an American classic, the "less is more" approach of the movie is greatly appreciated by this reader/viewer.

Other books that I find to be bloated to their own detriment:
The Stand (Stephen King)
Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)

serenity said...

Yea, I definitely understand that, Brett. That was certainly one of my problems with this book. It had a lot more scenes than the movie, but they were repetitive. There really wasn't any more story. There were a lot more characters though. I bet that was one reason people who read the book first might have disliked the movie. It's missing an entire parent and a boatload of siblings . . .

Kelly H-Y said...

Hmmm ... I'm intrigued ... haven't seen the movie or read the book, but definitely wanted to see the movie when it first came out! Great review and comparison.

Kara said...

Okay since you explained yourself so well I'll forgive you for picking the movie over the book.

I think that one of my big issues is that I thought Hilary Swank was such the wrong casting choice for Holly that it bugged me all the way through the film and distracted me from other parts I would have otherwise enjoyed.

Of course if you hadn't read the book before seeing the film that wouldn't have mattered at all :)

serenity said...

Kara, I think I understand your Hillary Swank issue. She's not usually one of my favorites anyway - and yea, I never would have pictured here after reading the book.