Is the book always better? Film and TV adaptations

I am one of those people who will almost always insist that a book is better than a film adaptation.  If there is a film or TV series coming out that I want to see which is based on a book, I will always read the book first.  I find reading a book is such an intensely personal experience – the writer gives me the characters and the settings which then live in my imagination.  My own experience of a book and interpretation of the characters and events is mine alone, and will not be exactly the same as anyone else.  That is what makes talking about books such a joy – we can discuss and share and analyse and disagree about books for hours, and no one will be wrong.  The writer has given us a gift which belongs to each of us individually, but which we can all collectively enjoy.

A film or TV adaptation is such a different experience.  We are presented with the director’s interpretation of the story and we lose some of the individuality of the experience.  I want to form my own views and opinions of the characters and the story, and that is why I always want to read the book first – I don’t want to just picture the actors and settings from the film when reading a book that has been adapted.

But sometimes, there will come along a film or TV adaptation that is every bit as good as the original book.  Here are some of my favourites:-

1. Parade’s End

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It is actually Parade’s End that inspired this post.  I have just finished watching the DVD of the BBC series, which I think was a fabulous adaptation of the book.  I will post a separate book review of Parade’s End as it is one of my favourite reads of the year so far.  I did feel the ending of the adaptation was a little rushed but still beautifully done.  Benedict Cumberbatch really brought out Tietjens vulnerable side, but Rebecca Hall as his cruel wife Sylvia absolutely stole the show.  I don’t think that they could have cast that role any better.

2. Revolutionary Road

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This novel surprised me.  I picked it up for a bargain price having vaguely heard of the film as Kate Winslet had been nominated for an Oscar.  It blew me away.  It was a really intimate portrayal of a struggling couple in suburban America in the 1950s.  I was left wondering by the end of it why I had never heard of this novel before and why it wasn’t part of the syllabus to study in school.  I caught the film later, and I loved the book so much, the bar was suddenly set very high for the film.  It did not disappoint.  Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet were both outstanding, and they really captured the struggle of this couple with banality and the realisation they were not the people they had hoped to be.

3. Game of Thrones

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These books are fantastic for their sheer ambition, and for all of the twists and turns that you just don’t see coming.  However, the pace of the books can sometimes be quite slow as there is a huge cast of characters and numerous sub-plots to try to keep track of.  The TV adaptation takes all of the best bits  of the books, cuts out everything that is unnecessary and condenses it into a really exciting and well paced series.  Not all of the characters are portrayed in the same way as I see them in my head, but it is incredibly well written and well acted.

4. Les Miserables

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I have seen the film adaptation of this and an amateur production, and then I read the book.  It is a huge book at 1200 pages plus appendices.  On the whole, I far preferred the musical version both on film and on stage.  I skipped parts of the book, as there was a lot of chapters dealing with general history rather than progressing the narrative.  I found the characters of Marius and Cosette to lack substance in the book; in particular Cosette, who was portrayed as a silly little girl.  The wonderfully comic Thernadiers only really came to life for me in the musical adaptation.  I think I can safely say that I will not re-read Les Miserables, but I am now desperate to see the West End show.

In spite of these gems, I do on the whole much prefer the reading experience to the film/TV experience.  My least favourite adaptations are:-

1. The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights for British readers)

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I absolutely loved Philip Pullman’s trilogy, and Lyra Belaqua is one of my all time favourite characters.  The world of daemons, witches, armoured polar bears, dust and gobblers was so rich and full of imagination that I thought it would be fantastic on the big screen and I really looked forward to the adaptation.  Unfortunately for me, it fell completely flat.  There is a lot going on in the book and perhaps too much to comfortably fit into one film.  As a result, the whole thing felt rushed.  I also felt that the film shied away from some of the darker aspects of the book, and there is one particular incident that drives Lyra throughout the next two instalments in the trilogy which was totally left out of the film version.  I was so disappointed in this adaptation and I am not surprised at all that the sequels have not materialised.

2. The Da Vinci Code

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I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code the first time I read it for it’s original and controversial storyline.  However, there is a lot of information to be conveyed in the book which does make it a bit wordy at times and slows down the narrative.  I thought the film adaptation would be a really good opportunity to move away from the book a little and create something with a bit more pace.  However, the adaptation sticks very closely to the book and so it is slow.  I really feel like this was an opportunity missed to create something really special.

3. Harry Potter

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This is maybe a controversial one, because I think the Potter films are loved about as much as the books.  But I really loved the books and the Hogwarts world that J K Rowling gave to me was absolutely precious.  Not one of the characters in the films came anywhere near the characters that I had in my head.  The closest was Lucius Malfoy in the Chamber of Secrets – I thought the actor playing him would have made a fantastic Snape (blond hair aside).  The worst for me were Voldemort and Dobby.  I have seen all of the films and I am now scared to re-read the books in case the films have now taken over my world created from the books.

Whether it is a hit or a miss, film/TV adaptations and books go hand in hand.  If a book is a huge hit (e.g. Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey) then Hollywood will follow with a film adaptation.  Sometimes lesser well known stories will be picked up and adapted which will then in turn increase the readership of the book.  If there is a book that I have read and enjoyed then I will always be pleased to see that it has been adapted to (hopefully) give me another chance to enjoy it all over again in a different medium.  There is one book on my bookshelf (Sand Daughter by Sarah Bryant) that I am desperate for someone to adapt into a film, because I think it is a fantastic story which should be more widely read.

I am a total bookworm so I think I will always be a “book is better” girl, but whatever my opinion on the final product, I am glad that these adaptations are made to bring great works of fiction to new audiences, and hopefully inspire some of them to pick up a book and discover these worlds for themselves.

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Posted on August 26, 2013, in The Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I usually prefer the book to the film but TV series can be a very different prospect.

    • blankpagesandbooks1

      I agree, I think that’s probably why I enjoyed Parade’s End so much as a I think a lot of the story would have been lost if it had been crammed into two hours of film, but over a TV series there is a lot more time to go into depth.

  1. Pingback: 30 day book challenge – day 4 – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated. | Blank pages and books

  2. Pingback: 30 day book challenge day 8 – Most underrated book. | Blank pages and books

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