Film v.s. Literature….by Bill McCormick

       I was in class the other day, half listening to a discussion on the general effects of literature. The subject was redirected somehow to directly compare film against literature. The overall consesis of the discussion being that people would rather see a movie than read the literature it is based on. Not only that, but this is wrong and film is nowhere near the level of storytelling quality when compared to literature.

                Let me tell you guys something. I love reading. I don’t do it as often as I should, but anything I read. I always have fun. Literature is important not just to me, but in general. It is a dream of mine to write both a film trilogy and a novel series. The two are of equal value to me. The opinion that film is incomparable in the most general sense to literature to be an idea that is throw around in a classroom like it is a stone cold fact is not only offensive, but it is flat out wrong. What no one seems to recognize is the fact that a large portion of films are either inspired by, or developed directly from literature. Not only that, but films are only made after developing a written screenplay either from literature or originally. This screenplay is just as imaginative to the mind visually as literature. Perhaps even more so since everything in a script is specifically written and meant to be seen visually in some way. A script isn’t magically easier to write than a novel just because the final product doesn’t stay on the page. Whether it is original or adapted, a film starts from the written page. People always seem to forget that fact.

                Now, literature and film are two things which can work together in my world and support each other. I certainly don’t choose between the two. When the two work together, I can fully appreciate both separately. I don’t understand why other people can’t. This is especially true of people who go and see movies from books they love. Do you know what these people all have in common? None of them are satisfied with the film. Ever. There is always something missing, it was changed from the book, or actors don’t look like the character or blah blah blah. I get it. You read the book first and are directly comparing the film to it. That doesn’t make the film wrong because it differs from the book and it doesn’t make the book better because it differs from the film. Its called an adaption for a reason.

                If you give me the choice, I will watch the movie first and then read the book. If I know a film is being made directly from a book I haven’t read. I won’t touch it until after I see the movie. This is daunting to people. How dare I? Well guess what, I don’t have anything to complain about while watching the movie do I? No, I get to watch it fresh and clean the first time just like you did reading it. Guess what, the story is still effective the first time. Also if it is interesting enough to me than I will read the book almost immediately after I see the movie. I’ll pick up on all the stuff that was either changed or left out just like you did. The difference is the film doesn’t get worse because I read the book. The book gets better because I saw the movie. Think about it. All the extra scenes and missing stuff gets added to the mythology and I get to see the same story told two different ways. I basically get to experience the same story twice and both are rewarding in their own right. On the other hand, if I find a good novel and read it before a film is made than so be it. I have no qualms about seeing it in theaters afterward. I can separate the two because I take the elements of the novel and see it onscreen totally happy. Same story, two different ways of telling it. Do I notice things are changed or missing? Of course I do, but I’m not uptight about it. The film doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of the book just because it would please people who have read the book first. What is the point of that? Just read the book again.

                At the time, my girlfriend begged me to read the Hunger Games novels before the movie came out. I refused until after the first movie. Did I see the first movie and then read the novel and say, “The film is so much better than the novel?” and start picking apart the novel? Of course not and why? I don’t look down on films for being based on literature I’ve read. I don’t judge books for being the inspiration for the film I’ve seen. Does anyone make that argument ever? This high and mighty opinion of literature over film makes no sense to me. This “don’t take it seriously” aura of films is what is daunting to me. I mean really, what makes you’re experience of laying in bed or sitting in a library and reading so much better and more important than me sitting in a theater or laying on the couch and watching a film. I’m not talking about comparing War and Peace to reality tv. I’m not taking about Citizen Kane to Thirty Shades of Grey. I just don’t understand the ultimate debate that one is better than the other or especially, that I have to choose one or the other. I’m a huge fan of Batman despite rarely reading the comic books. I’m willing to bet a ton of people are exactly the same. This argument is the equivalent of comic book geeks saying the Batman movies suck because they don’t follow the comic books. It’s just pretentious and I already explained that it doesn’t go both ways. It is possible to love both the novel and the film. Yet, people will fawn over a book they love and hate the film because it wasn’t the novel. No kidding? Not to mention the fact that people who do this rarely understand any of the effort or struggle it takes not only to write a screenplay, but to transition pages from a novel like that into a film that works and appeals on its own. That is a lot of hype to deal with and taking it out on the filmmakers for doing something new with well known material really handicaps them for doing their job and doing it well. It’s unfair.

                Despite what you read or see on screen, both work on their own. Look at what Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings have been able to accomplish in two industries. People love both separately. Why is there a double standard on every other novel turned film? A lot of this is because of the two to three hour standard of movies. Would you watch a four, five or even six hour Harry Potter film? I would in a heartbeat and you know what? Everyone would be satisfied. Unfortunately, the people don’t want that and film studios don’t want that either. Hollywood cares about the money and these people pay for a ticket to a movie they will just complain about. As long as this comparison exists and film isn’t given its due, than people will continue to complain about something that is out of anyone’s control. Despite your side, the last thing film represents is a lower standard of storytelling just because the final product is on screen and not strictly on the page.

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2 responses

  1. Movie before the book, yes sir!

  2. I think the emphasis in this debate needs to be on storytelling – something which the written word and film do very differently, and this difference should be celebrated! The other thing is, a lot of the time book people (which I include myself in) tend not to appreciate film as a fully fledged form of art, which is really, really sad. So instead of seeing the amazing creative process of adapting a great novel into a great film, they just see focus on whatever their imagination tapped into in the novel, but which the director chose not to include. This narrow and ultimately selfish view simply fails to understand the wonderful diversity of (usually visual) interpretation which comes from the written word – the very thing which the stoic lovers of certain novels claim they have over film!

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