Books and Movies: Different not ‘Better’

So I’m going to see Catching Fire tonight and I’m totally pumped about it, but I feel like I’ve spent all week explaining to people that I can like books and movies differently but equally. This apparently confuses people. Because I’m a librarian. And Librarians are supposed to like books. And I DO LIKE BOOKS GUYS I REALLY DO I PROMISE.

But…. I like movies too.

come again?I KNOW!

So here’s the thing….

Pretty much ever since movies have existed there have been books that were made into movies. And I’m going to go out on a limb here, but even without any statistical research to back me up, I feel pretty confident saying that ever since books have been made into movies people have bitched about things that got changed in the process. Which is, on one level, a good thing because that means that readers are invested in the story and the characters. That they feel an emotional attachment – which is kind of the whole point of books. But on another level the constant comparison is stupid since the changes often become as much, or more, a part of our cultural awareness as time goes on.

For example did you know that in the book of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s shoes are actually silver? The studio decided to change it because color film was a BRAND NEW thing and they thought that ruby slippers would look better because they’d be all LOOK AT ME I AM RED AND THAT IS FANCY. And, well….they were right, and the ruby slippers have become so iconic that they are on display in the Smithsonian (Spoiler: they look like ordinary shoes with red sequence sewn all over them. You’re welcome.). Does it really matter if the shoes are red or silver? No. What matters is that they look magical because they are magical.

It’s not just cosmetic things either. In the book Dorothy doesn’t click her heels three times, instead the shoes take her home in three giant leaps. Rhett doesn’t say “Frankly” at the beginning of his famous line in Gone with the Wind and Frodo is supposed to be 50 years old.

But we’ve all gotten over these changes and lived to tell the tale.

But when it comes to new productions of movies from books that we’re invested in, it seems like every little change makes people loose their freakin minds. Now, did I miss Fred and George’s hilarious banter that was missing from the movies? Hell yeah! But I also know that you can’t make a movie line for line from a book or it would be even longer than the tragically overstuffed Hobbit.

sorry(But seriously PJ, no one cares about Radagast. No one.)

noSo anyway…just to reiterate– I DO LOVE BOOKS! I LOVE THEM A WHOLE LOT!!! This is not about loving or not loving books. This is about how books and movies are totally different mediums and they do things in different ways.

And yeah, there are some movies of books that are TERRIBLE: Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and The Golden Compass come to mind. Also My Sister’s Keeper where they completely changed the ending and the third Anne of Green Gables movie which was like any resemblance to the books was purely coincidental.

On the other side of the scale, though, are books that actually do better on film. Fight Club is an often cited example. Or Game of Thrones, which I kept starting and abandoning until after I’d seen the entire first season of the HBO show. I could finally make headway once I had a face to put with the characters because there are so many damn names and families and enemies, and, I mean I have the ability to keep all that shit straight but I really have better things to do with my energy mmmkay. Or the big battle scene in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which- in the book- is actually told in flashback by the boys to the girls after it is all over.

The tiny details we obsess over are just usually not that important when translating a book into a movie. John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, recently talked about about why he doesn’t care that the guy playing Isaac has the “wrong” color of hair. As a writer you put in lots of descriptive details to help the reader create an image in their mind, otherwise your characters are just undefined blahness. Those details should contribute to the general essence of the character.

But when you go to cast someone to be a visual representation of that character on screen the essence is so much more important than the details. The point of Harry’s eyes being a big deal is because they look like his mother’s, not because they’re green. Being green is a detail, having his mother’s eyes is part of the essence of Harry.

Isaac’s hair color is not a significant part of his essence. Anne Shirley’s, on the other hand, TOTALLY IS, which is why when that horrible book-cover-that-shall-not-be-linked-to appeared people were absolutely justified in loosing their shit. I was one of them. A central part of Anne’s identity is that she’s a red head so YOU CAN’T CHANGE THAT. *evil eye*

The whole point of a book or a movie or a tv show is to make you FEEL shit and THINK about shit, right? Right. So even though HP7 took out the moment when Percy comes through the door and admits to his family he was a dumbass which broke my little fangirl heart, the visual image of My Beloved Hogwarts getting destroyed translated emotion in a way that the words on the page never quite managed.

And even though I missed Madge like crazy from the Hunger Games movie because she’s awesome (and I ship Katniss+Madge like WHOA cuz really I think that should have been the ending for realz), introducing and explaining her would have taken up time that was better spent watching the Careers mock the girl they had just killed in cold blood EXACTLY THE SAME as the cheerleaders at my high school mocked the nerdy kids with glasses.

Or like when Perks of Being a Wallflower was announced I was all kinds of worried because it is ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS EVER WRITTEN EVER. And yeah I was disappointed not to have the poem scene in there, but what mattered to me is that the movie made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS that my little closeted 17 year old self felt when I read it for the first time in the back of the library in high school.

So I think it’s time to stop this endless mantra of “The book is better” because it’s not about better or worse, its about a fundamentally different experience that uses different tools and is meant to take up a different time frame. When movie adaptations are bad, it’s not because film is always inherently inferior to print but because they are just BAD ADAPTATIONS. (cough-Les Miserables-cough)

So read the book before you see the movie or after it. I mean, I strongly encourage you to read books that get made into movies (and just READ BOOKS IN GENERAL), but accept that they will be different, because I promise you that they will.

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