Sunday 9 December 2012

Book Vs Movies

I read a post recently which complained about the general assumption that any book will be better than its movie adaptation. 

Since the Internet is all about blinding shouting your opinions to the great (mostly-uncaring) masses, I'm taking advantage of my gods-given right to share.

There is a point to her argument.  There are a lot of fabulous ideas which were developed by truly craptactular writers.  And now I'm going to point a finger at some of the most egregious culprits.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, a fantastic adventure of brotherhood and achievement, buried in page after page of description, singing and grammatical flights of fancy.  The story is literally buried in backstory, sidestory, alternastory and probably a few other -story options. 

Swiss Family Robinson and Moby Dick both share the Victorian flaw of a love of catelogues.  Ooh, don't bother telling us anything interesting which might be happening.  Just start listing off various types of flora and fauna.  We'll all be fascinated.  Though to be fair, both of them are less catalogue driven than ancient Greek epics.  The bit with the Trojan horse isn't even in The Illiad, it's all about Achilles moping in his tent because his boss stole his girlfriend ... okay, slave. 

Don Quixote, an insane guy wandering the countryside.  Who could possibly make that suck?  The answer: Miguel de Cervantes.  He was much more interested in pointing out how stupid the contemporary trend of pastoral literature was, but you have to be an expert in 17th century Spanish literature to get the parody sarcasm.

A story takes you on a journey, be it a play, television, book or movie. 

Books allow for a more in-depth and interactive experience.  There's time to think and react and go back and react again.  They require imagination and allow us to be introduced to characters and situations which can truly broaden our minds.

Movies are a much more passive medium.  That's why they can be so mind-blowing.  There's no time for your mind to adapt and so you can get swept into something you didn't expect.  But on the flip side, because they don't have long to make their point and get you interested, they often have to rely on stereotypes and two-dimensional supporting characters.  This makes it really hard for them to break social conventions.

The theatre suffers from many of the same difficulties as movies, but there is a connection in having actual people right in front of your nose.  And it can be a wonderful example to show how much of our communication takes place outside the text.  I knew a teacher whose final drama exam had her students memorize a scene from Hamlet which was then directed by five different directors.  It was a great opportunity to show how different the words can become.

Television is passive but it has the advantage of being able to keep people involved in an evolving story over an extended period.  To me, the best example of this is Babylon 5, which kept mostly the same characters over 110 episodes.  There was incredible character growth among our main players and even the secondaries were able to develop beyond typical stereotypes.

Each medium has its weaknesses and strengths.  But the book is the best at creeping into our lives and transforming them.  Adaptations of the book can echo that or try and expand on it.  Echos are weak repetitions of what has already been done and attempts to expand may fail.  So, yeah, the book always has a strong chance of being better, unless it was pretty awful to begin with.

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