Stop comparing the movie to the book

open book on top of a stack of closed books in a library

Most of us are guilty of that one phrase: “the movie just wasn’t as good as the book.”

As someone who reads 60+ books a year, more than a few of which have been made into films, and someone who has also:

  • listened to Stephen Frey’s audio reading of the entire Harry Potter series three times through;
  • Waited in line for Lord of the Rings 3 for eight hours (yes, I was in elementary school and yes, my parents let me skip), and
  • Watched all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones knowing it would spoil the book ending,

I used to utter this phrase all. the. time.

And you know what? It really detracted from my enjoyment of story, through all of the mediums through which they’re told.

Books and movies have different strengths, and we should applaud that

With a book, you get to become a protagonist.

Hell, sometimes you get to become dozens.

You have a chance to see and experience the world through their eyes; make good and bad decisions; and feel happiness, enthusiasm, joy, regret.

You get to grow with a character, understand their motivations, and in so doing, understand the world just a little bit better.

In a book, you have this opportunity because you’re omnipotent.

You’re reading a character’s thoughts and learning their intentionality at the same time you’re observing their actions.

In a movie, intentionality can’t be easily communicated because you don’t have access to a character’s inner monologue. And think about it: you probably don’t want it.

Imagine sitting through a twelve-hour cut of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, filled with long narratives illustrating Harry’s tortured inner world.

Imagine knowing Harry’s thoughts so deeply that none of his actions come as a surprise to you — if anything, every action he takes is an utter bore.

We don’t want that from film and honestly, we don’t need it.

Because we can be shown so much, we can take away subtle detail with every small scene. If we’re paying close enough attention to a character’s expressions, their tone of voice, the setting — we’re absorbing a ton about the character and the story without even really realizing it.

In film, we also want a little mystery, a little suspense. We want to reflect on why a character acted in ways that, given our rational mind, may seem absurd. We want to wonder what will happen next.

Film has to show us, not tell us.

Sometimes, this means adapting critical scenes to make a character’s motivation clear and the storyline seem plausible. Sometimes it means removing scenes that just can’t be explained visually without adding bulk that doesn’t improve the story.

As a reader, film has actually helped me enjoy books more.

Film has helped me visualize landscapes that are vast and complex.

Film has helped me more deeply understand relationships between diverse characters.

And honestly, it has helped me enjoy some of my favourite stories in 2 hours, instead of 10.

Comparing the movie to the book destroys dialogue

Let’s face it: saying the book was better is a cheap way for us to say, “I read a book.”

Think back to a time when you said the words, “the book was better.” Or a time when someone said it to you.

What followed?

Did you have a meaningful discussion about the story? About the character arc? About the real-world implications of what you watched?

Arguably the most wonderful aspect of art, in all of its forms, is how different we all respond to it.

If we start off a discussion with a rhetorical statement that dismisses the beauty and strengths of film, it can’t be followed with meaningful dialogue.

Instead, the conversation stalls.

It becomes a conversation about the medium, rather than the story itself. We lose the opportunity to meaningfully engage with another human being about how they experienced a story. We may never learn a different perspective or a different way of relating to a story than our own. And to me, that’s just really…sad.

Sometimes I have to bite my tongue and stop myself from uttering those words. But I’m really, really glad when I do.

Because it allows me to approach movies with an open mind, rather than the expectation that I’ll be disappointed.

It allows me to meaningfully engage with people who haven’t read the book, and learn things they took away that I might have missed.

And it helps me appreciate art in all of its mediums.

And, if I’m honest, the best part is that it’s only made my favourite medium — books — all the more enjoyable.

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Brigitte Dreger

Brigitte Dreger

49 Followers

Talking about the things people are afraid to talk about. LGBT+, Startup Culture, Diversity.