Did that make you cringe? Yeah, me too.
With Emmy-Oscar season upon us, I have been thinking a great deal about my love of movies, which often leads to thinking about my love of books.
I love to read. I’m not a fast reader, nor would I qualify myself as a voracious reader. But I feel comfortable saying that I probably read more than the average bear.
I also love the movies. I do not limit myself there either. I love the sappy rom-com as much I love heady, intellectual documentary or biopic. I crowd into theaters with the masses to watch the big summer block-busters as quickly as I do to see the latest Oscar contender.
For me, reading books and watching movies are not necessarily mutually exclusive activities. As any Twi-hard Potter-maniac will tell you, seeing the movie is simply the natural extension of reading the book. I love having stories and characters from books brought to life through movies. Yes, there are always disappointments, the second Bridget Jones movie for example. But then movies such as Lord of the Rings are a wonder to behold.
So, imagine my horror when a friend said to me, “There’s no point in reading Lord of the Rings, there’s a movie now. Besides, the books are too long anyway.”
My answer: Read the book(s). The book is always better than the movie. I have never come across an instance where the movie was better than the book. Never once. Furthermore, reading opens the creative center of the brain, forcing you to imagine the scenes and people in the stories. Movies are fun, yes, but watching a movie lacks the interaction the reader has with the story and the author.
I also find that many movies based on books are not true to the book. Plots are sometimes changed, characters changed or several characters are merged.
The problem with making a book into a movie is often time. Movies cannot plod along plot points, description and dialogue, certainly not in a 90 minute period. Fortunately, movies have many more devices to tell a story available to them that books do not. Movies can use music and imagery to tell a story in a way text cannot convey. I can forgive losing a character or a plot point if the story is told creatively or told in an interesting manner.
Let me give you two examples from two movies that I love.
Lord of the Rings:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy I think was brilliantly portrayed in the movie as written and directed by Peter Jackson. Yes, some of the story was changed, but I thought he did a great job of distilling the main point of the movie down into an enjoyable movie experience.
One of the things I most enjoyed was how he used imagery to tell the story. In the second movie, LOTR The Two Towers, the story begins with Gandalf falling in Khazad Dum to what is assumed his death. There we find out that he fell, but did not die. He fought the Belroq monster until he hits the water. At which point, Frodo awakens from a dream. Later in the movie, Strider, Legolas and Gimli meet Gandalf in the forest and then we learn the rest of the story, told partly through dialogue and partly through imagery.
In the book, the reader does not have any inclination that Gandolf will return until about almost the halfway point when Strider, Legolas and Gimli meet him in the forest. He then explains in great detail what happened to him in Khazad Dum and beyond.
Here’s the problem…who has time for a 15-20 minute monologue in a movie? The Lord of the Rings movies are already 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.
I love how Jackson handled that. His use of imagery and dialogue did three things for me in this instance.
- He dropped a hint that Gandalf was returning to the story.
- His use of imagery – dream sequence at the begining of the movie connected it to the first movie reminding everyone about where we left off.
- He condensed the monologue from the book into a 1 minute conversation that told Gandalf’s tale quickly to move the story along.
The Age of Innocence
I’ll start with this movie by stating the obvious, Martin Scorsese is a genius. Of course, one expects someone to say that when refering to some of his other heavy hitting movies such as Goodfellas or Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. All excellent movies without question. The Age of Innocence, however, is one of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations.
First off, the adaptation from book-to-movie is the best I have ever seen. To my recollection, Scorsese left out one character and kind of merged her with another character. Then he glossed over the wedding and wedding breakfast scenes from the book. Not crucial scenes in my opinion.
His use of imagery and voice over were just genius. He brought to life the early 20th century with his use of color, scenery and costume. His use of voice over captured the conservative sense of conformity and rigidity in the higher archical society that was turn of the century New York City.
He did what many film makers have tried to do for decades. He took a piece of literature and successfully translated it from book to screen.
So, why read the book? You tell me.