Thursday, 10 November 2011

Is the film ever as good as the book?

I went to see The Help last night.  I found myself comparing the film to the book, which I finished a few weeks ago. Maybe I analysed the differences between the two because I write.  The plot was more or less the same as in the book but the subplots weren't given much time. 
Why is a film different from a book? A writer can tell you what a character is thinking. A director needs to show what a character is thinking through dialogue, actions and reactions (unless a narrator is used. This was done in The Help with the character, Aibileen).
Why do I feel disappointed after seeing the film? Here is my theory.  When we read a book that we enjoy, we picture the characters and the settings. If this picture is different in the film from the one we created in our minds, we're left feeling dissatisfied. Another reason is that we already know what is going to happen. I certainly felt less emotional than others in the cinema because I wasn't being surprised.
When I thought about other favourite books which have been made into films, I realised that I haven't seen Captain Corelli's Mandolin or Memoirs of a Geisha. I saw The Time Traveler's Wife before reading the book.  This was worthwhile because I think it made the book easier to follow. I saw Chocolat several years after I read the book and liked it.  I expect that this was partly because Johnny Depp was in it.  Also I'd forgotten the details from the book so I wasn't making comparisons.
I've come to the conclusion that if we see the film before we read the book or a few years afterwards, we're more likely to enjoy it.
The film adaption of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell will be released next year. It's a while since I read the book, which I thought was wonderful, so maybe I'll go and see it.
I'd be interested to know whether you've enjoyed a film as much as the book (when reading the book first) or do you agree with the above?


  1. I haven't seen, or read, The Help, but I usually prefer to read a book before watching the film and do usually find the books more enjoyable.

  2. Great post, Anita. This is one of my pet hates - always very wary of seeing films after I've read books, and usually I'm disappointed too. I remember nearly crying at 'Charlotte Gray' as it was so poor.

    Notable exceptions are 'An English Patient,' 'Kite Runner,' and 'Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.'

    Will let you know what I think to 'The Help' as am off to see it Monday!

    ps - and you're right, Jonny Depp in any film makes for good viewing. lol.

  3. Enjoyed your thought-provoking post, Anita. I haven't read the book yet and will probably see the film first. I think I prefer it that way round, as I loved The English Patient as a film but not the book so much afterwards, and thought the film version of The Horse Whisperer ended much better than the book!

  4. An interesting posting, Anita.

    I loved the film 'The Help', but not as much as I loved the book. I thought the film lacked the tension that grips the reader at the end of the novel - the film played up the potential for humour in the situation, which somewhat negated the reader's anxiety that the truth might come out.

    Also, the way that I imagined the homes of the help was more powerful than in the film ,where the depiction showed small, but not unpleasant, homes, and a strong sense of community in the environment.

    I found the novel 'We Need to talk about Kevin' gripping. The film was excellent, too. I can't imagine a better film of the book. The book had the edge, though, as books always do.

    Liz X

  5. I really want to go and see The Help, but only read the book 2 months ago and you’re spot on - I think you need to leave a huge gap between reading a book and then watching the film. You build up these pictures in your mind and you can only be let down by someone else’s interpretation! I have even looked at the girl who plays Skeeter and am already a bit disappointed – her hair is not crazy enough (A small niggle!)!

    I think I’ve always been a little frustrated with film interpretations of books I’ve loved, from the copious amounts of Stephen King I read as a teenager (the films Misery, The Shining – never captured the intensity I felt when reading them) to Captain Corelli (Anita – just don’t go there, I thought it was laughable!). The exceptions for me are possibly the first couple of Harry Potter films - they were short enough books for the director to include most of the plot and for me the character castings were brilliant. The later books are so massive that the audience must surely accept the loss of sub plot?

    There must be exceptions to the rule – I’ve yet to find one myself. But there must also be many brilliant films made from average books. If not there’s always the superb TV adaptations where they have more time to explore the text or even narrate it – Brideshead Revisited and Pride & Prejudice to name but two!

    Loving your blog Anita. xx

  6. I thought 'Chocolat' wasn't bad, and I loved the LOTR adaptations (hmm, probably due in no small measure to Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn), but Stephen King just doesn't seem to translate well - though there are some genuinely creepy moments in both the TV series of 'Salem's Lot' and 'The Stand'.

    Interesting post, Anita :)

  7. Hi Anita,

    I was awarded a blog award recently and I have been asked to forward it onto five blogs that I enjoy to read. I picked yours because of the great topics you cover in your blog and your posts on writing always gets me thinking!

    To accept and read about the award, click here


  8. Hi Anita - you know the only film I can honestly say was not better than the book but equally as good was The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and I have it on DVD.

    Janice xx

  9. Hi Anita - you do write interesting posts!

    I must admit, I loved the film version of Chocolat because it's ending was much happier than the book's ending. I'm such a lightweight...!

    I also liked the TV adaptation of The Box of Delights, because in the book Kay Harker's adventures were all just a dream, but in the TV version there's a hint that at the end that the magic was real.

    So very occasionally I find a film/TV adaptation improving things (just from my own point of view).

    Far more often though, something's lost for me. The ending of I Capture the Castle comes to mind. It's so subtle and bitter-sweet in the book - much harsher and two dimensional in the film, I think.

    Clare :)