Books vs Film Adaptations: Which Is Better?

When filmmakers get it right, an adaptation can surpass even the original work. | © Yeko Photo Studio | © Yeko Photo Studio

Historically, it’s almost always been the case that “the book is better.” Adaptations cut out entire chapters, leave significant scenes on the cutting room floor, and close the door on the innermost thoughts of characters. When I heard about the movie adaptation of The Martian, I groaned, because I didn’t think the book would film well (Thankfully, the movie turned out to be absolutely brilliant).

One of the largest differences between books and their adaptations comes down to point of view.

In the written form, we usually close in on a particular character’s viewpoint. In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins does this by going into first person—the perfect POV for a story about internal conflicts and struggles. But first person doesn’t translate as well on screen. Instead, what does work is a wider, third-person view. For example, hopping from character to character or revealing news that isn’t (yet) known to the protagonist. Movies can also use sound and visual cues to tell a better story. Body language and facial expressions provide a more captivating experience.

Many believe that adapting a book into film is an exercise in futility. We desperately try to translate its essence but almost always fall short—in some cases, such as Starship Troopers, the creators seem to have stopped caring entirely.

But when filmmakers get it right, a movie can stand on its own, possibly even surpassing the original work.

For example, the brilliant adaptation of The Hunger Games trilogy. In many cases, the filmmakers used the same scenes from the book, even reusing the same dialogue word for word. But, it’s not the same story.

The books tell the story of a young woman caught up in the mechanisms of tyranny and war and her slow fall into PTSD and insanity. It’s about what a war does to the people who fight it.

The films? They’re about the machinations of the real powers behind everything, how war is most often orchestrated by those who don’t have to fight it, and very much about how the Capital and District 13 are equally, in their own way, evil. In the films, it’s “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

Same scenes. Same dialogue. Two different stories that perfectly complement each other.

These days, more and more films and television shows are based off of already published materials. In 2016, we can look forward to The Fifth Wave, Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesAllegiant, and others. Some will be great. Some won’t be so hot. Let’s hope this year’s movies will prove to fans that books aren’t always better.

In the meantime, let us know which ones you’re looking forward to and which ones you’re dreading in the comments below!

About Jennifer R. Povey (3 Articles)
Jennifer R. Povey has been a fan since she worked out the difference between reality and fantasy—and that fantasy was better. She’s now a tabletop RPG designer and a professional fiction writer with two novels under her belt. Also, she rides horses.

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