Book vs. Movie Debate

Photo Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira

It’s the clash of the titans, the age-old dilemma with fervent advocates on either side.

To read, or not to read—and by this I mean a book before its movie adaption.

I recently went to see Beautiful Creatures and walked away thinking it was an all right movie (Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson were fabulous). I’d learned that the movie was based off of a book, but I didn’t have time to read it before seeing the movie. Usually, my policy is to read the book before seeing the movie, but according to some of my friends, that may be a backward way of doing it.

I’ll use Beautiful Creatures as a case study because it was the first time I’ve done the opposite. Honestly, I’m intrigued by what actually happens in the book, but I don’t have a burning desire to read it.

For me, that’s the Achilles heel. What if, based on a mediocre or awful movie, I completely dismiss amazing literature? Someone said to me that reading a book before seeing the movie is like having an extended version of a book or being a celebrity insider. You already know what’s going to happen and you’re familiar with all the characters/have an idea in your head of how you want them to be, so watching a movie can be like a reunion with old friends.

Except all reunions don’t end well, which is often the case for movie adaptions.

However, seeing the movie before reading the book could ruin a chance to read the book based on the actors, director, or the overall movie structure. Plus you already know the ending to the book, which could make actually reading it tedious.

After I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I really wanted to read the book. It helped that the author had a hand in the screenwriting process because he was able to translate his vision into the movie. I felt that I would be getting the same vision, the same essence if I read the book as well. Many times, this does not translate well between movies and film.

The issue is becoming more apparent as more books take on the big screen. For this year alone, 26 books will be adapted into movies. In the next couple of years, as many as 60 books could either wow us or make us groan inwardly when they make their adapted debut on the big screen. The hunger for favorite literary stories to see a larger than life stage is almost palpable in public opinion. As early as 1899 with the Brothers’ Grimm adaption of Cinderella, literary works adapted for movies have proven to be an enduring market.

This still doesn’t solve my dilemma. A good movie should be able to stand on its own, despite any preconceived notions or bias a reader may have. Books and movies are two separate creative entities with different means of expression and should be allowed a judgment based on self merit and not the merit of the opposing entity. I recognize this, and yet it is very hard to do when reading a book and then seeing a movie that had the potential to be good.

Personally, I know that by watching a movie, I’ll either have a strong reaction to reading the book or I’m blasé about it. I’m always interested in new literature, but it would take an exceptional movie to actually propel me to read the book. In this way, the movie is the book’s sales pitch without even intending to be. This either leads to a return on investment for the author, in the sense that audiences will buy more books or an adverse reaction to the author’s work based on a movie.

It shouldn’t be that way, but so often watching the movie before reading the book makes it that way.

I’ll stick with reading the book before the movie, when I can manage it. What do you think?