Movie Vs. Book

Blame it on a recent disappointing experience, but I wish to weigh in on the common debate between a great book and it’s movie counterpart.

After reading a number of comparisons between books and movies, one idea stands out. The phrase oft repeated is something like, “I didn’t think the movie was true to the book.” or, “They did a great job. They really stayed true to the book.” The concept of ‘staying true’ seams to not be about exact duplication. The key is to recreate the heart of the story contained in the book. It’s not enough for a movie to imitate events. A movie must maintain the same intensity and quality in relationships, character development, tension, suspense, and all other facets of the story. But the how seams to be less important.

For proof, check out Jane Auten’s Sense and Sensibility. Emma Thompson–who wrote the screenplay– said that the dialogue in the book would not give depth to the characters in live action. The character development in the book is found mostly in the narrative sections. In order to ‘stay true’ to the characters of the book, Emma Thompson invented most of the dialogue of the movie. But she did it so well that even avid Jane Austen fans bought it.

Eric Van Lustbader’s trilogy about Jason Bourne offers a more dramatic example of this point. Both the book and the movie appeal to the same audience, and many comparisons claim that the movies remained true to the ideas in the books, but the story lines and events are not at all the same. I believe this is as it should be. Because the books were written several decades ago, simply recreating them–with their outdated technology and politics–would have been futile. The heart of the Jason Bourne story lies in his ability to use modern technology and his cutting edge knowledge to fight corrupt politics. So even though the events are very different, most reviewers are happy with both.

So if a movie is so different from the book, why keep same name? Why not acknowledge it as an entirely different story? The answer is to draw the crowd. The largest initial movie audience will be readers of book. That’s also why it’s so important to appeal to that group!

In my view, Ella Enchanted conversion to the screen was a colossal failure on this point. Gail Carson Levine’s novel is a charming YA fantasy novel about a adolescent girl who must dig deep for the inner strength she didn’t know she possessed. Tommy O’Haver’s movie is also charming, but it’s a spoof on fairy tales centered around a sassy but lovable teenager. Two cute stories, but as a fan of the book, the movie was a total let down. This movie might have done well if it had been marketed as its own product. But as the movie version of the book I loved so well, it didn’t stay ‘true.’

Where do you weigh in? Should a movie stick with the storyline of the book, or is it okay to go another direction? What books-turned-movies do you like/hate?


8 responses to this post.

  1. Hi!

    I’m sure this post will gather some hot debate! One of the best examples of a great book becoming an exceptional movie is “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris. I really enjoyed the book, but the movie, especially Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lector is outstanding. Both the book and the movie are quite memorable.

    I also enjoyed the book and movie (newest release) of “Pride and Prejudice.” I agree with you that Emma Thompson did a marvelous job with the dialogue in “Sense and Sensibility.”

    However, I feel most of the Harry Potter books are better than the movies. The movies leave out vital information and I’m not crazy about the casting of some secondary characters. I do realize the books are crammed with tidbits…but the fans love these little things that make the Harry Potter series so special.

    Sometimes, a director must update a storyline and that’s okay…as long as the spirit of the story remains in tact. It must be really difficult to do, because too many movies are made that abandon the true spirit of the story.

    Wonderful post! 🙂


    • You are absolutely right! Especially about the Harry Potter series. I’m sure it’s a tricky balance to include enough in the movie to appease the book fans without making the movie 12 hours long. I’m glad that’s not my job!

      BTW, Thanks for the mention on your blog! You’re a sweetheart.


  2. Posted by BEN on July 20, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    The first two movies stay true to the Harry Potter books, but then it is totally lost. I agree, the books are much better, but if the movies can get people interested enough to read more then I think that is also a success.

    Sometimes the difference in the two can spur one movie-goer to breakdown and read to find the differences.


    • It’s that very idea that lead me to read the Inkheart series. I enjoyed the Brenden Frasier movie and wanted to be able to compare it with the book. Both are great.


  3. It was so nice meeting you tonight. I was reading through a few of your posts and I had to throw in my own two cents. I used to get all bent out of shape about movies not sticking to the book but I’ve tried in recent years to look at them separately and to never expect the movie to match the book. I can’t tell you how much that has helped me enjoy movies more. I do still compare things a little but I don’t judge the movie harshly just because it strayed from the book. A couple of examples: Masterpiece Theatre’s Persuasion and Stardust. I know someone who was completely disgusted with the ending of Persuasion because it deviated so much from the book. I didn’t care at all. I loved it. I thought the movie Stardust was so much fun but found the book to be just okay and they ended quite differently.


    • I’ve never seen/read Stardust, but I have to agree with you about Persuasion. I liked both the book and the movie, and even though there were major storyline differences, the movie retained the spirit of the book. Good stuff!

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m looking forward to checking out your blog soon!


  4. This is one debate that will never end it seems.

    For me it really all depends on the expectation level. If the book is iconic – such as Lord of the Rings then you hope that certain characters and scenes remain intact. Personally I thought that Peter Jackson did a fantastic job of bringing the book to the wide screen. I wish he had done one of those alternative ending type jobs as the “scouring of the shire” is a favorite of mine, but because of the size and structure of the film, it could not be fitted in. Sad but understandable and overall it had no impact on the strength of the movie.

    As for Harry Potter -I agree with Nora – film one did fine but after that the whole franchise has gone downhill. I have read all the books and I have seen all the films to date and I will watch the last two but honestly I am not expecting much at all.


    • Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your insights on this topic.

      I thought the Lord of the Rings movies were very true to the books. I don’t remember many differences, but obviously there were some omissions. I must admit that I read the books many years before the movies came out. I was in an altogether different time of life when I read them. Perhaps in my immaturity I didn’t catch all the books had to offer. I’d better place those books back into my to-read pile, right?


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