July 25, 2010

TSS: It's a Gamble When You Watch the Movie First

It is the age-old debate: read the book or watch the movie first?

Book lovers everywhere will usually readily scream: "The book! The book! It's always better!"

Movie lovers tend to say: "Watching the movie lets me know if I'd be interested in the book."

A bibliophile knows, however, that many books are not well-adapted to the screen. Sometimes it is just near impossible to adapt a book into a screenplay. Other times the adaptation is a haphazard hodgepodge of the book, and the movie makes no sense because of it (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, anyone?).

I love movies almost as much as books, perhaps even the same, but I do recognize that watching a movie before reading the book is always a gamble. I have had both good and bad experiences with watching the movie first.

-Possession I loved the movie and couldn't wait to read the book, which I also enjoyed.
-Breakfast at Tiffany's I first saw this movie years ago before I even realized it was a book. I finally read it in 2007 or 2008 and although they were not as similar as I thought they would be, I was still able to appreciate both the book and the movie.
-The Bone Collector I still like the movie better than the book. And the book did not offer that many more details than were in the movie. A little more about the romance between the main characters and that was it.
-Julius Caesar I actually could understand what was taking place in the story because I had watched it on film. So I could usually decipher a particularly thorny line or stanza with the help of knowing what was supposed to happen next.

-Angela's Ashes This movie was so real and so raw and so gritty that I had a hard time getting into the book when I picked it up. It just paled in comparison to the movie experience.
-The Fellowship of the Ring I will probably never pick up J.R. Tolkein's trilogy because I couldn't get into the movie more than it was worth watching once.
-Gone With the Wind I could not sit through this epic film. It was so slow. I was bored. I don't see how I could deal with the chunky novel.

What about you? What kind of experiences have you had with watching the movie before reading the book? Do you have more good or not so good experiences? Is there anything in particular that may make you reach for the DVD before the book? What is it?


  1. I pretty much always read the book, even if I see the movie first. 9 times out of 10, I usually end up liking the book better. And sometimes I think they were both great. A couple of examples: The Silence of the Lambs and The Reader.

    Great topic!

  2. +JMJ+

    I insist on reading the book before watching the movie. After I watch a movie without having read its source novel first, I almost never get around to reading the book.

    One exception is Peter Pan. I saw the Disney movie several times as a girl, and so when I tried to read the novel as a young teenager, I just kept seeing the animated characters singing and dancing through my mind and honestly couldn't get the novel at all. =( But it has been over a decade since my last viewing of the movie (and I didn't bother to see the live action one from a few years ago), so I tried the book again just this month. And it was wonderful!

    PS--I think the saddest thing about Walt Disney is that all the children's classics he sought to honour by turning them into movies are now hardly ever read any longer.

  3. I refuse to see a movie first...usually there is nothing that can compare to my own imagination. I agree with you about Gone With the Wind (the movie) however, I read the book first and loved it which made the movie that much more unbearable. I do love The Lord of Rings triology, movies and books.

    I recently read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and hated it but have heard good things about the movie so maybe in this case the movie is better?

  4. I usually read the book first (if I know it's a book). If I really like the book I am often nervous to see the movie in case they ruin it (eg, Lovely Bones).

    And I am so glad to hear of someone else who didn't like the movie Gone With the Wind. I thought I was the only one! As the movie ended I said to my friends, "thank goodness it's over" and then they told me it was intermission! Ugh.

  5. I try to always read the book first, but sometimes I don't realize there is a book. Usually I won't look up the book after if I liked the movie. I do have to say though that I love Gone With the Wind :)

  6. I didn't like the movie form of Possession, but I saw it after the book was already my favorite. On the other hand, four movies come to mind that I've seen before reading the book: The Hours, Stardust, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Notes on a Scandal. I read all the books afterwards. The Hours was a horrible book. Stardust was good, I liked it slightly more than the movie. The JA Book Club was good and while I liked the movie, I thought the book related back to JA more. Notes on a Scandal was a good movie, but the book was infinitely better. The movies didn't ruin the books for me, and I don't think, had I seen them later, the books would have ruined the movie. I try to go into movies or books with fresh eyes, knowing they'll be different, and to look at them separately.

  7. I agree about Goblet of Fire - we went to see it en famille, and my partner had never read the book - did the movie make any kind of sense to him? Not remotely!

    The JA Bookclub I much prefer the movie to the book.

    Funny you should mention this, in my bookclub we've just been discussing The English Patient, which most of us were familiar with first as the Ralph Fiennes movie. They changed the ending of the book and totally got rid of one major character (quelle surprise!) but they also changed the meaning - the book is about identity, and how that's tied up with nationality (amongst other things), the movie is about Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott-Thomas' affair. But having seen the movie, you're under no illusion about what kind of book it will be, you know the pace is going to be slow and dreamlike/hallucinogenic, which actually helps.

  8. Definately read the book before the movie. However only if I'm interested in the movie. I never read any of the Harry Potter books but some how I have been dragged to all the movies by various boyfriends and now I am married to a HP fan. HAHA shows you what kind of guys im into. lol anyhow the movies I have seen based on books vary depending on the genre. Young Adult and romance books almost always are better than the movies. I did not enjoy the Twilight movies but the books are really interesting. Other genres like memoirs and historic books tend to bring to life the characters encounters. I really liked the movie The Kite Runner. However I am skeptical about Eat, Pray, Love.

    Great discussion Topic!!!!

  9. One of the other Sunday Saloners was discussing this very topic today, maybe indirectly, but were still talking about it. I'm with Michelle, in that 9 times out of 10, the book is better than the movie. I prefer to read the movie before the book, but if I didn't realize that the movie was made from a book: no harm, no foul. At least, that's how I see it.

  10. I confess I'm a read-the-book-first girl, but that doesn't mean I don't think some movies can be a better introduction to a given story. It's just that when I watch the movie first, I tend to picture the characters as the actors that played them forever and ever, and that bugs me :P That happens to me to this day with The Virgin Suicides, even though it's one of my top favourite books.

  11. I don't care too much if I watch the movie or read the book first. Probably because I can't say I've had the experience of watching a movie after reading the book and being indignant that the movie wasn't as good. I'm usually just like, "Whatever." :P I have read books after seeing the movie where the movie was a lot better, though, and been really annoyed by that. I guess I just expect movies not to be as good as books, whereas if a movie is better than a book it throws me.

  12. I actually prefer watching the movie before reading the book because the book is usually better. If I see the movie first and it's good, I can enjoy it without being annoyed by what they changed. Then I read the book and it's like more has been added to the story, which makes it more interesting for me.

    I saw Fellowship of the Ring and Gone With the Wind before I read the books. I've seen them both many times. They're two of my favorite movies. After watching Fellowship and then reading the book, I read The Two Towers (before it came out in theaters) and Return of the King. Enjoyed them both and loved the movies.

    Someone mentioned The Kite Runner. Fantastic book, but the movie was boring, in my opinion.

  13. My rule of thumb is always read the book first, movie second.

  14. I liked GWTW, but I grew up with it, so the book felt like it only gave me more of what I loved.

    As mentioned in others comments, the LOTR series were more engaging to me on screen than the books were. I hated the books, and hate to admit that, but it was because I couldn't picture what was then shown to me on screen. After I saw the movie, I got the visual.

  15. I think the only times I've ever watched the movie first is when I didn't know the movie was a book. I like being able to create my own visuals in my head.

  16. I also watched Breakfast at Tiffanys way before I knew it was originally a book, and really liked it. Last year I read the book and loved it, and then decided to watch the movie again. And I did. not. like. it. The end actually upset me, because book-Holly would never have acted like movie-Holly. Grrrr. I think I need to get over it ;)

  17. I'm not really picky. I usually take it on an individual basis. Like I want to read Percy Jackson before I see the movie just because I'm sure the book will be more fleshed out. But I watched Possession first and then ended up quitting the book because I was bored. It can go either way.

  18. I still stand by my opinion that Eragon is the worst adaptation to film that I have ever seen. When I see movies like this when I have enjoyed the book, it is so hard!!

    Then again, it was The Fellowship of the Ring movie that finally got me to get passed that darn birthday party in the book . . . I had tried literally 3-4 times and always gave up in the same exact place each time! The movies inspired me to get through the book in that case!

  19. What is it about LoTR? Am I the only person commenting on here who enjoyed both the books and the movies?!! I think they complement each other, and enhance the story. I read the books to my son back in 2006/07 - and it took us about a year to get through them - but he likes them both, too.
    Currently awaiting the Hobbit movie with interest, if they ever start/finish making it.


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