It is usually inevitable that when a film based on a novel comes out… regardless of if people liked the film or not, the first phrase that will usually come out of our mouths is “I liked the book better” or some sort of variation of that statement.
So why is that? Are books just by their nature better than film? I personally refuse to believe that. It’s apple and oranges really. Two entirely different mediums. But still… I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that almost 90% of the time people will say they thought “the book” was better than “the movie”.
I have a couple of theories why this might be, and I offer them to you now for your commentary:
WHY PEOPLE SAY THEY LIKE THE BOOK BETTER THAN THE MOVIE:
1) THEY READ THE BOOK FIRST
Usually our first experience with something establishes not only a “standard” in our heads, but more importantly it forms the basis for our familiarity with something as well. When we see a movie, and then later see a remake of that movie, we instantly compare the two in our heads. But we judge the remake not on it’s quality alone, but also on how well it maintained the spirit or essence of THE ORIGINAL. Because the original is what we know… it is the standard now… not only for quality, but for it’s own nature.
For this reason, sometimes even if a remake is actually a BETTER film that the original, most people will still grumble (me too) unless it properly met those standards of familiarity in our heads. The original came first, and thus never had to face such standards… it could just be judged on its own merits. Not so with remakes. Books are usually read first and thus judged only on their own merits when read… but the movie version has those extra standards to be measured against instead of just its own merits. That’s neither wrong nor right… it just is what it is.
2) 500 PAGE BOOK VS. 120 PAGE SCREENPLAY
This is a big one. You’ve got a 300, 500 or 700 page book filled with narrative, action, dialog, monologs and such giving depth and detail to almost every nuance that you can imagine. The average reader is then engaged with that book for days… soaking in the atmosphere, creating set visuals in their own minds, ascribing voices and faces to the characters and whatever they can’t imagine, the author has the time and pages to describe to them.
However, a movie is roughly needed to be broken down into a 120 page screenplay that you sink yourself into for 2 hours. MANY MANY things that were in the book (500 pages) has to be cut out or re-envisioned to fit in the alloted time frame. Plot devices have to be used to move things from point A to point B. Some things from the book are left unexplored, and sometimes what is used in the movie doesn’t quite match up to what the viewer/reader had envisioned in their head when they read the book.
It’s just math. A 120 screenplay can’t capture everything that was in a 500 or 800 page book, and thus those who have read the book can often feel let down by the movie.
3) BAD BOOKS DON’T GET MADE INTO MOVIES
Generally speaking (and I know there are exceptions to this rule), Only popular and high quality books get picked up by some studio and get made into a feature film. This stacks the deck a little bit. If every book (good or bad) got made into films, the we’d hear a lot more people favoring the movie version. However, when you start with a great book, and then combine that with the 2 other items already listed in points #1 and #2, then a movie version is almost doomed to lose out in the “which was better – book or movie” competition that the reader/viewer has going on in their minds.
So there you have it. My quick thoughts on why the vast majority of people who have read a book usually favor the page to the screen when a film version it comes out. There are obviously exceptions to all the rules listed above, but in general I’ve usually found these to be true.