I’ve entertained this debate a few times on Twitter and in real-life conversations, regarding film versions of stories vs. book versions. I am a bibliophile. I’m a self-proclaimed booksniffer. It’s hard for me to admit when other media tells a story better than a book has done.
I chose the title for this post because that is my default response. It is my knee-jerk reaction to seeing a film version of a beloved story.
It isn’t always the truth.
Media is Plural for Medium
As I teach myself how to write a comic script, I’m also learning how to tell stories visually. I am learning that translating a story to actions and individual panels is different from narrating details of a sequence of punches. I’m learning how to write episodes that contribute to a larger arc. I’m stretching myself as an artist into other storytelling media.
I remember art classes and the exploration of multi-media creation. In class that might be collage, paint, decoupage, ink, and clay. It might mean incorporating found objects or fabric into a design. The media were the raw materials for creation. They shaped and changed the artwork as much as the art demanded specific media.
The story that I’m telling via comic demands visual storytelling. It requires an artist’s hands. I tried to tell it with words on a page, I have well over 65,000 words to choose from with that world. It has never come alive for me in pure written form. The story has defined its own media. I have a feeling that as I continue to grow and learn and stretch as a writer, my stories will demand additional forms.
Different, Not Better or Worse
A debate I had with my husband about the changes of the Hobbit – and how it is a simple story that’s been expanded into a trilogy – has spurred this post. Film is a different medium. It requires tight pacing, every moment, every visual, every word uttered has to lead to character development and the building action. Film can be sweeping and expansive, but it also has to emotionally charge every moment. It’s a multi-media event. It is not just visual, it is not just acting, it is not just music and sound. It is a combination of all of those things. There can be great depth in a film, but more often than not, I see book-story depth sacrificed for visual impact.
Places where they’ve done it wrong: Off the top of my head, the Percy Jackson film and the Eragon film both left me scowling that the book was better. They changed key plot points that made it impossible to create a sequel. They changed key character arcs that destroy the rest of the story. This also makes me think of the film adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany where they’ve flattened a deep and gorgeous story into something unrecognizable (and named it Simon Birch).
Sometimes, just sometimes, the stories were meant to be films all along. I will admit that I enjoyed the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings more than I did the series. Of course, the first time I read the series, I was swept away. Subsequent re-readings were hard to manage. Tolkien was a world-builder, a linguist, a fantasist. But he was not a character-driven storyteller. The modern reader wants to connect with characters. The modern movie-goer demands the same thing. Peter Jackson and his writers and actors managed to create character arcs where they were only hinted at in the books.
For me, the question is often one of depth.
Stephen King’s novellas and short stories make incredible movies (Stand by me, Shawshank Redemption). I’ve yet to see a film based on one of his full-length novels that did it justice (The Stand, IT). The novels stick with me to the point that I still avoid storm drains, but the films are sorely lacking. They just can’t fit it all in there. It doesn’t work. The films actually add to the depth of the shorter narratives. Just as I’m finding visuals add to the depth of my comic script.
I’m stuck on The Hobbit. I’ll be honest. I don’t want to see it. This was one of those books that made me fall in love with reading.
What if I think the movie is better?