With the spate of Hollywood franchises of successful novels and literary series, I am often conflicted as to whether to watch the movie first and get an idea about the book, or read the book first to see how well the film adaptation is.
I have intended to do so on many occasions, especially this year when there are roughly a dozen book to movie adaptations lined up for release. Problem is, I often get hold of the books too close to the release date and I don’t finish in time to catch the film in theaters. Unlike movies which roughly account for an hour or so of screening, books require hours of dedication to enjoy the experience. So, making the long story short, I may be the only left who has not seen I am Number Four because I’ve taken too much time with the book. Everybody has been talking about it and I have nothing much to contribute because I’m not done with the novel yet. I know by the time I get done, people would have moved on. Discussions on the topic will have shut down and I will be left left to my own musings. Dilemmas, Dilemmas. The price you have to pay for wanting the perfect experience.
Getting back to the topic, some may recall the bigger projects in the past years — Harry Potter, Twilight, The Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, The Stand and countless others. Most of these I have read before watching. And believe me, the experience has its pros and cons.
First, when you read before you watch, especially when the author is really good, you already form a set of standards in your mind that the actors and the filmmakers must live up to. Personally, I hated the first Potter movie because much of the dialog was lifted straight from the book. The words worked in the written version because there was a backgrounder and an insight into the characters that the author provides. The book explains the mood in which the conversations were spoken while the movie relies solely on the actors’ ability to convey the emotions described in the book. We should remember that during this time, Daniel Radcliffe was still a novice actor trying to find his footing in his larger than life role of the most popular young wizard in the world, and much to a point, I did not think he succeeded in truly becoming Harry Potter until the next movies. The second one was better because the filmmakers made adjustments in the script as well as the actual story to adapt to cinema. Let us not speak of the third book, one of the best in the series, whose major elements were whittled down to shave the movie to a respectable running time of 141 minutes. Sometimes, I wonder whether I would have been happier not knowing what should have happened rather than nitpick at the movie for its inadequacy to J.K. Rowling’s work.On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings franchise achieved the perfect blend of storytelling and adventure that the book required and brought to life Middle Earth as even the fanboys imagined. It was a tough job but with millions of dollars at his disposal and a genius for creativity, director Peter Jackson put himself among the ranks of George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino and earned himself a loyal following for his future works.
An example of a book to movie adaptation that I did watch before reading was Stephen King’s The Stand. This novel is a thousand pages plus tome divided into three parts where mankind is at an end and the remaining survivors must choose the side of good or the side of evil, which culminates in a final battle so epic that it takes your breath away. I saw the three part TV movie featuring Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald years before I cracked the book. Surprisingly, as I read the novel, the movie enabled me to picture the characters more clearly. The descriptions also added to the overall impact of the book as I rearranged the scenes in my mind to adopt to the literature. It worked out pretty well as I recall.
There are many who would opt to see the movie and do away with the reading experience altogether. I am quite guilty of this because after I’ve seen The Da Vinci Code movie, I never finished the book, which according to rave reviews is Dan Brown’s best work (I find that doubtful because Angels and Demons, Deception Point and the Digital Fortress are some of the best books I’ve ever read). But if people just relied on movies, they miss out on many elements that the book offers and filmmakers let go. They fail to see into the inner workings of the complicated and sinister minds of characters such as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, they lose insight into the internal struggles of Frodo as he journeys to destroy the ring, they only see Bella as a whiny little bitch and Edward as a stiff pretty boy instead of the conflicted modern day Romeo and Juliet they were portrayed in Stephenie Meyer’s series ( a few eyebrows raised there?).
Achieving a perfect balance has its advantages and drawbacks. You raise your expectations, or you lower them but one of these mediums will eventually fall short. You begin to compare, you begin to weigh. There is no doubt that there are many literary works that have proven to be easy pickings for producers, and this is also good for the book industry as it generates more attention to their products. My advice is still to try to maximize both experiences as they both offer a different kind of rush. But the question remains. Should I read before I watch or watch before I read? Feel free to vote and comment below.