I couldn’t wait. I just finished reading The Return of the Native and I wanted to relive the experience. So I rented a copy of the film version from the library and cancelled all my plans to watch it that night.
Was I disappointed!
Something was missing. Sure, the setting was accurate, no character was cut and the plot followed the novel like a blueprint. But I found myself comparing every filmed scene to the story that played along when I read the book for the first time.
And I couldn’t wait for the end credits to roll.
I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m certain that even you have preferred the novel more than the film adaptation a handful of times—or every single time.
But why do we enjoy the book more than the movie?
Let’s get one assumption out of the way.
More times than not, we read the book first. It’s rare (at least for me) to watch a movie, see that it’s based off a book and then go buy (or rent) the book to read. Normally it’s the book that encouraged us to purchase a movie ticket or rent it on your streaming service of choice.
Unless you’re like me and you still check out movies from the library.
Watching the film first spoils the magic of reading the story. That’s because with every scene you read, you picture the characters as they were portrayed on the big screen instead of how the author intended.
Rare as it is, sometimes we reverse the order and watch the movie first. That’s what I did with Jurassic Park. After watching the movie, so many acquaintances said that I “need to read the book now.” I felt like I was missing out on a different experience, so I took their word for it.
And they were right. The novel had a significantly different approach to the movie adaptation that it felt like another experience. I did not compare and contrast. I enjoyed both experiences as unique pieces of creative work.
Here’s why the book is way better than the movie
When we read a novel, the story happens within our head. We deploy our creativity to shape the characters, setting, dialogue, actions and emotions based the words we read on the page.
Reading depends on us to use our imagination while the movie does not.
And we can set the pace. The camera doesn’t linger on the panorama of the scene’s environment or the look on a character’s face. The movie has to end after a couple of hours, while it can take weeks or months for us to finish reading the book.
Between our creative genius and the control of the story’s speed, it’s no wonder that the film fails in comparison.
We should ask ourselves a different question.
Why do we watch the film version of a novel after reading it, then expect to like it as much (if not more) than the original version of the story?
As I said earlier, we enjoy reading the book so much that we want to relive that experience. Is it too much to ask to enjoy the exact story twice in the same way we did the first time?
But that’s not always the case.
Sometimes it’s curiosity. We wonder if the film crew’s interpretation of the story matches the one we read. And for some reason, we’re disappointed that they didn’t consult us before production.
We need to approach watching the film version differently. We need to remind ourselves before we press play that the movie is simply an interpretation of the story. It’s not yours, it’s not mine. It’s how this writer or team of writers saw the story best fit for film.
That doesn’t mean lowering our expectations. Like my Jurassic Park example, we can enjoy both the book and the movie if we separate both experiences as just that: two different experiences.