That is the question…
It’s an age-old question and debate, which is more worth your time- reading a book or watching a film? Would you rather commit to trawling through hundreds of pages of internal dialogue and description, or do you prefer devoting two hours to the exciting visuals and high- speed narrative of the big screen?
The truth is that both novels and films are worthy suitors: The Guardian proposed that it is a ‘stubborn snobbism that film is the weak sibling of the arts’. This article explores the value of both. For example, film is great for a particular story heavy on visuals and description, and a novel is a more suitable format for deep character explorations.
To read or to watch?
This is a beautiful coming of age novel featuring orphaned child Kya Clarke living on a marsh in North Carolina. The 2022 film removes the sense of mystery and unknown around Kya. Disappointingly, Daisy Edgar Jones is far too glamorous to be ‘the swamp girl’ Delia Owens intended. While the film makes us appreciate the majesty of the marsh landscape, this is interspersed with drawn-out, cliched love scenes, which takes away from the engimatic Kya. Critics berated the film as ‘a muddle through the marsh’ and ‘a generic, dull, outing’.
Arguably, the film is targeting a narrower audience than the book: it’s essentially a coming of age love story, while the book is an interesting read for a biologist, and proposes a more interesting psychological study of Kya. Perhaps Owen’s was a tough competitor to beat, having sold over 12 million copies worldwide, making this one of the greatest selling novels of all time…
This is an unhinged autobiography about hedonism and adventure. The book and film are very effective. For example, the psychedelic experience of Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney is simulated on screen, providing a unique visceral experience for the viewer.
Though, the book highlights the hopelessness of consumerism and the American Dream more so than the sensory focus of the film. The novel’s subheading is ‘A savage journey to the heart of the American dream’. Thompson explores this idea more in the book: he muses how he searched for the promised dream and instead met madness and lost touch with reality.
The BBC series about love and growing up in Ireland was a smash-hit during the 2019 lockdown. However, the lovers are incredibly frustrating in the BBC adaptation, making rash decisions with seemingly no thought. The characterisation is lacking in the digitalised series because by nature we can’t access the character’s thoughts, unlike in the book.
On the other hand, the takeaway message from the novel is that both lovers are pining for one another the whole time, but just cannot communicate this with each other. In the book, the developed internal dialogue of each lover executes the disconnect between their internal thoughts and what they actually say to each other. Sally Rooney makes Marrienne and Connele bitingly real through their fear of telling each other what they actually want.
The 2019 film paid tribute to Louis May Alcott’s novel in what was deemed ‘The freshest literary adaptation of the year’ by the Guardian. The film employed the appropriate autumnal scenes of New England and displayed the historic Debutante balls; and it was strikingly close to the original in characterisation and scripting too. Yet, the change in time sequence and award winning acting meant Little Women was far from your stuffy remake of the literary classic.
Why do directer’s make film adaptations of books?
Another way to make a film is to loosely base the storyline and characters on a literary classic, but set the action in the modern era. For example, Chick flick films – which are films written for women’s interests and marketed towards women – often take storylines from literary classics.
Adaptations which ‘trap’ the millienial woman
Often, Chick flicks adapt traditional texts to make a statement about how women are not breaking free of traditional expectations of them.
For example, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) is based upon Jane Austen’s classic text, Pride and Prejudice (1813). Fielding and Sharon Maguire’s (the author of Bridget Jone’s Diary) version transfers Austen’s men-crazed women into the character of Bridget Jones. The first scene includes Bridget sobbing and drinking alone, distraught at her lack of boyfriend at the great age of 30. She – and everyone else in the film- view her predicament as an embarrassment and a failure for a woman living at the turn of the 2000s.
Clueless (1995), which is based on Austen’s Emma, similarly replies to Austen’s presentation of women as obsessed with love and relationships. Frustratingly, the protagonist Cher is also self- absorbed, and is a complete airhead. She doesn’t have a clue of the malicious intentions of people around her. The naive character of Cher is not a female role model, and speaks volumes about the degrading presentation of women in popular culture before 2000.
Film Adaptations can also predict change…
However, film adaptations can also steer their audiences away from their old-fashioned literary cousins.
For example, Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) is trying to do something very different to Clueless. The film presents strong, opinionated lead Kat. Kat is based upon Katherine of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Although, Junger’s hip teen channels the strong willed side of Shakespeare’s Katherine, as opposed to Shakespeare’s unfavourable representation of her. In this way, director Junger discredits the original as misogynistic.
What do you think?
Do you think there is always room for a book to evolve into something new on the big screen? Or does it worry you when you see a new release of your favourite book?
Why not explore this question further…
If you’re more team-books, visit AbeBooks, which has thousands of cheap second hand books. By supporting Abebooks, you’re encouraging the recycling of books, saving yourself money, and also boycotting unethical companies like Amazon. If you are wanting to discuss your ideas, why not research local book clubs or even form one yourself?
If you’re a film-fanatic, have a read of REACH’s article: ‘The Ultimate Picture Palace 2022: How Cinema is Bringing the Community Together in Oxford’, to find out about new releases and film festivals in Oxford. If you’d like to voice your opinions, you could create an IMDb account and leave your reviews of films online. They accumulate user reviews of films, and this contributes to the final IMDb score you see when choosing a film.
Have your say in the comments below!