Tuesday, 15 July 2014

If you like the movie, will you love the book?

'Tis a poster I've seen many times in (school/children's) libraries.  
'Tis designed to get kids interested in reading.  
'Tis, however, not always true.  

I know.  This may be a contentious stance for me to take.  But there it is. 
I'm thinking in general terms of films that are gems of cinematography, with still moments of reflection or blowyoursockscompletelyoff action sequences. 

I don't think anyone can contest that Life Of Pi - 'the movie'  is fabulous.  If you were lucky enough to see it in 3D (and I mean proper 3D, where the 3rd dimension actually feels like part of the cinematography and not a 'pokey-pokey', 'jab-jab' afterthought) then I'm sure you left that cinema feeling as though you'd just been properly entertained in an uplifting, thought-provoking and long-lasting way.  Similarly, though admittedly in the much more distant past, The Beach bewitched audiences with its fabulous sets and script, capturing the mood of the book and pleasing even die-hard fans of the book.  Something every film maker and screenwriter must surely strive for. 

But just because the film is great, does it necessarily follow that the book will excite audiences in the same way? 

Surely a film and a book are very different beasts.  For instance, if you've both read and watched The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas you will know that the film includes a scene not in the book; the long dusty road in the book is replaced by an exciting forest in the film; the endings are different.  Similarly, in the film version of The Road, there is a scene where the son finds an insect alive and watches it fly away.  This is not in the book at all.  It was written in purely for the film.  A more extreme example is The Woman In Black where the film is so entirely different in narrative from the book that it feels almost like a different story.  But that doesn't make it a bad movie.  And in fact I think it captures the mood of the story brilliantly. 

It can often be quite galling as a fan of a book to see the film and it can be tempting to complain:  "It's nothing like the book".  "That's not right - it doesn't happen like that".  "She's not supposed to be blonde". 


But we have to understand that what works on a page, and in readers' minds, won't necessarily transfer to the big screen.  Watching a movie is a shared experience.  It's arguably a more passive experience.  But essentially it's about sights and sounds in a way that the written word simply cannot be. 

A great recent insight into this world is Saving Mr Banks (not be confused with Saving Private Ryan!) which follows the conflict that PL Travers faced when deciding whether or not to let Disney get their hands on her book. 

This film shines a light on the screenwriting process and highlights the need to address differences between the written word and the filmic experience in terms of audience satisfaction. 

Mary Poppins is one such instance where I think if you love the film, you won't necessarily love the book.  My 6 year old, for example, loves the film.  I very much doubt she would appreciate the darker - fewer dancing penguins - book.  But then the book wasn't devised for her particular demographic.  The film was. 

I'm not saying don't read the book on the basis that you've enjoyed the film.  Just don't have any expectations.  Go into it open minded, as you would any book.  And resist the urge to make comparisons. 

If you liked the film, you might like the book too.  Then again, you might not.  And that's fine. 

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