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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Book Was Better

Maybe my friend Marie is smarter than she realizes. When there's a popular book burning up the best-seller lists and an announcement is made that it is going to be made into a movie, she almost always decides not to read the book until after the film is released. She knows that some people might find this odd or quirky, thinking that she is denying herself the chance to read and enjoy a really good book. I, however, have listened to her reason for doing this, and I know why she takes this approach. It's because the book is usually better. She doesn't want to spend the time and money to go watch what is probably a fairly good film, maybe even an Academy Award winner, and be sitting in the theater thinking about how different it is from the book she so thoroughly enjoyed.

I get it. But loving books as I do, I have a rough time not going for it. But I've been burned, too. I have seen commercials on the television for a series that is based on a book from one of my favorite authors. I have "read" the book in audio format, and more than once. Each time I've dipped into the story, I've had thoughts about how fantastic it would be to see it on the screen, whether it be the small screen or the big screen. I even pictured some of the characters looking like certain actors that I thought would be great at portraying them. But when the series began, I didn't last very long. Heck, even when I saw the commercials, I had a bad feeling. Major points of the story were so radically changed that I felt no connection to the story at all. I halfway expected to hear the voice of Sgt. Joe Friday telling me that "the names have been changed to protect the innocent." Except that the names were still the same, and all of the characters and their behaviors were completely different than in the book.

The series has been a very popular one, but I only lasted about two episodes. It was so different from the book that I enjoyed so much that I couldn't stand to watch it any more. I know that lots of people who haven't read the book yet have enjoyed the show immensely, and I am happy for them. I hope that they read some more of this fine author's works. Someone I know asked Santa for the book this past Christmas. I wonder from time to time if he wanted to read it because of what he had seen on tv, and if the book disappointed him as a result because it is so different than what he's seen. It happens. Just remember, the book was (usually) there first! 

I think that one of the first times I really was stunned at the difference between book and screen versions was when I saw Gone With the Wind. I read it when I was about twelve or thirteen, so when it came to a local theater for a brief revival when I was in high school, I just had to see it. Let's face it, Margaret Mitchell wrote over a thousand pages, and the movie was more than 3 1/2 hours long. (I must interject. When I said I wanted to see it, Gram said that she'd drive me to the theater, but she wasn't going to sit through the movie!) Even with it being such a long movie, I was surprised at some things that were left out. In retrospect, what difference did it make if they left out Scarlett's first child? It didn't change the outcome of the story. Although, to this day, I find it interesting that nobody ever mentions that her husband Frank was shot at the "political meeting" of a group that is known for the white robes and hoods that are worn by its members to this day. It would definitely put a little tarnish on the romance.

Oh! I can tell you of a time when I definitely preferred the movie to the book. Like many people, I was entranced by the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest was an innocent, sweet person who flowed along through life, trying all sorts of things and having amazing experiences. He was no genius, but his willingness to try things allowed him to have a very rich life, and to enrich the lives of others. After I saw the movie I just had to read the book. And the Forrest in the book was so different from the one in the film! Compared to the gentle character I adored, I felt that this Forrest was crude, insensitive, and vulgar. Yes, he was open to all sorts of experiences, but not in the innocent, childlike way of the movie character so many people love. 

A relative who didn't know that I had the book in the house gave it to Gram for her birthday. In one of those weird child-as-parent moments, I had a little chat with Gram. I told her that she could, of course, make her own decisions, and that I would support her no matter what. She could read or not read the book, it was her choice. I had already told her how I felt about it, and my disappointment in the titular character. And then I jokingly forbade her to read it. She knew that if I felt that way about the character she probably would, too, so she decided not to read the book.

Of course I will continue to read books. I might love them, or I might find them to be just okay. Or I might actively dislike them, in which case they will probably not be finished. And I will continue to see movies based on books that I may or may not have read. I will try to view the movie as an individual piece of work rather than compare it to the original story. Oh, who am I kidding? I'll probably be sitting in the dark, munching on my popcorn and thinking, "The book was so much better!"