Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Of Books and Their Movies

Like many other book-minded people, I've always had the book-versus-movie conundrum. There are two parts to the conundrum:
  1. Should I watch the movie adaptations of my favourite books? Suppose it ruins the images I've carefully constructed in my head of my favourite characters? Suppose - God forbid - the next time I read Pride and Prejudice, I can only picture Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet? (Don't worry, it's just an example - Pride and Prejudice isn't one of my favourite books.)
  2. And on the other hand, if I know that the movie I'm planning to watch next week is adapted from a book, should I read the book first? Since I'm a book person, surely I'm morally obliged to read the book before watching the movie?

Many bookworms do refuse to watch the movie adaptations of their favourite books. Personally speaking though, I have no such qualms. I eagerly look forward to movie adaptations, to see if the images I've constructed in my head match those conjured up by others. Funnily enough, I generally leave the hall happy even if the movie is terrible. (The first two Harry Potter movies come to mind, though Prisoner of Azkaban is both my favourite Harry Potter book and movie.)

The second question is more of a problem. I do generally feel that I should read the book before watching the movie. (That's one of the reasons I didn't watch Midnight's Children - I've tried a few times to read the book, and never gotten beyond Saleem Sinai's nose.) 

But once I go through the trouble of reading the book, the movie usually seems quite superfluous. I get impatient, knowing what's to come next. If the movie is especially faithful to the text, I even know what the character is going to say next, which makes it quite boring.

But good news! I discovered the answer to this question today. The answer is two-fold.

If you haven't read the book yet, don't read it at all. Or at least, wait until the movie is completely erased from your memory. 

If you HAVE read the book however, make sure that a few months elapse before you watch the movie. This way, you don't miss allowing your own imagination to construct the book's world for you. But at the same time, the details remain hazy enough that you don't feel impatient while watching the movie. 

I had this revelation while attempting to watch the first episode of the Game of Thrones series. The show is so faithful to the book that I kept judging the actors. (Why is it that they have adults playing the kids anyway? Is it because of all the nudity and the sex?)

And yet, I don't know how much sense the story would make to people who haven't read the book. So many characters and history. How can they grasp all the complexity without being able to flip back a few pages and refer when needed?

The best way is to have the basic plot-line in your head, so that the recesses of your memory light up one by one as the show progresses. At the same time, you're unable to anticipate what's about to happen. Think of it as walking through a long series of rooms with closed doors. Each door only opens up once you reach it, rather than having all the doors open, with you being able to see all the way to the last room at the beginning.

And hence the above method.


I know I'm behind the entire world and its grandma in reading/watching the Game of Thrones series. In fact, believe it or not, I resisted reading the books for a long time as well. That's quite strange considering that fantasy is my favourite genre. 

The reason for my resistance was the fact that my brother kept pushing the book at me, saying it was better than Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. That statement is pretty much guaranteed to put my back up; I love that series, despite its many flaws. 

So it was only in February that I read the first book. And then, of course, it's so addictive that the second book just had to follow. I've given myself a bit of a break at the moment, though.

So is the series better than the Wheel of Time? Well, if you force me to be strictly objective about it, I would have to say yes. It's about a hundred times better written to start with. George R R Martin does have the tendency to  go on and on and on, just like Robert Jordan. But at least the plot moves forward. And secondly, the characters. Oh my God, the characters. There are so many many layers to each character that you don't  quite know whom to support. For example, Tyrion Lannister waddled his way straight into my heart in the second book. And he's supposed to be a 'negative' character. 

But I don't know if I'm going to really continue reading the series. First of all, at the rate the books are currently being written, it will take George R R Martin another twenty years to finish the series. And I would much rather wait till the entire series is completed before reading them. Which is what I finally did with the Wheel of Time series. 

And secondly, the book is just so - violent. And I don't mean the beheadings and the random killing of innocent villagers. (In fact, one of my favourite things about the series is that Martin has no qualms about killing off important characters.) No, I mean the rapes and the way women are generally treated. Yes, I do know that the condition of women was quite bad during the Middle Ages, but still. The first few paragraphs of this post explain what I mean. (By the way, please do read the entire post. It's slightly haphazard and much too long, but it does make you think. And then there's the title, of course.)
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Unknown said...

I haven't read any of the GoT books, so I'm really glad that the TV series is faithful to them.

And so far, Tyrion Lannister is easily my favourite character. After one of the episodes in the 2nd season, I was quite totally wrung out. Damn GRRM and his detachment to the fate of his characters!

On another note, I've seen quite a few movies that I didn't know were based on books, and then gone on to read the books much later, Jungle Book and Mary Poppins come to mind right away. Neither is particularly faithful to the book (especially the latter -- it was quite shockingly divergent really), but I really liked both versions.

I've also read a few books which I didn't know were made into movies at the time, which is interesting, because it played out as the same scenario which you suggest as ideal. (Read book, wait long enough for the mental images to settle and go fuzzy, then watch movie) The Godfather and lots of Michael Crichton books that aren't Jurassic Park, and pretty much everything Stephen King has written.

In the latter case, the movie matched up to or surpassed the experience of the book only in the cases of The Godfather and The Shining. Even The Shawshank Redemption, while a great movie, fell woefully short of the novella.

Of course, all this is based on what I can remember off-hand. There might be something that I'm completely forgetting that renders everything I've said totally useless..