I have a theory about books and the movies that are made from them. Most people will tell you that you should always read the book first. Generally, I agree with them, but I have a couple exceptions to that rule. Books are always better, right? Mmmm yyyyes, however books are not always better first. Sometimes the movie needs to viewed before you can appreciate the book. Blasphemy? No, and there are several things to consider when it comes to book vs. movie.
Classics: Watch the Movie First
Books that are classified as classics, are typically better watched first than read. Anything written over 100 years ago is written with a different flare than books from today. The style, the settings, and the clothing are foreign to us. Even if the book takes place in your birth country, the customs and language can be confusing unless you are a history major. I couldn’t have fully understood or appreciated Jane Austen’s books without watching them first. The time period has its own distinction. The people who would have existed then would seem ridiculous now, but when you watch it…it all makes sense. To someone who lived in the early 1800’s, Jane Austen’s books were the norm, but they were written 200 years ago. Culture has evolved and movies can help us better understand a time that we are far removed from because it is explained through more of our senses (visual and auditory).
My sister watched the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, and loved it so much that she wanted to read the book. When she finished it, she was shocked when she found that the ending was very different from the movie. She expressed how grateful she was that she watched the movie first. If she had read the book first, she would’ve hated the movie. Is the book better? Of course it is, without the book the movie wouldn’t exist. But by watching the movie first she able to appreciate them both. One offered the original story. The other was the version that was more theatrically appealing.
I watched the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The movie was not great, but I loved the music and something about the story. I wasn’t sure what that something was, so I wanted to read the book. I have two things that I need to say before I continue.
- Victor Hugo is highly descriptive…intensely descriptive…OVERLY descriptive, so don’t tackle one of his books without knowing that. Seriously, there are entire chapters that only describe the setting.
- Disney shouldn’t have made such an adult book into a children’s animated movie. Victor Hugo isn’t a children’s author at all.
I loved the book. The story was amazing. Victor Hugo has a talent for weaving characters together in a way that is unprecedented. The Disney version did nothing to enhance the original story, but it planted the desire to read it. And actually, Disney’s lighthearted version made the book more devastating and realistic. So, I can’t entirely be upset with Disney and their rendition. It led me to one of my favorite classics.
Movies That are Completely Different From the Book: Watch the Movie First
The best example I have for this is Ella Enchanted. I wish that I could say that I read the book first, but I didn’t. I watched the movie and thought it was okay. I wasn’t smitten by any means, but I knew several people who LOVED it. When I finally read the book, I was blown away. Not only was it a good book, but I also was completely surprised by the ending. The movie was completely different. I often wonder now how the movie ended up on such a different tangent. It’s so separate from the book that I didn’t even recognize who Ella really was. If I had read the book first, I would’ve hated the movie. That’s not a big deal, I suppose, but I would’ve scolded my friends who liked the movie. The movie was not great, but I could still enjoy it if one of my friends wanted me to watch it with them.
Okay, maybe this second one is a bad exception to the rule because it’s not often that you know beforehand if the book and movie are extremely separate. And even if you do know, usually, those movies are a disaster (ie. Eragon, I am Number Four, and The Golden Compass). I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is that watching a movie before reading the book isn’t the worst thing in the world. I make a point of reading books before the movies are released, but there are a lot of movies that I love which I would have disliked had I read the source of the story first.
Anything New: Read the Book First
Ender’s Game, Maze Runner, Divergent, The Book Thief, Catching Fire, are all 2013 or soon to be released movies that are adaptations of books. Read those. Unlike classics, they aren’t filled with tricky language or reference anything that we can’t wrap our minds around. In fact, watching the movies without the book as a reference can actually make it more difficult to follow. Books have the ability to show introspection that cannot be fully expressed in film. Too many people go to these movies without reading the books and are surprised when they didn’t like it. It’s less common for a newer movie to entice someone to read the novel. It’s better to enjoy the source and then be satisfied with the adaptation then to be confused by a movie that makes you wonder how the book got so popular. Always try to read the more recent books before the movies are released.