Judging a movie by its book is like judging kids by their parents

It’s simply not fair to either side

(Photo credit: Denise Jans on Unsplash)

“Movies aren’t as good as books.” Might as well say: “Kids aren’t as good as their parents.”

That one comes from the other doesn’t justify judging both on the same scale. As media, books and movies are as different as children and parents differ in personality.

Being different means movies can’t do what books can. But that goes both ways: books can’t do what movies can either. Books can capture thought, spend time on description, build out a story slowly over time. But movies have their own strengths: actual moving images and sound!

The real difference lies in the unique natures of each.

I’ve been reading some fantasy (Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series) over the past couple weeks, sneaking it into free moments and bedtime. Movies don’t get that luxury: they’re made to be consumed in one sitting. That’s why they can only be so long (plus, extra minutes — unlike extra pages — may mean millions).

But of course, since it’s an adaptation of a book we can’t simply ignore that and I’m not saying we should. But like with kids, the only real question is: does it capture the spirit of the book? If the answer is yes, then what more could you want? And even if the answer is no: that doesn’t mean it’s a BAD movie. It could be a good movie while being a bad adaptation. (I mean, let’s be honest: faithful adaptations often make terrible movies. There are few things as unfortunate as movies — or kids — that are merely copies of their predecessors.)

The letter still kills — it’s the spirit that gives life.

When you read a book, you form a personal narrative about it — it’s why we disagree on what books mean, what matters about them and why. Adapting a book to film takes that a step further: that personal narrative of the book is used as the basis for a new one.

When we imagine our personal narrative to be obvious, and then watch movie adaptations expecting to see it, we’re just setting ourselves up to be disappointed. And deservedly so, for being so conceited as to assume how we see is all that matters! (There’s a parable in there.)

Why not simply watch movie adaptations on their own merit, and compare them only by how they use the film format to shine in ways their books couldn’t (like visuals, pacing & acting) while staying true to the spirit of the books?

After all, what more would you expect from a child, right?

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Scroll down to content