Creative Commons License

Books and Movies

Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 05:39 AM EDT

This post contains NO spoilers.

I saw The Time Traveler’s Wife with my wife today. I had read the book about a year ago, and had been looking forward to the movie. I wasn’t disappointed — I thought the movie was very moving and captured the spirit of the book, even if it didn’t capture everything. It ignored some dynamics that the book elaborated on and some scenes and details were slightly different.

One thing I was concerned about while watching the movie was just how much I was liking it because I knew all the background in the book, or how much came from the movie. If the former was true, then the movie wasn’t going to be that great an experience for someone who had read it. If the latter was true, then it was a damn good movie. I don’t have the answer to that.

Another concern is how it’s a cultural norm in our society to bash movies based on books, and yet to relentlessly watch them to the point that Hollywood feels compelled to turn every book that sells a few copies into one. Douglas Adams once made the point that he changed the story of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to match the medium he was writing it for. A story that plays well on the radio can take advantage of completely different things when it is translated to book or movie form. I don’t have the exact quote and searching for that kind of thing is damn near impossible on Google (let me know if you find it).

But that’s an observation I have long taken to heart when watching movies translated from books. Obviously you can’t fit an entire book into 2 hours and still have a story that tells like anything worth watching. You can’t capture the full power of every scene, every nuance, nor every subtlety that a book can. That’s not what the silver screen does well. What it does well (when it is done right) is making you feel in touch with characters and the story. Books do that too, but movies actually put the images before your eyes.

That said, I have never been able to bring myself to read a book based on a movie. I just can’t do it.