Movies Before Books!

July 24, 2013 at 10:54 pm (Uncategorized)

Two things are happening right now.  1. More popular books than ever are being turned into movies* and 2. I’ve been reading a lot of books.  Now, when I say I’m “reading” of course that assumes listening to the audiobooks during my commute is reading.  Since this conversation is pretty much one-sided and I’m the one-side, we’re going to accept that assumption.


This picture makes me want to curl up with some popcorn, a stack of label-less books, and a movie clapper thing

Since these two things are undoubtedly both happening, I’ve, of course, been in that mindset, and uttered the infamous phrase, “Oooh!  I want to see that, but I want to read the book first!”

My friends, I’m here today to tell you why I’ve been mistaken in that way of thinking all these years.

“But Ryan, that’s stupid.  You’re stupid.  I’m going to stop reading right now.”  Fair enough, but only if you’re holding off on this post until the movie is released.  

So to begin, I’ll present some fair counterpoints to my argument, just so we’ve got everything out on the table.  The way I see it, there are two good reasons that you might want to read the book first.  Well, I see two decent reasons and then something else.  The first decent reason is that there may be a really terrible adaption of a book to movie that just turns you off of all the characters completely.  As they say, “Never judge a book by its movie.”  That’s fair.  I guess I need to specify that this post is applicable mostly only when you’ve heard good things about the book and the movie.  The other good point is that as the reader, you want to read the book first and visualize everything for yourself instead of seeing some filmmaker’s adaptation of it.    Again, fair point, and I don’t really have a counter-counterpoint.  I guess that’s a roll of the dice.  The last something else is if you really aren’t interested in the storytelling – only the story.  If that’s the case, why bother with the book at all?  Just watch the movie and be done with it.  This argument isn’t for you.

Now that those are out on the table, let’s talk reasons you should watch the movie first.  In almost all cases, the book is better than the movie.  Straight up.  There is no way most movies can tell a story as well as a book.  One of the reasons for this is the sheer amount of time you spend caring (or not caring) about the characters.  Luckily, at this point, my experience with audiobooks comes in handy and lets me compare apples and oranges as far as running time goes.  Over the last 2 or so years, I count 14 books that I’ve read that also have movies based (very loosely in some circumstances) on them.  Below I’ve listed those books, along with their audiobook times.

Hunger Games                                               11 hours 14 minutes

1984                                                               11 hours 26 minutes

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo                 16 hours 19 minutes

The Girl Who Played with Fire                    18 hours 38 minutes

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest    20 hours 20 minutes

Casino Royale (James Bond)                        4 hours 39 minutes

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy         5 hours 51 minutes

LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring              19 hours 11 minutes

LOTR: The Two Towers                                16 hours 40 minutes

LOTR: The Return of the King                     18 hours 18 minutes

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz                       3 hours 49 minutes

The Count of Monte Cristo                           47 hours

Jurassic Park                                                  15 hours 19 minutes

The Lost World                                              15 hours 19 minutes


A terrible book AND movie!

I’m not going to bother looking up the runtimes of these movies.  I’m pretty sure you get the point without me doing that.  There is no way you can watch a 2 hour movie and have as much invested in a character as you would if you metaphorically watch a well-developed character for 20 hours.  That argument aside, you don’t have the time to cram in the entire 20 hour long storyline, and some parts will invariably get cut.  I know some of the meat of books comes from details that can be visually represented much more quickly in a movie, but my point still stands.  You’re just not going to be able to represent all the plot nuances of a good book in a 2 or 3 hour movie.  Why lead with the good one and then be let down?  Work your way up from a thinned-out script to the behemoth of a storyline in a book, with all its nuance.

So why kid yourself?  If you read the book first, sure it’s a treat to see all the things you envisioned come to life, but you will almost certainly end up sitting there through the entire movie thinking to yourself, “well that’s not what REALLY happened.”  If you’re anything like me, you might even corner some poor sap (or spouse) to tell them all the things the movie did differently.

The major disadvantage to reading the book first is that you already know all the plot twists and turns.  However, if you’re planning to both read the book and watch the movie anyway, knowing the plot twists and turns is so much less a big deal in a book than in a movie, at least for me.  When watching a movie, the experience is generally about telling a fairly straightforward story.  When reading a book, you’ve got a lot more time to think about the events that may or may not happen, and most authors include a fair amount of foreshadowing.

Why not just treat the movie as the bare-bones scaffolding of the plot and turn to the book to put some meat on those bones?  (Books love mixed metaphors*)  If you watch the movie first, you’ll almost certainly be watching a stripped-down version of the book, and how could that make any book-lover happy?

Plus, you’ll be less likely to be the unhappy jerk in the theater scowling when you watch the film, thinking about how they’re leaving out a detail that’s going to screw up a plot point later.  You can just notice it to yourself as you’re reading alone, and think wistfully about how stupid those moviemakers were who forgot this plot point.  Silly, stupid moviemakers.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.  I think I’ve successfully taken a question that was never directly asked of me, and written more on the issue than most people care to read.  I think my job for the evening is done!



*I can’t back this up, and it’s likely not true.


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