If The Book Is Always Better, Why See The Movie?

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In light of the premiere of The Fault in our Stars, the movie adaptation of John Green’s YA novel, and the inevitable outcry of fans proclaiming, “The book was better!”,  I have a confession to make. If any of my friends or family reading this go into cardiac arrest as a result of this unexpected revelation, I take full responsibility, but it must be done:

I watched both parts of  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in theaters before I finished the book.

The Struggle Is Real

It wasn’t for lack of trying, I promise. I got the book the week it came out. I sat in my room under a ceiling fan and cracked it open, excited and nervous to experience the final installment of a series I’d been reading throughout my entire childhood. I wanted to like it, but for some reason… something didn’t click. I couldn’t get into it, struggled through the first 30 or so pages, and then closed it back up, figuring I would come back to it with a fresh mind and a newfound interest. But that day didn’t come, and soon the first movie was about to premiere, and obviously I had to go see it. God, the shame as palpable. How could I have let so much time slip by? Why couldn’t I make myself finish the book? I was a writer after all, and one who had been inspired by the series. Why didn’t I care what happened to Harry?

Having surrounded myself with equally nerdy friends who would surely condemn me, I couldn’t find it in me to disclose this secret. The premiere came and went. I laughed; I cried; I filled with rage when the film ended no a cliff hanger. Then, I spent the next few weeks to a month scrolling through Tumblr posts analyzing every way in which the book I hadn’t read surpassed its film counterpart. “Okay,” I told myself, “I have to finish the book before part two comes out.” Of course I didn’t, though, and thus would repeat the process of lying to everyone and agreeing with them that, without a doubt, the book was better.

So, remember that confession from before? I wasn’t being completely honest. I thought I could pull the wool over your eyes and write this entire piece without revealing the whole truth, but I can’t. Here it is:

I never actually finished the last Harry Potter book.

I lied to everyone, agreeing that the book surpassed the films in every way possible, but I only ever actually saw the movies. And you know what? I’m satisfied.

That’s right, after seeing both of the movies, I felt no obligation to pick up the book and finish what I started. I may technically have been missing something, but the series was over and done with as far as I was concerned. Not even the fact that I would have to lie to my friends every time it came up for the rest of my life could get me to pick up the book again. I simply did not, and do not, care.

Why am I talking about this, if not for shock value? Because this experience has caused me to think more deeply about why the majority of readers walk out of movie theaters disappointed, and what that may say about the “effectiveness” of movie adaptations in general? If the movies always leave fans disenchanted, why do they continue to flock to theaters in costume for new installments of their favorite series? I mean, you’d think that after so many disappointments, fans would just stay home and mope about how flawless the books are sure to be in comparison.

Don’t Take It Personally: Movie-ing A Book Is Hard

I kid, of course; I do understand. I may not have read the final Harry Potter book, but I read all the others, and I, too, felt gypped when some of my favorite scenes and details were omitted. (Can anyone tell me why they just completely cut out Peeves? I didn’t even like Peeves, but where was he?!) When we read, we imagine the characters, the settings, and the action, and when the images in our minds do not match up with the ones we see in the movies, we feel as if the book has not been done justice. Very rarely do our interpretations match up with those of a casting director, set designer, or anyone else on the movie’s production team. Even if the book describes the setting or characters in vivid detail, a director may have to ignore these details for the sake of practicality, not to mention the fact that movies have time constraints. Fitting an 800+ page book into a two-hour movie is bound to be a struggle. (I hear you, LOTR fans, but that’s an exception.) How can anyone possibly create a film that meets the expectations of every fan, who each has his or her own interpretation of the story?

We know on some level that what we see in our minds is often too vast and vivid and personal to be accurately replicated, so what’s the real draw? I think it has something to do with the nature of humans and stories and storytelling, the fact that we can laugh and cry our way through a story as if we’ve experience it ourselves but still hunger for a vivid experience. Maybe that hunger is a sort of hunger that is unique to the reader, since watching the two Deathly Hallows movies, I was not greedy for more details, more dialogue, or those many pages that were not accounted for. Maybe we continue to spend money on tickets and return to theaters anyway because the slightest chance of seeing the stories we’ve been imagining in our heads come to life on-screen is too grand an opportunity for to pass up.

I’m thinking now that maybe by refusing to finish Deathly Hallows, I actually am missing out. Because maybe, by nature, the book always will be better…but it’s also exactly what keeps us returning to the theaters time and time again.