I’ve been thinking lately about books that make the jump to the big screen, spurred most recently by a discussion over at Feministing about Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The comments there have brought up issues of who makes certain decisions about a film (was Norah’s flannel left out by the screenwriter, the costume designers, or the director?), the sacrifices screenmakers make in order to make a book more “filmic,” and what it means when films deviate significantly from their source text.
These are questions that matter. I find myself more and more quickly adding “…but it’s so much better than the movie!” when I’m recommending books-turned-movies to my teens–something I should probably avoid, or at least couch in more neutral language to avoid alienating readers who liked the movie. After all, plenty of readers–young adults and old adults alike–come to certain books only after realizing a motion picture was based on one.
So if we want to avoid placing judgment on the movies, how do we talk about the differences between them and their source texts?
First, I think it’s important that we talk about it at all. Being able to compare and contrast different kinds of media with the written word is crucial for young adults, particularly as they build research skills. (And, for what it’s worth, at least in Massachusetts it’s written into the ELA curriculum frameworks!)
Secondly, I don’t think we should shy away from the tough topics when comparing books to their screen adaptations. Don’t just ask teens which version they liked better (although that’s a fine place to start). Is the film Nick & Norah more heteronormative than the book? Do adaptations purposely alter things like costumes and aesthetic choices to target a different kind of audience? Nick and Norah getting it on onscreen garnered a PG-13 rating–what would their print rendezvous be rated by the MPAA?
Lastly, I’m always curious about this question, because readers seem to fall so firmly into one camp or another–do you prefer to read the book first, or wait and watch the movie?