So Much Better Than the Movie

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?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.
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2 Comments

  1. I had a student who is a die-hard “Twilight” fan come into the library where I’m student teaching and start ranting about how she heard there was dialogue in the movie that was from one of the sequels–we had to calm her down. There are purists, and then there are people who understand creative license. Mind you, not all creative license is appropriate.

    I have yet to see any Harry Potter films, because I haven’t finished the books, or the Lord of the Rings movies, for that same reason. I don’t want my reading experience tainted, and it is kind of fun to compare the movies to the books. To look at it the other way around, if the movies get readers interested in the books, that’s a good thing. That gets people thinking, too.

  2. You’re right reading the book after seeing the movie does keep you thinking. I was a big fan of the film White Oleander and was very pleased that a librarian allowed me to keep a copy of the book because I’d volunteered there. I immediately started reading the book and when I finished it I was disappointed in the movie. I recently had a discussion with in freshmen seminar class (freshmen at University of the Pacific!!!) about the book v. movie battle and we all felt as that because you feel more connected to the characters when you are alone with them most people will always root for the book over the film. Reading is such a personal experience and you get to really delve into characters’ psyche’s and it makes you feel as though you are on a journey with them. There will always be people who hate the film version of their fav books. There is a plus side: films of books always give me good recommendations on what to read next. I fell in love with Youth in Revolt after I found out it was going to be made into a film with Michael Cera. However, I am afraid they will ruin it.

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