This post isn’t about film adaptations of books. After writing my dissertation around this subject (if not specifically about it), I’m done. And, as noted film critic George Bluestone wrote in the 1950s, “the end products of novel and film represent different aesthetic genera, as different from each other as ballet is from architecture”. I can say no more than that and try to cling to that. This post is more about the correlation between reading a book before or after seeing the film.
I’ve just started reading ‘Anna Karenina’, with the intention of finishing it before the film comes out on the 7th September. I know a number of people that try to read a book before seeing the film. Recent examples: ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘One Day’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ (not that recent, I guess). Mostly it ends in disappointment from the film and a greater appreciation of the book but this generally relates to poor adaptations.
The film version of ‘The Hunger Games’, in my opinion, did a good job of representing the themes of the book. You will always get more backstory from a book – it’s inevitable – but the film tried to focus on key areas and also emphasised future moments. These include a greater focus on Gale and more time with President Snow. The main difficulty with this adaptation was that the book is written in the first person and includes a large amount of internal monologuing from Katniss. Unless you have her as a narrator, displaying there inner concerns can be difficult. Saying that, I think the film handled this problem well. But maybe on a second viewing I’ll feel differently.
‘One Day’. Everyone was raving about the book so I read it. I wasn’t blown away but it was still intriguing. And then there’s the film. The biggest problem with the film is the casting. As an adaptation it keeps the “spirit of the book” but throughout all you can think is: what is Anne Hathaway’s accent and why does Dexter deserve happiness? Having said this, I saw the film when it came out. It may be a very bad representation of the book and I’ve just forgotten/become too focused on Hathaway’s accent issues.
‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. This is a film that puts people off the book. Ask my mother. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so disappointed with a film adaptation. From the first trailer my hopes were dashed. Not only did it seem to completely spoil the last third of the book – a major irritation in itself – but tonally it seemed completely wrong. Glutton for punishment that I am, I went to see it anyway. Big mistake. The film had been marketed as a romantic comedy/drama. The film had been made as a romantic comedy/drama. The book had much darker elements to it. Elements that I’m not going to discuss because they’d ruin the awesomeness of the book. Needless to say, it is generally agreed that a successful adaptation requires the tone of the book to be carried through to the film. This film could be an example of the benefit of reading a book after seeing its adaptation. Your heart will not be broken and reading the book can erase the memory of watching that awful film.
So these are all books that I’ve read before seeing the film. I’ve also read books after seeing the film: ‘The 39 Steps’, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, ‘Harry Potter’ 1 – 5, ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and various Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse novels.
‘The 39 Steps’. I had a month that seemed to be entirely about ‘The 39 Steps’. I watched the Hitchcock film, listened to the audiobook, watched the theatre show The 39 Steps and then read the book. The theatre production is based on the Hitchcock film rather than the novel. The film strays from the novel in quite a few ways and yet, because it’s a Hitchcock film, remains more memorable to most than the novel. Mr. Memory. That’s all I’m gonna say. Reading/listening to the book after watching the film helped me to appreciate both forms of the plot. To this date, there have been no really faithful adaptations of the novel. I would recommend reading the book but I would also thoroughly recommend watching the Hitchcock film and the theatre production. I would go back and see the production again in a heartbeat. It is brilliant.
‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’. I bought the film pretty much after seeing the cover (essentially the poster above). It’s set in the 1930s. It’s glamorous. My kind of film. I wasn’t disappointed. I love the film. The story is great. The characters are fun. The cast give great performances and the costumes are beautiful. So, because I enjoyed the film so much, I wanted to read the source material. It is a very faithful adaptation. I enjoyed reading the book but it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film.
‘The Wizard of Oz’. This is a film that has a number of differences from the novel. The Wizard of Oz is a classic and you can’t help but be enchanted by the film. When I came across a *cough* cheap *cough* copy of the novel in Florida I bought it and read it, quickly, by the pool. I was quite surprised by how dark the book is. Especially considering that it’s first and foremost a children’s book. A number of aspects just couldn’t be filmed – particularly in the 1930s. I appreciate these changes within the context of making the film. The plot of The Wizard of Oz is much more well-known than that of the novel, similarly to that of ‘The 39 Steps’.
I’m not sure how differently I would have reacted to the three above films had I read the novels first. I’ll never be able to know that. But, as I still appreciate both forms I don’t think that’s a problem. Adaptations that I’ve had problems with would probably have acquired similar reactions without having read the book, or having read the book after watching the film. What I’d really like to know is whether other people have had similar reactions to me? Do you ever read a book after seeing an adaptation? Does a film adaptation encourage you to read the book or dissuade you? Let us know! This is a discussion that combines books AND films – what’s not to enjoy?