On the Correlation of Books and Movies

"An unread book does nobody any good. Stories happen in the mind of a reader, not among symbols printed on a page."
-Brandon Mull
When people think of art, the first thing that will come to mind will often be a painting. Then, perhaps, some type of sculpture. The types of things that are typically found in a museum, or even on the door of the fridge. But as I'm sure you know, there are many different types of art. Simply look up the definition in the dictionary, and the descriptions will go on and on. Art can include not only paintings and sculptures, but music, dancing, even public speaking. One very popular form of art is the art of storytelling. And in the art of storytelling, two forms rise to the top: books, and movies. Both forms are indeed types of art, and it takes great skill to properly construct either one. However, they are two different forms of art. Today, we will be exploring the differences between books and movies, and the stories that are told within. This will, of course, be focusing on works of fiction, though other styles of books and movies could be analyzed in a similar way.

Books and movies each have their own strengths and their own weaknesses, which must be taken into account when writing a story for that particular medium. To begin, we'll look at some of the strengths of movies. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I would heartily agree with the intention of this statement. When describing an image, it may take a thousand words to build the proper view in the listener's mind. But to show them the image directly will accomplish the same task with far greater accuracy and in far less time. Movies have a great advantage at their disposal, as they need not spend endless pages describing scenery that they can show instead with a single sweep of the camera. The viewer can see exactly what's going on. Another great advantage is the audibility of the characters, and indeed, the environment itself. We can hear the tones of the voices, the environment that the characters are in, and even music to help set the mood, making the entire scene more dramatic. If something bad is about to happen, haunting music may play, while sweet romantic music plays as two characters begin to fall in love over the course of a montage. The visual and audible aspects of a movie make it a very powerful method for storytelling.

However, books haven't been eliminated from the storytelling world yet, and for good reason. They have a number of strengths of their own. While it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, I believe the opposite to also be true. A word is worth a thousand pictures. Imagine a room filled with a thousand people. Each person is equipped with a piece of paper and various tools for coloring; from pens to pencils, from crayons to pastels, from watercolors to acrylics, these people are equipped to lay down a masterpiece. Before these thousand people, you step up onto a stage before them, and speak a single word. "Tree." Immediately, before your eyes, these thousand people begin to work in their favorite form of art. And when they have finished, you have a thousand different pictures, of a thousand different trees. A picture is indeed worth a thousand pictures, when what you desire is accuracy. However, in terms of imagination, a word is worth a thousand pictures and more, for each person will have a slightly different thought for each word spoken. For a writer, this is not only a benefit, but a test of skill. The writing must be clear enough that the important aspects of the situation are understood, while keeping in mind that in any situation, the reader will be imagining the scenario and applying their own ideas wherever they're allowed.
Another strength is the use of adjectives that convey ideas rather than appearances. Imagine a room that is described as being beautiful and magnificent in every way. Imagine a chest at the end of the room, described in detail, with the color listed as a lovely shade of red. Now, imagine the same situation, but with the chest instead having been described as being a haunting shade of red. The chest is exactly the same. The room is exactly the same. The only difference is the emotion of the character which is being cast upon an object in the room. Since a movie shows us everything, this type of description is not possible.
But one of the most major strengths of a book is the length. Books can be hundreds of pages long, and as a series, can contain a story even longer. A person can read a chapter at a time, or several. They can use bookmarks and continue the story whenever they're ready, as opposed to being limited to 90-120 minutes, with three hours being extremely long. Therefore, they have room for more detail, more events, more characters, and more depth.

A very common practice these days is for popular books to be remade as movies. However, I believe that, as two different art forms with different strengths, this ought not to be the case. This is not a popular position. But the most common argument I hear against my case is, "You're overthinking things," which was previously shown to be an invalid argument. Therefore, I will be analyzing the situation here in detail.

Any story written as a book is designed to use the strengths of a book, and to account for the weaknesses. In the same way, any story written as a movie is designed to use the strengths of a movie, and to account for the weaknesses of a movie. Because of this, the stories don't cross effectively from one medium to the other. The most obvious application of this is of books to movies. For example, the Harry Potter series. While the first movie was technically accurate in the events that happened, it had a very rushed feel in my mind, and other aspects were left out entirely. For example, the design of the costumes left out an entire aspect of the novels: the confusion of wizards about non-magical clothing and customs. That was an important part of the novels, and yet, never addressed in the movies. The first book was the shortest. After the first movie, they began cutting out scenes and changing things around. This is a common complaint from book lovers, that movies cut out and change important scenes. The common response is that the movie would simply be too long if they left everything in, and they're absolutely right. This is one of the weaknesses of movies, and a strength of books. However, when scenes are cut, the story changes, and it no longer sends the same message.
In this case, we'll look at Lord of the Rings, which cut out the character Tom Bombadil. Tom Bombadil is seen as a joker, whose only real value is for comedic purposes. However, upon closer examination, we can see that he is much more important than that, as he is the only character in the books to be stronger than evil. Frodo gives in, and the ring is only destroyed because of the self destruction of further evil. Good doesn't triumph. Evil is stronger than good, and only a mistake allowed good to end up on top this time. That is the message of the movies. The books differ. Tom Bombadil shows that not only does evil not have power over him, but he has power over evil. He is the only character that does this. The movies were unable to account for this.
Time isn't the only factor that keeps movies from telling the same stories, though. While books need to keep readers interested throughout, movies often seek to keep them interested in a different way. We see this happen many times in The Hobbit. One example is of the troll scene. In the book, the dwarves send him because they think it's such a simple situation that even he can handle it. They don't know about the trolls yet, after all. Bilbo, upon discovering the situation, attempts to prove himself to the dwarves, and to himself. While he claims that he doesn't care, we see that he really does want the respect of the dwarves. But he fails. He messes up, putting everyone in danger, and he has to be rescued by Gandalf. This is very different from the movie, where the dwarves send him after knowing about the trolls already. They weren't trying to protect themselves, because if he failed, they would have to step forward anyway. So they sent him because they trusted him to get the job done. And he would have, too, except for the random chance of the troll reaching back, through no fault of his own. The dwarves came forth to try to protect him, resulting in a fight scene. At the end of the scene, Bilbo is the one who outwits the trolls and saves them all. Let's recap. In the book, Bilbo wants respect, but neither has it nor deserves it. In the movie, Bilbo doesn't care about the respect, but both has it and deserves it.

We can see that seemingly unimportant scenes are actually very important. A good book doesn't add unnecessary details, which means that anything removed or changed will affect the story in a negative way, even if it doesn't seem like it at first glance. But the exact same thing happens with books to movies.
The book Star Wars, written by George Lucas, for example. While a book has enough space to show every event in the movies, it doesn't have enough space for every detail on the sets, just like the movies have room for descriptions, but not events. The book Star Wars was accurate in every way, but didn't have the same effect as the movie. The descriptions weren't as complete as in the movies. It didn't have the same feel. It, quite simply, wasn't as good. Because books and movies are two different forms of art. They're two different forms of storytelling.

My belief is that books should not be made into movies, and movies should not be made into books. Each story is designed to be told in its own way, with its own style. When people attempt to put one story into the style of the other, they mutilate the story, and end up sending subconscious messages that they didn't mean to send. These messages affect our culture, and the way that people think. We need to be constantly on guard, watching for the messages that stories send, even stories that we think are good and pure.
"Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes."
-John LeCarre

No comments:

Post a Comment