This weekend my daughter and I went to see the movie The Fault in Our Stars. I laughed, I cried…she laughed and cried. I thought the movie was moving and poetic. I loved the strength and courage of the main characters and their journey to love, even while knowing theirs would not be a story of happily ever after. I left the theatre feeling satisfied with the storytelling, the actors, and the soundtrack. When I expressed all these things to my daughter she responded with the strength and conviction of all her eleven years of wisdom, “Really? I was pretty disappointed. The book was better.”
And there you have it. I did not read the book. I do not know what I’m missing.
I’ve been in her shoes before. There are very few films that have lived up to books I’ve read. Certainly no movie has ever exceeded a book from my perspective, although there are a few that got it pretty darn close.
This got me to thinking…why is it a book is nearly always better than the movie?
What is Left on the Cutting Room Floor?
As readers, we want every moment or detail between our beloved characters that elicited an emotion to make it onto the screen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to my hubs after watching a movie and said, “What you don’t know from the movie about this relationship is…” Often times, having not read the book, he didn’t find the moment a missing piece to the story he’d just watched on the screen. It’s just that I’m a reader and I want it ALL!
When a reader watches a film, it is important to keep in mind that this is the director’s vision of the story. We have to accept this as part of the film journey and leave our expectations at the door. What might be important to me as a reader (“In this moment the character is thinking of X”) may not be important to the story the director wants to tell. When reading we are able to interpret, assume, and envision a moment to our liking. On screen, the actions and visuals are absolute.
This leads to the importance of casting. Remember the uproar with the Fifty Shade of Grey casting? TMZ reported the last minute change with the same intensity CNN reports breaking news. Why? Because the fans felt as if they had a say in the casting of their book. I can only imagine the insanity that will ensue when the movie is released.
So, what is it is about a movie like The Fault in Our Stars or The Hunger Games that makes us cry foul loud and hard when the movie doesn’t meet our expectations? For the record, I loved the casting and movie versions of both, but I will forever cry foul to the makers of the Harry Potter movies for all but KILLING the Harry/Ginny relationship. Not due to casting, but due to several omissions of moments in the movies. And why? What is it that makes readers feel as if we have a stake in all this? I blame the brilliance of the author. By creating a rich world filled with characters we love, we feel a sense of intimacy and then ownership for that world.
Books Belong to the Readers!
I don’t want to spoil the The Fault in Our Stars for anyone who has yet to read the book or see the film, but the story line actually touches upon this idea. The main characters, Hazel and Augustus, grow intimately attached to characters within a novel they have read. These characters, and those around them, are on a similar journey as Hazel, Augustus and their families. So much so that they refuse to believe the story just ends. They are compelled to seek answers…what happens next? And as writers, isn’t that what we want our readers to ask?
A bit of research tells me John Green has been bombarded with these same questions about The Fault in Our Stars. I beyond love his response:“I promise you: I DON’T KNOW. I have access to the exact same text that you do. I do not have access to any information outside of that text, because then it would just be me speculating about what might happen, and my speculations are no more valuable or authoritative than anyone else’s. Books belong to their readers! Own it! Make it yours!”
Dedicated readers do feel a sense of ownership to a book we love. It is this love of a book that takes us to the movie expecting a repeat of the profound experience created on the page. But it cannot. It is a different medium, and when it falls short, we rage and why? Because that is OUR book, and we want the world to see our version of our book.
What books turned into movies have met the grade for you as a reader? Which ones have fallen short? Have you ever felt this sort of ownership over a book that was made into a TV show or film? If so, which ones and why?