Readers at the Movies: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Out StarsThis 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!

movie theatreThe Importance of Interpretation

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.

My Cast!

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?

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31 Comments

  1. Rosie – you MUST read this book. I am even surprised you saw the movie without reading it first. I read it in 2 days, could not put it down. That book sat with me for days after reading it and still does almost 2 months later. It was so beautifully written that I am afraid to watch the movie. It took me almost 2 years to watch The Notebook due to the same fear!

    I will say though, that there was one movie that I loved I think more than the book; The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I was never quite able to make my way through the book, but I found the movie riveting and that too sat with me for quite some time after.

    Excellent post, and obviously, I agree with your feelings on Harry & Ginny.

    -Lori

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Since the book is in my house and is growing well loved and worn by my girl, I do have plans to read it. It will be a good test experiment for me to have watched the movie first in this instance.

      The Perks of Being a Wallflower is on my TBR and To Be Watched list. Thanks for the comment…and the Harry & Ginny support. Such an injustice! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Diana Quincy

     /  July 21, 2014

    Hi RoseAnn – Even Gone with the Wind, one of the greatest movie adaptations ever, didn’t live up to the book. I can’t think of one movie adaptation that I thought was better than the book. I tend to try not to compare the film version to the book — that way I tend to enjoy the movie more!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      I did a bit of research on the book vs. movie topic while preparing for this blog post and Gone With the Wind was mentioned several times. Could you imagine how long that movie would have been if they left EVERYTHING in?

      Reply
  3. I liked both the movie adaptation of The Color Purple as well as Alice Walker’s book. I felt both offered unique perspectives of the same story. Similar to a book I recently read that runs parallel with Pride and Prejudice but is written from Mr. Darcy’s viewpoint. This new novel will never take the place of Jane Austen’s story in my heart, but gave me a new way to consider her characters.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Hi Ashantay,

      I confess to never having read The Color Purple, but the movie was wonderful. Could you share the name of the P&P book? It sounds like something I’d like to read.

      Reply
  4. Jenna Blue

     /  July 21, 2014

    Thank you, RoseAnne for this post! I find it so interesting. We are big John Green fans in this house–though I admit I have only read TFIOS, my daughter has read all his books, is a NerdFighter, and has told me loads about him. I adore his interviews but knew I could not make it through that movie. I completely choked up at the trailer alone. My daughter claims that it was about as good of a book to movie as she’s seen–but still prefers the book. She’s a harsh critic. Was horrified at The Lightning Thief. I think Game of Thrones is pretty darn good–what you lose in terms of inner pov, you gain in stunning visuals. I am currently re-reading the 6th book in Diana Gabaldon’s series and love it soooooo much, I am in heaven–which makes me incredibly worried about the Starz Premiere of Outlander in August. How they can possibly do it justice, I can’t imagine–and yet I can’t wait to see it! : )

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Hi Jenna, Why am I not surprised your daughter has the obsessive book reader gene? I wonder where she got that from? I have watched some of John Green’s vlogs. Not surprised she became a NerdFighter! He is pretty amazing. Crossing my fingers on the Outlander Series for you! Adding another to my TBR/TBW list!

      Reply
  5. I miss the inner dialogue in movies. Facial expressions just aren’t enough. About the only movies I watch are children’s movies with the grand-kids, (Disney). The worst example of book to movie I’ve ever seen was Midnight Express. The entire story was changed.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Hi Sandra, Isn’t that frustrating when a story is changed? Kills the expectations of the faithful readers. There was a book to movie a few years back in which they changed who died at the end for the film version and completely changed the meaning of the book. I believe it was called My Sister’s Keeper. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  6. Oh yes! I just had this same conversation with my husband this week. I’m like you, always filling in the blanks from the book. But, you make a good point – a movie is an interpretation. In this case, I haven’t seen the movie but I did read the book. Quite honestly, I loved the book so much that I’m actually afraid to see the movie! What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations? Will it ruin the story for me? I sure hope not, but one never knows. I’m sure I’ll see the movie at some point but you bring up a great dilemma we all have. Book or movie? Or both? For me, I must read the book first and usually give in to the big screen, taking my chances on how I feel afterward. Experiencing a great story twice is better than not experiencing it at all. Thank you for your post! P.S. You’ll love this book 🙂

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Hi Kristina, I’m usually like you. I have to read the book before seeing the movie. I knew my daughter and her friends were obsessing about this book, so I guess I thought I could let this one slide. After reading some of the comments here, I realize now I MUST read this book! I love your point about getting to experience a great story twice! Thanks for chiming in. Now I’m off to pry TFIOS out of my daughter’s hands! 🙂

      Reply
  7. I have found that most books and movies do not cross over well. To Kill a Mockingbird probably is my favorite example of one that worked in both media. I can’t really think of any others, unless they were unknown as books. It seems that one works in one format but not both. Great post!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Great one, Joanna! So true about To Kill a Mockingbird. Funny how we have to go back that far in cinematic history to find a good adaptation. I will say, and I’m sure there will be those who will argue the point with me, I do believe the first The Hunger Games film was a great adaptation of the book. The book itself is PERFECT from a Hero’s Journey standpoint and in regards to economy in writing that it felt like a seamless transition. Some things were cut or combined, a few slight changes, but the essence of the story worked on screen for me. Thanks!

      Reply
  8. You’re right, RoseAnn! The movies are never as good as the book. My favorite examples are the Harry Potter books which I loved. The moves were wonderful, but the books were spectacular.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 21, 2014

      Hi Tina, I’m with you on HP! It is an amazing volume of work. The only way to include EVERYTHING would have been to make books 4, 5, 6 AND 7 into two films each. As it is, when my daughter pulls the DVD’s out my hubs always asks at the start of the film…”Remind me what it is I don’t know about this one…” I wish the man would just read the books already!!!

      Reply
  9. I agree that it has to be hard to adapt a book to make it as engaging to a viewer as a reader. I did think that the Twilight series was pretty true to the books. Except for the big fight scene in the last movie. That threw me for a moment but it worked much better for film. There was SO much in HP that there was no way they could include it all. I, too, wish they hadn’t cut the Harry/Ginny content. Characters truly can make or break the movie. I’m a huge Janet Evanovich fan but was disappointed in the casting of both Morelli and Ranger in One for the Money. Ya can’t make an Irish guy an Italian from Jersey. No way, no how.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 22, 2014

      So true, Maria! Our book, Our town, OUR MORELLI!!!

      Reply
  10. Great topic. I agree about To Kill a Mockingbird being both great in book and movie. Some of Nicholas Sparks books are done well in movies. I especially liked Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember and I loved Nights in Rodanthe even thought the movie and book were different. Did like the book better. The only movie I can think of that I loved better than the book is Under the Tuscan Sun. My niece loved the book and hated the movie and I was just the opposite. As far as Morelli and Ranger are concerned, I like the books much better but I did enjoy the movie. I not only had issue with the almost all the casting, but with the setting…it was just not Trenton. But then I’m a Jersey Girl, born and raised.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 23, 2014

      Hi Pat, Thanks for your input. It see To Kill a Mockingbird is the winner so far. I need to check out Under the Tuscan Sun. It’s interesting that you and your niece had different opinions! Honestly…sometimes I think of driving through the Berg just to catch a glimpse of Morelli. That is rich story telling!

      Reply
  11. Hi RoseAnn,
    I’m sitting here discussing your question with my 18 year-old daughter and here are our results:
    1. To Kill a Mockingbird comes VERY close but still, I adore the book. The beautiful lush setting and the exquisite prose of Harper Lee can’t translate to film, IMO.
    2. Holes – I didn’t read it so I’m going by my daughter’s opinion. But according to her the film adaptation EXCEEDED the written word.
    3. Odd Thomas – The film makers did an incredible job of bringing Dean Koontz’s characters to the screen. So much so, he was completely blown away.

    So there you have it.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 23, 2014

      I love that you and your daughter discussed this topic and the examples you shared. My daughter has read Holes. I think it’s time she sees the film! I have heard a few of her classmates speak highly of the film. Thanks for sharing your feedback. Happy reading and watching with your daughter!

      Reply
  12. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  July 23, 2014

    Interesting post, RoseAnn. I think the constraints of time really make it necessary to leave things out of the books we love. Most movies don’t go longer than two hours…but most books take longer to read, because there is so much more to know. It makes me wonder how people are going to respond to Fifty Shades, and to the adaptation of Outlander. I know the miniseries version of The Pillars of the Earth was not received well. The Girl with the Pearl Earring is another.

    Screenwriters need to pare down the story to hopefully tell the entire plot told in a two-hour film. This leaves out much of the sub-plot and almost always a ton of the character development. That is why casting is so crucial. With the right cast, sometimes dialogue isn’t even necessary. I remember reading an interview of Martin Freeman and Mark Gatiss, of BBC’s Sherlock. Mark said, and I’m paraphrasing…”Martin will sit in the first read-through and say, let’s cut this line. I can say that with a facial expression or an action.”

    I wonder what actions will take the place of dialogue in Fifty Shades, lol!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 24, 2014

      Hi Jaye, I love your response. A great actor can do wonders for a script! I agree with you on the time constraints. I liked what Kristina said about getting to experience the story twice in two mediums. We readers need to let go a bit.

      On the Fifty Shades of Grey topic…I just saw the trailer and so far, it looks pretty darn good. I think that last minute casting change was a good choice. I certainly didn’t mind Jamie Doran one bit in that trailer! 🙂

      Reply
  13. This may sound strange, but CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC was waaaaaay better in book form than as a movie. I think the book gets a bad wrap sometimes, but I think it’s hilarious and–at its heart–a really smart study of the way this shallow, static character for whom everything works out in the end (to much comedic effect). The movie, which is responsible for a laundry list of horrible changes and cuts, does not grasp that irony. Complete fail.

    Reply
  1. Is the book ALWAYS better than the movie? | RoseAnn DeFranco – Where Laughter, Passion and Love Bloom

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