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Movies based on books are always compared to the books they are adapted from. Here's why the comparison isn't always useful.

Why it sometimes is and isn’t useful to compare movies based on books

As different as movies and books are, they also share many similarities, and there is a pretty big overlap in the communities of people that enjoy them as an art form. It can be useful to draw comparisons between the two in many cases – but this should be done with caution, because it can also lead to some conclusions based on completely wrong assumptions. 

In the end, it’s all subjective, and a person comparing a book to a movie should take into account the context in which they’re being evaluated.

They work in different ways

The most important thing to remember about such a comparison is that movies and books simply work in different ways on a fundamental level. While both tend to use the 3-part story structure heavily, it’s executed very differently, and there are also some subtle nuances to both mediums that are hard to replicate in the other. 

This can already make a direct comparison difficult, even for movies based on books that share a more or less identical story. An example of a great comparison looks at The Picture of Dorian Gray, a story with very different nuances between its film and written version.

The same story can have a different tone

And on that note, even the same story can be told in significantly different ways between a book and a movie. A movie is often much more useful in setting a specific tone for the whole thing, especially when it’s produced by a team experienced with visuals and aesthetics. At the same time, there are some nuances that a book can share well which can be a challenge for movie producers. 

The thoughts of individual characters, their predispositions, and motivations, things like that have to be told in much more subtle ways in order to work well. And this can sometimes create a major rift between the original story and its adapted version.

Filling each other’s gaps

As great as books and movies are on their own, they also have their own individual weaknesses. As we said above, certain things are very difficult to translate from a book to a screen. But the same is different in the opposite direction as well. A few seconds of footage can be enough to set the mood for the entire film in some cases, while this might take multiple pages in a book. And even then it doesn’t always work well. 

Movies can allow producers to play on viewers’ emotions much more easily, while books require a more engaged attitude in order to get their message across well enough. And this is where the true synergy between the two can shine. A good movie adaptation of a book can sometimes work wonders to expand on what the original book was trying to say, and it can sometimes add details that were not there simply because there was no way to insert them into a book in the first place.

An ongoing controversial debate

In the end, movie and book comparisons are nothing new under the sun, and the debate has been ongoing for quite a while now. Pretty much since the first movies based on books arrived, in fact. There’s no chance that this discussion is going to die down anytime soon either, and it will likely keep drawing new people who have their own views on the situation. 

The important thing is that both sides understand that they can benefit from the other though. Even those who don’t enjoy books for pleasure can still find them useful for expanding their knowledge of a specific world and its inhabitants, especially when the films they like were produced in close collaboration with the original authors.

What do the stats say?

An interesting analysis can be made by looking into the scores of books and movies based on them. There seems to be some correlation between the two, but at the same time, it’s hard to gauge the accuracy of such a comparison due to factors like the individual quality of both works, the unique perception that people tend to have to art from one side or the other, and so on. 

But in general, it does seem like good movies can often amplify the perception that people have of a book that was already popular. The contrary might be true as well – a bad book turned into a movie might get more recognition, but it’s usually for its negative attributes. It’s just the effect of bringing those works to the spotlight – their flaws are now being examined by many more people compared to before.

Some movie classics would have been impossible otherwise

It’s also worth noting that some classics in the movie world would likely never have existed without their book counterparts. The Lord of the Rings series is probably one of the most shining recent examples of that, but there are many more. Various films that are now considered timeless classics only exist because someone wanted to see a movie adaptation of a favorite book of theirs. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it certainly doesn’t undermine the value of those films themselves. 

But it’s interesting to think about how much more different the film industry could have looked right now if we didn’t have those books to base their corresponding adaptations on. Would we still have similar stories but told in a different manner? Or would things have turned in a completely different direction?

Questions like these are why this debate is so interesting, and why it has a very real place in both forms of art right now. Books and movies need each other in order to truly thrive, and even those who specifically like one of the two but dislike the other can still benefit a lot from paying close attention to both sides. And it will be even more interesting to see how things turn out in the long run in this regard.

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