Why you should always read the book before watching its screen adaptation

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With the emerging popularity of e-streaming platforms in the past few years, there has been a bigger push to adapt books to a screen format. Earlier books were only made into movies which, more often than not, would disappoint the fans of the books, even they were popular with those who hadn’t read it.

Still, adaptations are popular and on the rise. Research commissioned by the Publishers Association and produced by Frontier Economics in 2018 found that the movie adaptations of books gross 44% more at the U.K. box office and a full 53% more worldwide than those based on original screenplays and this could be why companies invest in such adaptations.

With all these books being adapted to screen, many feel there’s no point reading the book for the adaptation will be enough, but this isn’t the case. Here is why you should always read the book before watching the adaptation:

Different formats
Print and screen are different mediums and the same story might have different depths in both formats, for example, action sequences and other fast scenes are usually better to watch than read but emotional growth or reasoning is better depicted through words. A hand to hand fight which lasts minutes may take pages to describe and the scene may not interest the reader as much as the conclusion, but a visual, even with slow motion, will hold a viewer’s attention and seem more impressive rather than tedious. On the other hand, inner growth or observations are best depicted through words.

Inner monologue
Movies can show a character’s actions, and particularly talented actors are great at showing emotion but screen adaptations often lack in depicting thoughts and reasoning. In certain genre’s that is a major drawback for the depiction is incomplete without reasoning. In the Hunger Games the protagonist knows she’s often watched and acts accordingly. However, in the movies, you felt her actions were impulse driven and rather than chosen for the cameras she knew were always on her.

Some adaptations can overcome this with a voiceover depicting their inner monologue, though few do this.

Time constraints removing important details
Movies are usually about 2 hours long and some movies stretch to 3 hours. For many thick books there is almost always never enough time to adapt every important bit. The adaptation will miss out certain characters and scenes which might not be central to the main plot but play a role in representing some facet of what the author deems important or maybe just some filler or comic relief that adds a depth to the story.

You get the necessary backstory.
Often the screen adaptations are but a tip of the iceberg of what the book contained. Movies, in particular, have to cut down backstory and in some cases this can be very confusing for those who haven’t read the book before. Hence, reading the book makes sense.

TV adaptations changing the message or even genre of the story

Some adaptations are so far from the book the only things they have in common are character names and the title. Changes are made to give the story a broader appeal and reading the book beforehand gives an interesting insight into the difference between a novelists and scriptwriter’s perspective.

Adding of characters or stories
Often books only show the perspective of one character and screen adaptations give views on what is happening out of their knowledge. Some adaptations, particularly tv/webseries have even added characters or made minor characters into important ones, adding dimensions and side plots to the main story and taking it deeper. While this has many advantages, it can often change the plot of the story and the message the author was trying to convey might get lost.

Adding movie industry cliches
The movie industry has received a lot of criticism for not evolving in terms of feminism, inclusivity or sticking with popular tropes and encouraging cliches rather than improving. Often the movie industry forces some of these problematic things on book adaptations and cheapens the story. For example, one of the best parts of the book ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was the contrast of the sensible perspective of the lead Rachel with the more shallow perspectives of those against her. However, in the movie adaptation, they made her more clumsy and clueless than you would expect a professor of her age to be. The protagonist of a romantic comedy having a growth arc is a trope in Hollywood which was unnecessarily included here and reduced the book’s story to just another Hollywood movie with an ‘exotic’ setting.

Casting

All readers have their own idea of what characters look like and it’s hard to please everyone with the selection but the movie industry often makes casting choices that derail from what the story intended. One mistake is casting the main characters to match the beauty ideal of the time, whether or not they were described as beautiful in the book or not. Like in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ the author describes her face as puffy due to her cancer medication but the movie did not use any make up or special effects to make the actor look like she was as ill as described.

Another casting problem is whitewashing characters of colour. Sometimes stories go in another direction and make sure to include cast someone of every race and colour despite how they were described in the book. Most authors tend to avoid mentioning skin colour in books so the inclusivity is usually a good idea. Both of these extremes can be historically inaccurate sometimes.

Sequels taking a different direction
Some adaptations branch out into their own franchise and have a storyline different from the books so it’s interesting to enjoy both different versions. For example, the Game of Thrones show has completed while the book series has some books remaining. The author was involved in the adaptation and has promised a different ending to both.

You ‘see’ two different versions
When one reads, they visualise and feel. It is said that “No two persons ever read the same book” and this is true for everyone’s journey with a book is a unique adventure and even if one rereads a book, they will have changed from who they were when they first read it. When one reads a book they have an idea of how it will be and this might be different to what the movie makers experienced. The movie will come out a separate work of art in itself and viewing it will be a different experience.

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