10 Reasons Why the Book Is Always Better Than the Movie

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The old saying goes, “the book is always better than the movie.” But why is that the case? Sometimes the movie is just bad like in the case of A Wizard of Earthsea adaptations. But sometimes the movies are just fine, but the books still manage to be better, like in the case of the Harry Potter series. The movies can even be considered great, like The Princess Bride, and yet the book version of the story still outshines the silver screen version. Of course, there are exceptions. The Godfather movie is widely considered to be better than the book since it sticks to the story of the Corleones and doesn’t go off on side tangents like the book does. But these exceptions are so rare they prove the rule! We’re going to explore why books are considered better entertainment than the movies. The reasons range from whitewashing to time constraints to the pleasure in the physical act of reading.

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Here are 10 Reasons the book is always better than the movie:

  1. Nothing Beats Reading

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    Is there anything better than curling up on the couch with a book in your hand? Especially when the rain patters against the window and you have a nice, warm cup of tea next to you. Alright, smart alack, watching a movie on a rainy day is pretty great too. Having friends over and eating warm, buttery popcorn together while watching a movie is something special. However, you some days, you want to enjoy solitary activities and books are perfect for that. Besides, you aren’t physically holding an object like a book when you watch a movie. There’s something comforting about holding the book and letting the words take you away. You can’t get lost in a movie like you do in a book. You don’t need a ton of technology to read like you need to watch a movie. All you need is a light source and the book itself. With a movie you need a tangle of wires, a dvd player, a screen and the movie itself. Reading is simpler and cozier.

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  2. Lazy and Bad Casting

    Many movies fail to achieve the environment, feel, and culture of the books, and pitfall to lazy casting of the same generic actors. In books such as A Wizard of Earthsea characters are described as having different shades of brown and black skin, but main the character in the TV adaptation is white. In the Hunger Games Katniss has olive skin in the book but is portrayed by lily-white Jennifer Lawrence. Edge of Tomorrow replaced the novel’s Japanese protagonist with Tom Cruise for the movie adaption. And these are just three examples we can think of off the top of our head! Junot Diaz puts it best, saying, “... if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all…” Diaz wrote and continues to write so that people like him can see themselves in fiction. When Hollywood casts the same actors for diverse characters in books, they deny people the opportunity to see the rich cultures reflected in the books.

  3. More Happens

    A book has no time constraints, while a movie generally keeps to a two-hour run time. And so, a lot more happens in the books. The Harry Potter novels are huge, some of them clocking in at over 500 pages! There’s a lot that happens in the books that doesn’t happen in the movies. We see a lot more of the centaurs over the course of the books. The house elves have a subplot dedicated to their liberation, and Rita Skeeter had a bigger impact on the main plot. If you only watched the movies you would have missed those intriguing and interesting plots. The problem of condensing things into a two hour time frame has resulted in more books being adapted into television shows like The Magicians and Game of Thrones. A television show does not have the same time contraints that a movie does and can get in all the events and plot points the source material has. We can only hope that already adapted books like Harry Potter get a second chance as television shows!

  4. More room for nuance

    Just like there’s more time for events in a book, there’s more room for character development and nuance. Movies have a lot of tools at their disposal to make nuanced plot and characters. Actors, lighting, edits and sets can all add a sense of nuance to a movie. But sometimes these things get swept up and lost. Moviemakers are so caught up in the big picture that they can forget about smaller things. As an example, the character of Denethor is quite nuanced in the books. He’s awful to his son, yes and he’s given up hope. But he’s also kind to Pippen and cares truly for his people. When he dies, he goes quietly and with dignity. The movies lose all the good things about Denethor and just keep the fact that he’s kind of a jerk to his son. This makes the character and by extension the movie less interesting.  

  5. Crunchy Little Details

    In books, there are often small details that you may not notice but make the world come alive. Detail is key to world building.  But sometimes these details get lost in translation. For instance, in The Killing Joke comic, the background is full of little details like the “you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps” sign on receptionist’s desk at Arkham Asylum which contribute to the theme of the comic. Which is that in order to fight people like the Joker, you have to go a little crazy yourself. Of course, this theme falls apart under scrutiny, but at least the book supplies little moments and details to back it up. In the movie, no such details exist. The world of the Killing Joke movie feels flat, unlike the comic which feels vibrant and alive. While not everything can be included in the movie adaptation, little details go a long way to round out the world and make it feel whole.  

  6. More fun characters!

    Sometimes whole characters get cut out of movie narratives! This is done for much the same reason as little details, scenes and character nuances are. Time. We’re starting to think that time is the archnemesis of movie adaptation. No wonder so many adaptations are turning to television to tell their story. Television has room for all the wonderful characters within a book’s narrative. Unfortunately, movies don’t. One of the biggest changes The Lord of the Rings made was the exclusion of Tom Bombadil from the story. In the books, he provides respite for the Hobbits as they journey to Bree. He also provides comic relief and a little mystery to the narrative. But he had to be cut. Too many characters to mention were cut out of the Harry Potter movies. And not having characters like Dedalus Diggle undercut the whimsy of the world. While these character may have seemed extraneous to the filmmakers they actually added a lot to the story!

  7. You Create a World in Your Head

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    When you read a book, you do the work of creation. You sit down, and open up the book and as you read, you picture the characters moving through the world. Everything feels alive and moving when you read a really good book. But even the best of movies can’t get you completely lost the way a book can. There’s always a screen dividing you and the characters. And try as it might, a movie can’t make taste food or smell a foul or fair oder. A book can describe them, and if it does it’s job right, you should be able to taste and smell whatever their describing. What’s more, you decide how things look while you’re reading a book. The descriptions can give you guidelines but it’s up to you to fill in the rest of it. A movie decides how characters, places and objects look and you don’t have to do any mental work. And if you’re not careful the way things look in books can be replaced in your head with the movie version!

  8. Better Pacing

    There are some movies that are excellently paced. But there are others that are not so well done. The Harry Potter movies don’t have the same excellent pacing the books do. The books carefully build up to climaxes full of action. The movies cram in all the action back to back. It’s understandable why the filmmakers did this. They have a lot of ground to cover. But without the slower scenes and the set up they provide, the movies feel rushed and dizzyingly fast.

  9. You Know What the Characters Are Thinking

    Books have a unique way of getting into character’s heads. They can tell you exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling. This allows you to sympathize and even empathize with the characters. Movies don’t allow you to get inside of characters head like that. Sure, a skilled actor can let you know what they’re thinking through tone and facial expressions. But it’s just not the same as getting inside a character’s head. Daniel Radcliffe's performance of the title character in the Harry Potter series was just fine, but he couldn’t beat the descriptions of what was going on in the character’s head particularly when Harry was going through something traumatic and awful. Which was nearly every book.

  10. No Silly Subplots

    Sometimes there’s not enough in a book to make a movie. For instance The Hobbit was a slim children’s book and hardly enough to make three movies! So what did the filmmakers do? They added extra scenes that barely contributed to the plot! Did we really need to know what Gandalf was up too during the periods he disappeared? Did we really need a love triangle with Legolas, Kili and a character entirely made up for the movie? Heck, did we need Legolas to give more than a cameo? These extraneous scenes distract from the overall flow and plot of the movie. We get sidetracked from what’s important in this case, the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves. The time could have been better used to build the world or develop the characters that were supposed to be the protagonists. All the padding was just that; fluffy, insubstantial padding.