From Paperback to the Big Screen: Is it Worth the Watch?

By: Taylor Johnson



Every year it seems like more and more books are being adapted for the small and big screen, and the same question follows its release: which is better, the movie or the book? I struggle with this decision as well: whether to watch the movie or read the book first. I fear that by doing one, I’ll miss something about the other, and the overall story that the author intended for me to know will be lost or tampered with in some way. I enjoy both mediums of storytelling, but I wonder if  in some way I betray my writer-self for liking a film adaptation more than the book on which it was based.


Everyone has their reasons for why they feel one is better than the other. Remember the Harry Potter debate? The 8 book series was still being published as the movies were released, and in some circles, one could be dismissed for even considering watching the films before finishing the books. These people, the purists I like to call them, only read the books and didn’t dream of watching even a minute of the films. They feared that the book would lose its integrity, that the story would be lost in the vast world of CGI and special effects. Others only ever watched the movies, never cracking the spine of the actual texts.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (who recently won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature) is a dystopian novel that was published in 2005. The film was adapted five years later  Both received critical acclaim in their respective fields, but it is no secret that the two have their differences—the most apparent being its treatment of character development. I watched the film first and then read the book and after doing so, discovered an unsettling change. In the book, it is made abundantly clear that Kathy and Ruth (the story’s two female protagonists) are close friends throughout childhood which informs the difficulties they face as adults. In the film, on the other hand, this relationship is not as apparent, and changes the story quite a bit. They are distant as small children and Ruth is painted as sneaky and selfish when they become teens, which creates an audience bias for Kathy. The film made me dislike Ruth, whereas the novel made her more relatable and sympathetic. After reading the book, I felt as though the movie cheated me a bit. I didn’t know the characters as well as I thought I did, and it made me wonder how many other stories I really didn’t know simply because I’d watched the movie instead of reading the book.


Given the demands on our time, I wonder whether other people face this dilemma: to read first or just watch the movie?


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