Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Movies and Other Nonsense

on May 7, 2012

I’ll admit it. Several existing movies or movies in production have led me to certain written works. Sometimes, I know about the movie before I know about the book.

Of course, I’ve seen just as many movies made after I was in love with a book. Often, I fall in love with the movie too.

The problem is that movies and books are two entirely different media. (Duh)

Books spark the imagination in ways that movies never will. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a complete picture in my mind of a character or a place and then been confronted by a totally different image on the screen. It’s jarring and it cuts the imagination short. Katniss Everdeen lives in my head. Not on the screen. Many people pick apart Harry Potter. His eyes are the wrong color. His hair isn’t wild enough. Maybe these things are petty, but they’re at least distracting.

Movies are, of necessity, shallower. You can come back to a book in a way you can’t come back to a movie, so the entire movie’s story needs to be told in a couple of hours. So screen adaptations always leave out characters and subplots and always have less depth to the remaining characters and plots. The Wizard of Oz is nothing like the book.

Even short books are changed so much for the screen that end up being unrecognizable. Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs come to mind. Where did all that extra stuff come from?

Along the same lines, you can’t get the thoughts of the characters as easily in movies, unless they narrate. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best movies of all time, but it’s a much better book. And that’s after Scout tells us what she’s thinking in the movie.

But some things are just visual. I can think of several movie scenes adapted from books where I cry or jump every time. I didn’t cry when I read the book. My favorite example of this when the people of Minas Tirith bow to the hobbits. (I don’t think of this as a children’s book. I just like that scene.)

Movies are often more accessible than books, though. I’ve probably seen The Wizard of Oz over 40 times. Only read the book once.

On the idea of sharing with other people, I think movies and books come out even. Movies are more immediate, with people sharing a tub of popcorn and a big laugh. But few things are more intimate than reading together and discussing what the author meant by that and what might come next.

So, what do I prefer? Both. If I really like a story and the characters, I’ll immerse myself in it.

Next time, I want to talk about the merits and pitfalls of updating classic books and stories.

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