On Adaptations: Are the Books Always Better?

Whenever a new film or TV adaptation is announced, it isn’t difficult to find someone saying that the books are always better. That is a statement that I’ve never agreed with. The vast majority of the adaptations that I’ve watched, I enjoyed as much as the books. Some I even liked more than the books. Although it’s true that I believe that some adaptations may not do a book justice, this is far from the rule for me.

I really struggle to claim that a book is better than its adaptation, or vice versa, mainly because I would be comparing two completely different forms of entertainment, which require different ways of storytelling. What works fantastically on page may not work on screen. I tend to compare the enjoyment I had when reading the book or watching the film or TV adaptation instead of saying one is better than the other. The fact that I liked reading about a story more than watching it on screen doesn’t automatically make the adaptation a bad one.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad adaptations. If the adaptation completely misrepresents the feelings, the tone or the entire plot of the story to the point that it stops making sense, then it is not only a bad adaptation, but also a bad film or TV show. I don’t expect all the plot points to be presented on screen in the exactly same way in which they were written. I don’t mind changes in adaptations at all, as long as they make sense in the context of the story being told, or they result in a more compelling story on screen.

Speaking about changes, I also don’t mind when the actors cast don’t look exactly like the characters in the books. Not only do we all picture the characters in different ways, but for me it is also more important that the actors do a good job at portraying the characters than their physical appearances matching what I was expecting. Terrible acting completely ruins a film or TV show, characters not looking like how I had imagined does not.

When quickly reassessing the adaptations that I remember watching, I could only identify two that I really enjoyed the books more: The Hobbit and Anna Karenina. Without going into detail, the adaptation of The Hobbit was too long and the story felt like was being stretched to the limit just so they could do three films, when one or two would have been enough. The adaptation that I’ve watched of Anna Karenina was directed by Joe Wright and was released in 2012. It is neither a bad film nor a bad adaptation at all. I don’t mind that it was set in a theatre and the acting in general was good. In fact, I loved Matthew Macfadyen as Stiva, and Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson worked really well together as Kitty and Levin. I just enjoyed the book more, because as a reader I managed to discover more about the characters.

On the other hand, I enjoyed watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy and any of the Disney’s adaptations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland more than reading the respective books. The Lord of the Rings films are just fantastic, visually stunning, the acting is great, and the pacing is perfect. While I also liked the books, I have to admit that sometimes I got bored while reading them. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of the books that I was disappointed about last year. I enjoyed watching the Disney adaptations more, as they have, in my opinion, a more cohesive plot than the book.

I usually enjoy the books and the adaptations equally, though. A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Atonement and Pride and Prejudice (2005) are some of my favourite books, TV series and films. I also enjoyed the film adaptations of Jane Eyre (2011) and Great Expectations (2012). And, although I’ve only read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I also have to mention Sherlock, which proved that it is possible to do a fantastic modern-day adaptation of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Whenever I am watching an adaptation, I don’t expect it to be exactly the same as the book. I want it to be a convincing story told through a different medium. I may have pictured characters and places differently, but I am still able to enjoy a different take on the same story.


5 thoughts on “On Adaptations: Are the Books Always Better?

  1. Ares . Three says:

    This was a really great post. Thank you for that.

    I never really thought about this: “I would be comparing two completely different forms of entertainment, which require different ways of storytelling.”

    That is completely true. Even though we all know you can rarely take a 500 page novel and crush it into a two hour movie, I never separated the two.

    I recently had a poor experience where I watched a film, then months later by some coincidence bought the book. I didn’t realize until I was 50% through, that all of this sounds familiar. After that point, I had a hard time picturing the authors imagery in my head and how I perceived the world before that point. Everything the author described, I had the movies images in my mind. And I hated it.

    The scenes were dull, it didn’t do them justice.

    Anyways, once again great post and thanks for the read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susana_S_F says:

      Thank you! 🙂
      It has also happened to me to read a book after watching a movie and seeing those images instead of forming my own thoughts about what was being described. But usually I manage to separate the two quite well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. crimson613 says:

    I feel like I’m always picky about what I see on screen if I really liked the movie. I actually haven’t watched many adaptations in terms of books to movies but I did watch the hunger games movie and really liked it. I hear the book is more detailed but I think it was a win to like the movie, besides making movies opens up the content to people who aren’t readers

    also def agree with you about the actors physical appearance not being a huge thing, or at least it isn’t to me if I don’t have visuals. Usually when i read books, by the end of it I’ve forgotten what a character was even supposed to look like xD

    nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

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