Everyone has seen a movie or T.V. adaptation of a book and thought ‘wow, the book was way better’. But comparing a book and a movie is like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they’re both venues for entertainment and storytelling, but you can really judge the citric tang of a movie by the juicy sweetness of an apple. Let’s start by ignoring the fact that ‘better’ is a vague term that doesn’t really describe what makes the book superior. In the end, books aren’t better than their adapted counterparts, they’re just bigger.
Okay, but what does that actually mean?
Books Carry Bigger Understandings
Movies and books present information in two different ways. Movies rely on visual cues, whereas books rely on reading comprehension and social understanding. When you watch a movie, there’s subtlety in the way a character acts, the way the setting looks, the specific actions one person takes in the background. When you read a book, you get to see the world through the P.O.V of one of the characters. You’re being guided along by their internal thoughts and understandings, regardless of if the book is in first or third person P.O.V. You can’t get that kind of detailed and deep understanding from watching a movie.
Books feel better because they get deeper into the world around them and the specifics of each character. You get to know them deeply, almost intimately if written well. Even if a book gets a T.V. adaptation that doesn’t require it to cut plot points to save time, you still won’t reach that deeper level of understanding.
Books Have Bigger Plots
It’s just an unfortunate fact of life that when a book gets a movie adaptation, the plots need trimming for the timing to fit. If a book is really lucky, it might snag a T.V. adaptation or limited series slot, but even then timing and pacing may need to change to make everything fit. Movies have to fit in a box. They have a time limit and other restrictions they need to maintain in order to succeed. Books are the relentless wilderness beyond that box. So yes, the box may seem like it’s lesser than the wilderness, but that box can still be incredibly well-furnished and enjoyable.
Books Require Bigger Focus
What I mean by this is that a lot of what can make a book entertaining or captivating may leave a bore on the screen. There’s a lot you can do with the right phrasing and prose that can keep a reader’s attention that doesn’t transfer to movies and shows all that well. While visual storytelling has camera shots, lighting, and music that can help, there are just some benefits of a book that are lost in transition. Unfortunately, because of this, there are plot points or important scenes that just need to be cut or altered to make the story work for a visual audience.
Book First or Movie First?
Ah, yes, the age-old question. In my personal opinion, I’d argue against reading the book first. When you read a book and then watch the adaptation, you’re going from the vast wilderness to the tiny box. You’re looking for elements that are probably nonexistent, searching for plots and scenes that were cut, comparing the tiny world you’re in now to the greater world you just came from. And when you do that, it’s harder to appreciate the box for what it is, which can often be a really great box.
When you watch a movie first, however, you’re growing into the bigger understanding and world of the book. You could see the wilderness from your box and now you get to excitedly go exploring it. The elements you saw in the movie are more than likely in the book, so you know what to expect and can follow along more easily. And instead of losing character voice or plot points, you’re gaining them. When you go from the movie to the book, it’s easier to appreciate them as separate forms of media. No one ‘better’ than the other, just different in size and style.