Reading (not very) recently Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk made me think about movies based on books. In fact, for a long time I didn’t realize that Fight Club was based on a novel (somehow I missed it in the opening credits). Anyway, I’m not going to focus on this book and movie, but to look at this issue from more general perspective.
What is bad about book adaptations is that they are often (always?) unable to deliver the full meaning of the book. They’re merging and compressing ideas (like adding features of excluded character to another). I have never seen a movie being better than a novel, but… Can we really compare such different beings? I think we cannot.
Movies can also do few harms to a piece of literature they’re based on. Especially if we have seen the movie first and then we read the book. The Narrator in Fight Club will always have the voice of Edward Norton for me… but in this case, it is not that bad. He fits his role very well. I have no complains about the actors in Lord of the Rings too, but… for example, in The Shawshank Redemption… the Irish guy called Red is played by Morgan Freeman… who is not Irish at all.
But as we perceive the movie and the book as separate creations… is it really a flaw that they actually differ? It is inevitable. Every single reader renders the meaning of a book him- or herself, while its interpretation in cinema closes the whole image in a constant form. We watch the interpretation of screenwriter, director and the actors, which can much spoil our later reception of the book, if we haven’t read it already.
Still I cannot escape references to the title which inspired me to write this text. Fight Club is in fact a great movie, but… it really stands out from the book. As always, it is way simplified, merging the best quotes from the novel, sometimes putting it in another character’s mouth, changing some details and… it’s point is much different. I may even risk saying that in some aspects I prefer the movie over the book.
We may argue that movie has to be compatible with the book as mush as possible, but… why? If we perceive these two as independent creations, one and the other has only to be… good. It is impossible to perfectly reflect one form’s meaning in another. Book adaptation will never be as book and book will never be as its adaptation.
Finally… Book or movie? My answer is: book and movie. If you want something fully compatible with the book: read the book. If you don’t like movies: don’t watch the movie and read the book. If you don’t like books: Get out of here now!