There is a saying, one that I restrain myself from calling an old saying but, one that I have heard for most (if not all) of my life.
“One should read the book before seeing the film” they would say.
And when I, as a child, ask as to why this was true, I would get told that it would give me a greater understanding of the story, characters and then ultimately the film that I was watching. Even as a kid this never really sat well with me and I figured it was better to do the opposite. I would (and still generally do) watch a film and if I really liked the film I would then read the book and my reasons for doing this are simple.
1) To Add Rather Than Subtract From Your Enjoyment Of The Story
Ok, so by watching the film first you know how it’s going to end and the basics of the journey and events that propels the characters onwards. But the thing about films is that they only have about an hour and a half to two hours to retell the book, so that means quite a bit of editing. This can mean that your favourite part of the book may have to be edited out to save time or to keep the films momentum, which travels at a wholly different pace than that of the book.
For instance, I started reading The Great Gatsby before I knew it was going to be a film. So when I found out that it was in production I was already on Page 79 out of 122 so I carried on reading. Once I had finished the book I allowed myself to watch the trailer (I hadn’t watched it previously because trailers have a habit of revealing the entire story before you’ve seen the film), and alas I was disappointed. The reason for my disappointment; my favourite line in the book has been changed. In the video it comes at the 0:50 second mark, the actress Carey Mulligan who plays Daisy Buchanan upon seeing Jay Gatsby says “ I’m awfully glad to see you again” whereas in the book Daisy turns and says “I certainly am awfully glad to see you again”. It’s a minor change I grant you, but I found it’s language true to the book and it felt true to the vernacular of the era. Now, had I have seen the film first I would have enjoyed seeing the line in the book and it would have pleasantly surprised me.
2) The Addition Of Depth and Motive
Again, due to the limiting nature of a film and the need to keep the audience’s attention the background of certain characters (and even whole characters themselves) can be, and at times, must be, removed from a film. So if you are watching a film and you have a favourite character wouldn’t you prefer to see the film first and then later learn about that character and their motives rather than have that history (that you may or may not have been looking forward to) completely removed. For a quick example, the drummer in Scott Pilgrim that plays in ‘The Clash At Demonhead’ actually has quite a big role in the comic book and even has a bionic arm, but in the film is in the shadows. I feel better having read the comic afterwards and not expecting a story that never would have happened.
3) A Different Journey To The Same Destination
Another thing that happens quite a bit in the conversion from book to screen is that the general storyline is kept but how things actually happen may change.
These are the main reasons that make me read a book after I have seen a film and I have remain true to this way of thinking since I was a kid. Except in rare cases, such as The Great Gatsby, and low and behold I was let down by the trailer. To recap, from watching the film first you are expanding on a story that you know, filling in the little details that the film maker had to remove. And to me that’s better than going into a cinema and feeling let down that you favourite part wasn’t in the film.
Now, there are downsides to this method. Watching a film first does hinder the imagination somewhat, the characters are the actors playing out their parts in the sets that you have seen on screen.
The reason these thoughts have been on my mind is because I have just finished watching ‘On The Road’ starring Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart. It was really good film that I would recommend it. Although having just watched the film I have had the book for some time and I started it shortly after finishing the film and immediately (in the first sentence) there is a massive change. In the start of the film Sal Paradise’s father dies but in the book it’s a divorce that acts as the catalyst for this adventure. Anyways I’m going to get back to the book and see what other surprises it has in stall for me, in story and in action.
And while we are on the subject of breaking convention, I have picked many books from their shelves and proceeded to purchase purely on their cover and blurb. I’m yet to be let down.