Writing my recommendation for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke reminded me of the 2015 BBC adaptation. Now, this is not a diatribe on the failures and pitfalls of book-to-screen adaptations (I’m just as much a fan of great movies and gritty TV as the next person) nevertheless…
Books Are Always Better, Aren’t They? Here’s 5 Reasons Why:
- The novel is the original concept, unadulterated, for the reader to experience as the author intended.
- As a reader, the interpretation is your own; as a viewer, it’s done for you by the director.
- Film and prose are different media: the author’s subtext and subtleties are so often lost in translation or made too overt.
- The narrative is changed, intimacy lost: even if there is an attempt to carry through the POV and narrative voice, multiple viewpoint narrative is powerfully unique to prose (if done well).
- It’s a different experience. Reading is individual. It’s personal. Film and TV is a shared and collaborative process: with other viewers; with the director; with the actors.
I don’t think I can think of a single adaptation where the film/TV programme came out on top. Not to pick on it – rather to continue with the example – the BBC adaptation of Strange & Norrell paled by comparison to Clarke’s own storytelling. Despite quite enjoying it, overall the serialisation lacked the depth and detail of the world that so immersed me, in the reading. Clarke’s world is rich. The BBC’s felt shallow. Strangely 2D. Filtered. This is the problem with adaptations. Reason number 2, again: there’s nothing more enjoyable than entering into a well-realised world within a novel – you can let your mind wonder around the corner, look in the cupboards, behind the door – films and TV direct your attention to what the director believes you should give notice to. Reading is explorative by virtue of the fact that it engages the imagination fully; one isn’t herded down a specific street, into a specific room, next to a specific person. Even when the author does specify details, the reader’s one-of-a-kind mind still makes the realisation unique to them.
It can come close. For me, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings was impressive in its world creation: landscapes, plot, and character (aside from the saccharine hobbit reunions – was I missing something?). But again, perhaps that was because it just chimed with my own experience of the books. The Hobbit film(S!) on the other hand. Well…
Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
A final thought though: I never did get around to reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park although Spielburg’s 1993 movie remains a firm favourite (Hypocrite? Crichton did originally write it as a screenplay!). Although I wonder if I’d still love the film as much if I had read the book first. Must re-prioritise my reading-list and get the 90’s classics out…