Films or TV programmes that are based on book originals – do you prefer reading them, or watching them?
You can probably guess which side of the fence I come down on here. The relationship you have with a book is completely different to one you have with a film. Films are a one-night stand – you find out their name, spend a little time with them, hopefully have a good time, and if you really enjoyed yourself you might call them up again sometime in the future for another brief encounter.
Reading a book is a commitment. It’s a long-term relationship. You invest days, weeks, months of your leisure time into reading a book. You develop a more deeply-invested bond with the characters, their trials, their successes, and their misery. You also have much more scope to interpret a book as you want to, and make of it what you will.
When someone turns your favourite book into a film, you are presented with their interpretation. That’s what they think the characters look like, how they dress; and these are the bits they felt were important to keep in, in order to condense down that beautifully crafted piece of literature into the timeslot they have available to them. And there’s always the risk that they’ll change things that you held dear.
I do enjoy watching a screen interpretation of the books I’ve loved. I feel able to take the bits I agree with, and ignore the bits I don’t, from a secure position of knowledge about the story that I cemented with reading it. Harry Potter – by and large – I was delighted with. I missed the cheeky poltergeist Peeves, and I was quite astonished by the children’s terrible acting in the first couple of films (some didn’t improve into adulthood, either), but overall I felt they captured my version of the books very nicely, and I think lots of people agreed.
I’ve done things both ways round – I watched Gone With The Wind several hundred times before reading the book, and was staggered to learn that Scarlett has two other children from her previous marriages who were cut completely from the film. I adored Red Dwarf on the TV years before I read the two novels. It can work that way round, too – the characters and the setting have been imagined for you already, so you have them in your head before you begin.
Game of Thrones has been a different kettle of fish altogether. My relationship with the TV series has been more like the relationship I had with the books – over a long period of time, and with lots of emotional and cerebral investment in the characters, multiple interweaving storylines, and social and political themes. The creators also had a very difficult prospect ahead of them when bringing it all to a close, in that an ending is yet to be written by the original author. They worked with him (I believe) and came up with what they presented to the world last Sunday. If you’re a fan or not, you’re probably aware that it wasn’t well received by the majority of devotees, and I’ll put my hand up to being one of them. For a series that had me gasping in every one of the 72 episodes leading up to that point, I was most disgruntled to be left with a resounding “meh” by the final one.
So I’m pinning all my hopes on the author, George RR Martin, who did a great PR job on the next book in the series this week (as if he needed to) by saying that his books will diverge significantly from the TV series. I can’t wait to get started again.