Wow, that’s a hard one – how many of us truly read a book and watch the movie? In my experience most people are either cinema-goers or book readers and ne’er the twain shall meet. I personally read lots of books and only make the trip to the cinema when there’s something I really want to see. Otherwise I wait until it appears on TV. The films that I have watched where I have previously read the book have been a mixed bag.
The Lord of The Rings was a very deep and meaningful book, to me at least. I awaited the films with trepidation – it was such a big project that I dreaded the outcome. In the event, I was very pleased with the effort made by Peter Jackson. It didn’t slavishly follow the story but I felt that it did capture its true spirit. The only bit I was disappointed by was the Paths of the Dead – their portrayal differed from my imagined vision – but what a tour-de-force overall! I’d say that the film is probably better than the book for really involving the audience and improving the pace of the story.
An Alistair MacLean story comes to mind as possibly the best example of a film that diverges from the original story so much as to be barely recognisable. The book ends with an Agatha Christie style denoument amongst the primary characters in a submarine whilst the film sees a full blooded cold war face off between Russian and American Soldiers on the polar ice cap. It always seems to me that the film producers sought to do as much as possible to save money, on what would have been a very expensive film to make, by using news footage of military aircraft and polystyrene blocks of ice – at times it almost seems like a trailer for the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The tension was good but not as good as the original book and the story telling was further degraded by the cost cutting. I suspect that this was just about the worst book-to-film translation I’ve personally seen.
A film that I’ve always enjoyed as a masterpiece of film making is The Cruel Sea. The original book was by Nicholas Monsarrat and it was on the approved book list when I was at school. I suspect that it’s a jolly fine book but for me as a secondary school child it was heavy going – I got around halfway before giving up 😦 So, through no fault of the author, I have to say that I think this is an example of a film being better for me than the book. It made the story more accessible – but I owe it to the author to read his work in full now that my patience is more sustained! Perhaps I’ll change my view on this one 🙂 By the way, I read HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean around the same time and had no trouble with that.
There are others I could discuss but I think that my selection illustrates that the balance is pretty even and is as much down to personal preference as genuinely illustrating a superiority of one medium over the other. So my answer has to be – Sometimes. As suggested at the beginning, to be able to make a fair judgement between the two media requires that the person has to both read the book and watch the film – I wonder how many of us do both?