When the Book is Better than the Movie (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It’s Lit!

When the Book is Better than the Movie (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It’s Lit!


[ROOSTER CROWING] LINDSAY ELLIS: Ever
since the dawn of cinema, film has been this
sort of little brother to the more heady,
intellectual medium of novels. And many film
adaptations of literature leave viewers and critics
saying, the book was better. [MUSIC PLAYING] From “The Golden Compass”
to “The Great Gatsby,” from “The Hobbit” to “Harry
Potter,” and to “The Giver–” oh, “The Giver–” we
find ourselves wondering why adaptations
of beloved stories tend not to live up to
the source material. To quote literary and film
theory professor Thomas Leitch, “The book will always be
better than any adaptation because it is always
better at being itself.” So what makes a good
adaptation, especially of a great or popular book? Can an adaptation
ever really live up to the story you
formed in your head? Narrative adaptations,
be they passed down through oral tradition
or the written word, have a long and rich
history that predates film. Whether it’s Goethe’s “Faust”
or Ovid’s “The Metamorphosis,” plays, ballets, and opera became
the medium for popular stories to reach the pre-mass
literacy masses. However, film can accomplish
what all of these other mediums can do while reaching
an even wider audience. It also frees visual
adaptation from needing to stay on one relative plane,
like a stage, for example. But adaptation isn’t just
about changing the story. It is translating the story to
a totally different language, the language of film. Film language includes
cinematography, art directing, acting, editing, sound design,
special effects, score, all of which work
together to communicate ideas and emotions more quickly
and viscerally than books can. Film language can add to a
story in ways that books can’t. “Fight Club” author,
Chuck Palahniuk, saw the film adaptation as
the best version of the story. According to Palahniuk, “I was
sort of embarrassed of the book because the movie had
streamlined the plot and made it so
much more effective and made connections that I
had never thought to make.” But books as a medium
have advantages, as well. Books let us get inside
characters heads. Both “Fifty Shades of Grey”
and “Ready Player One” have long, long passages
where the protagonists muse to themselves about
all sorts of things. Ready Player One’s”
adaptation cuts most of Wade’s internal monologue. And “Fifty Shades of
Grey’s” cuts all of Anna’s. WOMAN: Ouch! LINDSAY ELLIS: World building
and scope is another thing that books can splurge on. And only very recently have
the budgets and technology of film and television
even began to catch up with a novelist’s imagination. George RR Martin really
went for it in his books, writing a complex story
featuring dozens of characters, a few dragons, a zombie
king, all waging war across multiple continents. Until HBO came
along and produced one of the most expensive
TV shows ever made, Martin thought it
was unadaptable. And then there’s
Steven Spielberg, a master of adaptation who has
no compunction about changing the source material. “Jaws” transcended it’s
source material as pulpy, boilerplate thriller
to become what many consider the beginning
of the era of the blockbuster. And in his adaptation of
“Jurassic Park,” Spielberg fleshes out the
book’s characters, changes some altogether, and
adds straight-forward theming which wasn’t really
there in the book. And then, of course,
there’s “Ready Player One,” which, well, it’s
different from the book. [VIDEO GAME BEEPING] But Spielberg’s adaptations
are generally well regarded. Let’s take a look at one that
is remembered less kindly. 2005’s “The Hitchhiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy” garnered pretty polar
reactions upon its release. Based on Douglas Adams’
irreverent sci-fi comedy book series of the same name, itself
an adaptation of a radio show– PETER JONES: This is the story
of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. LINDSAY ELLIS: The
initial response to this film was, well– [SAD TONE] But what about this
adaptation made it fail to capture the spirit
of the book to so many people? Creating an adaptation
means incorporating the audience’s paratext. And paratext means everything
that we, the audience, bring to the piece of media–
preconceptions, our worldview, our political views,
what kind of day we had, whether or not we even
read the source material. All of these are
forms of paratext. A book published
in 1952 will have to change to reflect the
sensibilities of the audience in the 2000s, which
is why the movie version of “The
Lord of the Rings” is probably a lot more loud
and bombastic than Tolkien envisioned. “Heart of Darkness,” which
took place in colonial Africa, got a big upgrade
to the Vietnam War in Francis Ford Coppola’s
“Apocalypse Now.” And with “War of the Worlds,”
Spielberg took a comment on British colonialism and
recontextualized it for this post-9/11 moment in time. Even genre is a
form of paratext. “Dr. Strangelove
or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and
Love the Bomb,” which played the whole
scenario as farcical, was based on a thriller called,
“Red Alert,” which plays the whole scenario as straight. Paul Verhoeven took Robert
Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” which as a book was pretty
straight military science fiction, and pushes it
so far, it is parodic. “The Great Gatsby” is
generally characterized as literary fiction, but
its recent Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation as a movie
is more epic romance. But while adaptations
can run the gamut from great to not so
great, it doesn’t really answer why it feels like
movies tend not to live up. And a lot of that does
have to do with medium. Books are, by their very
nature, more personal. When you’re reading
a book, your brain is essentially
acting as director, casting agent, cinematographer. Is it any wonder that people
get protective of the books that they love being turned
into a major motion picture? No, it’s as if a
middleman has stepped in between you and the
literal movie of your dreams. But that is not to say that
either medium is superior. Both mediums need to be
appreciated on their own terms. According to film
critic Pauline Kael, “If some people would rather see
the movie than read the book, this may be a fact of life
that we must allow for. But let’s not
pretend that people get the same things out of
both or that nothing is lost.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “The Great American
Read” is a new series on PBS about why
we love to read, leading up to a nationwide vote
on America’s favorite novel. Who decides America’s
favorite novel, you ask? Well, that would be you, so head
to PBS.org/greatamericanread to vote on your favorite book. Check the link in the
description for more details.

100 thoughts on “When the Book is Better than the Movie (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It’s Lit!”

  • The Giver's movie isn't bad, it's just really different… Like do movies have to insert a cliche af 3rd act chase scene into every fucking thing? :O It did have some stirring (pun intended) performances.

  • I think she should have talked about some movies which are completely incomparable to books, such as Koyaanisqatsi, Under the Skin

  • I often think about adaptations. I feel like they're alternate universes from their source material.

    And as a fan of HHG2G who has listened, read, played and watched all the different forms, the movie does a great job of capturing the energy of the whole thing. Of course changes were made, but they were for every different version.

  • I feel like a historic adaptation which didn't get discussed here is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That's entirely told as internal narrative and in the film that's thrown away entirely. I suppose the point is made, but that novel was famously considered unfilmable.

  • I think films have supplanted novels in this age, for better or worse. An example of a film adaptation being far superior than the novel is The Godfather. Coppola's film is just better in every aspect than Puzo's book, and has been seen and enjoyed by far more people than the novel. Literary novels are fast becoming a side show, as reading for pleasure rapidly declines. I still see a role for novel adaptations, particularly in genre works, but publishers are increasingly passing on novels that can't be readily turned into film or other more popular properties for additional revenue. As I am an avid reader this trend is disappointing, but nonetheless true.

  • For whatever it's worth…. I watched Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy first, then read the book. I love both of them equally. The movie is one of my favorite movies and the book is my favorite book. Ready Player One, however, I think they did a good job adding the basic elements of the book, but I much prefer the book over the movie.

  • So this just popped up for me…….
    I think it worth noting that both Starship Troopers (movie) and I, Robot (movie) started life as unrelated stories that were altered when the rights to the titles came about.

  • I've been following Ellis since her like third video on her personal channel, I had no idea that she did more videos. I'm stuck on an extreme binge now, send help. And shower gel.

  • Annihilation did a wonderful job and became better than the book for me by adding the metaphor of self-destruction. It made these characters more relatable.

  • I honestly think in some ways the LotR film adaptation is better, but I could do without some of the flourishes like the Legalos stair grind. It was pretty silly at the time, and just gets sillier with age.

  • Saying that the movie version doesn't match up to the "movie" that plays in someone's head as they read the book doesn't feel like an adequate explanation. What about people who saw the movie first? The movie's visuals and casting seem like they'd basically be guaranteed to influence your visualization of the book, in which case the disconnect will be far less, but there are still people who prefer the book despite reading it second.

  • For my personal taste, I have often noticed I prefer movies to books if the movie becomes a musical. Three examples of this phenomena for me are The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz (although actually, I like both movie and book, they are different by equal) and Mary Poppins.

  • I had read ready player one before seeing the movie and found that though I enjoyed the movie, I had developed a bias toward it (possibly due to the reasons involved)
    Which has now given me the understanding that to truly stay the book is better, entails seeing the movie before reading the book. If the book can keep your interest after you had seen the adaptation, Than the book was truly better.
    A few cases in point:
    Legend of the seeker / wizards first rule: I had read the book after watching the series and found myself getting bored of the book due to the pacing of the story (half way through and it felt like the book didn't go any where)
    On the flip side,
    Edge of tomorrow / all you need is kill: I read the book (the novelization) after seeing the movie (which I enjoyed), and found the book far superior than the movie, to the point that I sadly can no longer enjoy the movie (oops).

    Thus with ready player one I probably would have enjoyed the movie had I seen it before reading the book

  • I liked American Psycho the movie better than the book. Also, Scott Pilgrim vs the World was more fun as a movie than a comic, but both are good.

  • Then again, you pulp trash like The Silence of the Lambs which was translated to the movie verbatim, or Zorba the Greek where the book and movie only have character names in common. Apparently if you have a dud of a book, you find the most exciting scenes and best dialogue and use that in the movie. In most of HItchcock's films the movie is based on some obscure novel which is re-invented.

  • Faithful adaptations would be the most fair of adaptations. I mean not everyone reads a book so they can get much of the original story in a straight translation of that.
    The films that be the least fair are those that go all out the window with the source material and turn into something something whimsical like(I have to admit it) Disney is with adapting mature books into cutesy and whimsical children’s because they target kids merchandising a lot and cute things are more appealing to children whether the books are more for adults or not. That’s Disney’s nature in anything, being cutesy and whimsical.
    Disney make other companies whether their faithful or not more appealing in their non-Disney adaptations to book readers in comparison like even retaining more maturity the books had while the former even with some stand alone original films has its public “saccharine reputation”.

  • What I've learned:
    * First of all literature and filmography are almost completely different languages, so getting things missed in translation should be expected.
    * Film adaptations can bring new and valuable things to the story.
    * Paratext: personal features of the audience that influence how they experience the content.
    * Sometimes it's possible getting more using less, so it could be the case that cutting stuff from the text is the best.
    * Lindsay Ellis is just awesome.

  • Rebecca- INSANELY boring book (up until the last third), decent movie. I guess it's due to the book spending so much time covering the main character trying to get used to being under the late Rebecca's shadow whereas the movie only covers it in the first act and the rest of the movie surrounds the investigation of Rebecca's death. And it was directed by motherf*cking ALFRED HITCHCOCK!

  • I’m never going to stop being annoyed with all of the Frankenstein movies until we get a semi-book accurate adaptation, though. At LEAST a book accurate monster (with the funky eyes, flowing hair, etc).

  • Yes to most, but no, there are objective differences between The Lord of the Rings Novel and Book that are so big that it can't be called a great adaptation. It's a bit like with the Shining (or the here named Starship Troopers), you may think it to be a great movie, but it's still not a good adaptation of the source material.
    The Lord of the Rings movie takes place in a completely different world in tone and structure, so it's not really having the same "message" as the novel.

  • You talk a little too fast, the video on the whole is bit too fast for me. I find it hard to keep up.This is such a pity because I love the video otherwise, great content and visuals!

  • Interesting how people get excited about film adaptations of novels, yet no one gets hyped for novelizations of films.

  • A song of ice and fire is unadaptable.

    Game of thrones was adapted fairly well, and the show is ok, but it's definitely not an adaptation of a song of ice and fire.

    It's almost a parody of a song of ice and fire.

  • It is not always the case for book to be better than the movie. Blade Runner is the good example. I spend years looking for "Do Androids dream of electric sheep" only to be disappointed.

  • I'm that person who likes the movies more normally but I recently finished the divergent series and the book is much MUCH better than the movie

  • Some movies are better than the book: the LotR films have much better pacing than the books. Also Altered Carbon and Cloud Atlas.

  • Can we all agree that while some adaptations can change things from the books that there be a genre that just copies and pastes book onto film. More often than not, that's really what a lot of people want. Without care for how long it may be, without care for stilted and un-cinematic it may seem, some people just want the book, but visual.

  • Makes me wonder if the reason I didn’t care for the film adaptation of Norwegian Wood was because the novel – my very favorite of all time – is very close and personal to me and how could a 2 hour movie measure up? Or maybe it was just that underwhelming and that’s it. The book was better!!

  • The Martian as a book and as a movie worked equally well for me and actually complimented each other in a lot of ways.

  • Thank you for noting that the movie can sometimes be better than the book. Fight Club is definitely an example of that, but another one, in my opinion, is the third Vampire Hunter D novel, Demon Death Chase. Blood Lust, as it's known in some parts of the world, made better connections among the characters over it's source material, and the ending is more bitter-sweet in the film, while the book was flat-out anticlimactic.
    I'm loving this PBS series by the way. Great production, poignant analyses.

  • The Lord of the Rings movies are soooo much better than the books. I really love this movies, the story is just great but the Books are incredibly boring in my opinien.

  • When a reporter once asked James M Cain what he thought about Hollywood ruining his books he took the reporter into his library and said "my books are fine, they're right there on the shelf"

  • Sad how everyone's forgotten about The Lord of the Rings. Now all anyone ever mentions is The Hobbit, a cute little children's book, instead of LOTR, a true novel.

  • One of the things I have become more and more aware of over the years is the way in which a movie which happens to be an adaptation of a book may overtake the book's popularity to the extent that nobody even thinks about the book version anymore; the movie has become the primary version of the story in pop culture. I get depressed when I think about how many people love The Wizard of Oz but have never read it or any of its many many delightful sequels. Two of my favorite characters from Oz (Tik-Tok and Ozma) aren't even in the fist book (or this one 1939 movie that everyone is familiar with instead of the books). People love Willy Wonka (or Charlie) and the Chocolate Factory, but how many people have read the book or the sequel? This has come to light again in recent days for me because of the new Mary Poppins film. I have ashamed to realize that I have never read any of the Mary Poppins novels. (And I probably won't read the Harry Potter books either, having watched the movies.) Occasionally, though, the movie may be better (as in the case of The Princess Bride, a book I read before it became a movie). But often there is so much that people miss out on by not reading books.

  • I think the movie was better than the book for Tuck Everlasting. The movie understood to stretch out the mystery a bit and show what the main character could've had and spent some time toward showing what went into her decision, whereas the book just blows its load way too soon in revealing the Tucks' "curse".

  • The Lightning Thief movie is a sin to film, and that's not just my love for the books speaking. The movie's bad despite the books. The movie is boring and devoid of all character and emotion. It's like an angsty teenager that actively attempts to not be good at anything when they're actually very intelligent and creative behind their guise, but would rather sulk, and brood, and not speak and pass with low c's the entire year, just writing bad poetry with no understanding of literature about how love is a lie and society is a huge scam and that their parents "don't get them," when the them they think they know is merely a facade of a human, a husk with no direction actively avoiding any ebb or flow in their life. Stagnantly. Emotionless.

  • Great point. Love your work.
    Although, we must add «you can only translate what is inessential to the book» (I think that's a quote from Kundera), and the essential of a novel is that it's written. A movie is in itself a completely different work, unless you think that a movie or a novel can be reducted to its plot, which I hope, no one does.

  • When wpould I have time to read a novel. There's all these cool Lindsay Ellis videos to watch!

    Love your videos. Thanks.

  • I loved how Peter Jackson came and pissed all of that girl's thoughts. The same thing happened to me after watching a short part of the hobbit after I have finished the book.

  • Two goats find a film can (Or whatever you call it) and after messing with it a good while they open it and then eat the celuloid.
    One ask the other: "How did you like it?"
    – "I'd rather like the book" – answered the other

  • Another one of those excellent adaptations is _A Handmaid's Tale_. The original used the anti-pornography movement as the common point that the ultra left and the fundamentalist right happened to ally at.

    The TV show has turned this issue into environmentalism. (This Gilead has mandated organic farming and drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions.) Aside from environmentalism being much more palatable to ratings boards, it is also an update to the original that recaptures the deeply uncomfortable feeling of getting what you wanted, but not in the way you wanted it.

  • After some deep pondering and several hundreds of liters of alcohol containing fluids, I came up with the idea that books are better than movies simply because they are longer. An ordinary feature film is what, 11/2-2 hrs long? Meantime, you'll read a book for a straight day or two, depending on your speed of reading. So, you can't clip off a Volvo truck to the size of a VW Beetle and say 'it's the same good ol' truck, load guys!' The Game of Thrones has moderately good adaptation as a series, while it's obvious it can never be adequately adapted as a 2- or 3-hours movie.

  • honestly, I don't really read many books OR watch many movies anymore. I tend to be a bit too critical of the media I consume.

  • To me they shouldn't make movies based on books.they should make a series. Because movies are always too fast and the book is always more detailed. So if they made a series based on the book instead of a movie that would be much better. But also movies need to find a better way of us to read the mind of the main character just like in the books.

  • The only movie that was as equally as good as the book is "holes"the movie and book are so similar. No huge differences at all.

  • Funny thing about the original roger rabbit book. The author wrote two followup books, but they were sequels to the movie not the original book

  • My favorite book-to-movie adaptation is The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. My least favorite book-to-movie adaptation is Percy Jackson.

  • the only good adaptation of a book that i loved more than the book is The painted Veil and the adaptation of 2006.
    Oh my god, the movie is so much better than the book.

  • If someone says this about Percy Jackson, that’s not true. The Percy Jackson movies make cow dung look like diamonds.

  • Jungle conclusions…. https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/threelly-ai-for-youtube/dfohlnjmjiipcppekkbhbabjbnikkibo

  • Good job. This constant whining about how the "book was better" is getting us nowhere. Thank you for making a very differentiated point.
    If you want to have fun with this topic, however, I recommend The Axis Of Awesome's approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CLCOvZOh1o 😁

  • The opposite is also true. There are obscure book novels made great by their movie adaptations. Examples are Psycho, The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy.

  • Long time fan, first time responder. Only point I wanted to make was that the Hitchhiker movie was so much better than people give it credit for. Was 17 when I first saw it, had no idea about all that predates it, loved it, got to know Adams' work and loved that even more. It's a good movie if you like absurdism and not know the books (small audience, I know), but I still love the movie to this day, even though I can see the original is technically superior.

    Anyhow, it gets a lot of flack it doesn't deserve, all I wanted to say.

  • this is also relevant to those whole "live action remake" thing. they are uninspired but they are also not meant to be told in that way. if you are gonna adapt into liveaction you really need to have your own take on the story that suits that right?

  • 0:27 my thoughts exactly when I saw the trailer for it. The Giver is one my favorites and I’ve always wanted to see an adaptation of it, I’ll wait to see if they’ll make a better one…

  • "The Prince of Egypt" = Book of Exodus

    "Shrek" franchise = (loosely off of) a children's book

    "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise = (loosely off of) a series of middle grade fantasy novels

    "Captain UnderPants: The First Epic Movie" = based on a children's book series

    "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" franchise = based off a children's book

  • I think it's not controversial to say any adaptation of IT is by default better for not including an underaged gangbang. Plus the mini series had Tim Curry. Did the book have Tim Curry? I don't think so. Checkmate atheists.

  • Movies that were better than their books:
    1. Cold Comfort Farm
    2. Stardust
    3. The Princess Bride

    Feel free to add your own

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