Nowadays, when many good novels are turned into good films, it can be tricky to decide which to enjoy first, the book or the film based on it. Reading the book is an intimate experience that can challenge your mind and tickle your heart. But watching the film is often more convenient, especially if you don’t have much time. Not to mention that you get to see beautiful scenery and often a fine leg and some nudity as well.
Take The Reader or The English Patient or The Atonement or The Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones or some other story that has had the fortune of being made into a good, sometimes even acclaimed film.
What do you do? Read the book first and watch the film later? Watch the film and forget about the book? Or don’t watch the film at all, to prevent it from influencing the way you view the book?
Sunday I watched The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Last night I procured the book and began reading it. As I read, scenes from the film came back to me. Since the film wasn’t bad – nor Scarlett nor Colin displeasing to the eye – this didn’t bother me.
But now I suppose the film has already influenced the way I approach the book, and some of the feelings it will trigger. The characters in the book, rather than being vague outlines in my mind, have acquired the physical characteristics of the actors.
In films the setting usually comes before the characters. In books it’s the other way around. It’s the train of thought that matters most in books, for me at least, and this cannot be recreated on the screen. Also, I prefer the slow characterization of books to the fast, visual one of films.
But then I must admit that some films based on books are so good that if I get to see them first, somehow I feel that I don’t have to read the book after. Fight Club or The Atonement, for example. In some cases, films can act as concise summaries of stories we don’t have time to read.
That said, I prefer to read the story first, and only after, if a good film is available (good based on reviews), watch it.
There are stories though that I fear I will profane if I watch the films based on them, stories like One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Little Prince.
But in the end I think that films can enrich the novels they are based on. Not all films, but those like the ones mentioned in the beginning, which are well made and remain faithful to the original story.
What comes first for you, the book or the film?