of movies and books

I recently finished David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas, a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying read. The book was breath-taking, complex at a level that would be hard to put into words, and still somehow accessible. If you’ve not read it, get on that.

Back in 2012, a full two years before reading the book, I saw the movie. Generally, I try to avoid watching a movie before experiencing the book, but I was excited to see something new from the Wachowskis, so I saw it. Sue me. Granted, my feelings about the movie might have been different had I read the book first, but I loved it, too. Visually, it was a masterpiece. The themes were intricate and intriguing. I found it to be entertaining and thought-provoking.

But I’ve talked to fans of the book who felt very differently about the movie.

Mostly, these are the kinds of people who also flipped out about the Lord of the Rings movies omitting Tom Bombadil and other such nonsense. I know. That sounds harsh. Or worse, it sounds like I haven’t read the LoTR books (I have) or don’t understand the significance of Tom Bombadil as a character (I do).

I don’t mean to come off too heavy-handed about this whole thing, but a fundamental flaw exists in the minds of too many readers when it comes to their favorite books being translated to the big screen. Namely, it’s this: readers tend to want (a) every detail from the book captured in the film and (b) for those details to perfectly match their expectations based on their personal experience of reading the book.

That’s crazy.

No film maker can live up to those expectations. It’s not possible. The best, the very best, any screenplay writer and director can do is try to capture the most significant details and preserve the themes of the original work. Almost as good, the film might also explore those themes in a slightly different way, which makes it possible for the movie to have a different meaning or evoke different emotions when compared to the book.

It’s all art. The point of it is to tell a story. Hopefully, a compelling story that pulls the audience in.

Now, I’ll be the first to argue that the stories we tell matter. The messages matter. That said, I think it’s high time we get a little more realistic when it comes to seeing our favorite books adapted into films. Things are going to change. It’s pointless to go on a rampage identifying every detail that shifted from one format to the other. Instead, I think it far better to judge each work separately, on its on merit.

By that criteria, I’d argue that both the book and movie forms of Cloud Atlas were good, though certainly different.

How about you? Have any thoughts on books made into movies? Please feel free to share them in the comments.


About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

6 Responses to of movies and books

  1. Jenni says:

    Totally agree. I’m currently experiencing a favorite book made into a TV series (Outlander on Starz). Because I am a super fan of the book series (8 books, 800+ pages each, so far, written over the last 25 years), I’m also pretty involved in fan websites, facebook pages, etc. Since the debut of the series on Starz, there has been an overwhelming amount of discussion about why the casting was done one way, how dare the director/producer rewrite that section/leave out that character/write in new material, etc……

    I have enjoyed the new visual aspect of the story that I’ve lived in my head as I’ve read and re-read the series. Yes, there are differences from the book. But, the author is involved in the adaptation and I understand she is pleased. It is definitely a different perspective on the story and I’m a fan….

    Liked by 1 person

    • dex says:

      I haven’t read the Outlander series, though it’s been recommended to me before. I’ll have to check that out–you know, when I’ve plowed through my already long ‘to read’ list!


  2. I have yet to read Cloud Atlas (I know!) but I have seen the movie, and it did put the book on my list of TBRs. Glad to hear you endorse it – makes me want to read it all the more.
    Good points about movies vs the books that inspired them; two very different artistic mediums, for sure, with different requirements and constraints.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dex says:

      It’s a laborious read at times. The sections are written in accents and vernacular that force you to slow down your reading. That said, it was good. Really good. I highly recommend it. Just don’t expect a fast read!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree. They are two different art forms, to be experienced on very different planes and by extremely varied senses. Apples and oranges.

    Be happy there’s a new way to enjoy your favorite story.

    Liked by 1 person

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