books > movies


Rachel Lim

A young reader imagines a scene from her favorite book, but is disappointed with the movie adaption a year later.

The debate is over: The book really is better than the movie.

First, a book tells a story in a way that a movie cannot. For instance, books that are written from the first-person point of view provide more insight into, and more detail about, the characters who populate the story. In novels like The Hunger Games, and more recently, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we experience the character’s thoughts and internal conflicts. We better understand a character’s actions, and their motivations for those actions, and thus, we feel a deeper connection with them, unlike when watching a movie when only the character’s external lives are displayed. 

Consider, is it more appealing to passively watch Katniss Everdeen compete in the Hunger Games series, or to witness the exciting events from her point of view, experiencing her thoughts and internal conflicts, such as her struggle with the moral conflict of killing others in order to survive, while also trying to save those she loves? 

And when reading novels, we experience far more detail than the two-dimensional images in movies, and thus we experience a more immersive story. Also, movies, due to length considerations (films usually run 80-120 minutes long), often cut important scenes from the literature they’re attempting to adapt. In the Divergent adaptation, for example, a brutal scene where Edward (a Dauntless initiate) loses his eye to another initiate is missing, which minimizes the ruthlessness and danger that the other Dauntless initiates face, and makes their journey to joining the Dauntless faction seem too easy. 

Hannah Adoion, junior, agrees that “books and movies are two different medias that can’t translate to one another; the movie always misses important details that are necessary to the plot or characters.” 

Also, adapting multi-volume stories, like the seven-book Harry Potter series, isn’t long enough — even in eight films released in a ten-year span — for viewers to feel a connection with the characters or stories, especially when important details are cut. The 4,224 total pages of the seven Harry Potter novels are condensed into about 20 hours of film — a third of the average reading time for the series. Major plot points — like Peter Pettigrew’s death, the S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare), and the finding of the final Horcrux: the missing Diadem of Ravenclaw — are absent from the films. 

When the Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters film was released in 2013, as a die-hard mythology and Percy Jackson fan, I was the most excited sixth-grader at Arovista Elementary. But imagine my crushing disappointment when I discovered that the hour and 47-minute movie tried to cram four of the five Rick Riordan novels into one film. Squeezing Percy Jackson’s search for the Golden Fleece, which happens in the second novel, and the revival of Kronos, which occurs in the fifth book, left me dizzy with confusion and disappointment, and with no connection to the beloved characters at all. 

Amber Kim, senior, and an avid reader, agrees that “the film adaption changes the pacing of a book and sometimes the character development like the Hunger Games movies” leading to “readers’ expectations being lowered.”  

Another victory for books over films: Readers get to actively imagine what characters appear and sound like, and what the settings look like, which establishes a stronger connection to the material than just passively watching a movie where nothing is left to the imagination. 

Take Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, which adapts a popular YA book for instance. I imagined the main villain of the story to be young and mysterious; but instead, the antagonist is played by a 40-year old. This interpretation of the character made it hard to finish the show as I felt like I was watching something completely unrelated to the novel that I love.  

Vannesa Jo, senior, agrees. “In movies, they cast certain actors that force people to think of them as that character only, while in books, we create our own imagery.”

But really, the reason someone should read the book rather than watch the movie is that between the different elements a novel offers compared to the movie, a unique and almost magical experience emerges from it. (Horror author Stephen King calls books “a uniquely portable magic.”) A reader can get lost in the pages of a book where there are different worlds and universes that ignite imaginations. And the best part: Readers can put themselves in the protagonists’ places and imagine themselves flying across Hogwarts, rather than simply watching it in two-dimensions on a screen.