Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Words Versus Pictures

We're always hearing "the book was better," or "the movie let me see what the author meant."  We have a wide variety of entertainment mediums, yet instead of picking one and sticking to it, we argue and gripe about which one is better.

I'll go ahead and state the obvious - if the same story is brought out in both mediums, someone is going to be disappointed, and some will be pissed.  This isn't due to some evil plot on behalf of filmmakers or writers, but because of expectations.  Quite simply, we go into one or the other thinking we'll see one thing, yet we get something quite different.

Usually this happens from the book to the movie, and it happens for one of two reasons.  The first is that, in the absence of visual effects, we have to use our imagination when we read.  No one is putting that dramatic battle or poignant funeral scene right in front of us - we have to envision what is there.  I've been known to assign who I think will be in the lead role, as well as whether it's raining, windy, or traffic is heavy.  In the absence of definites, our minds fill in the gaps, and that creates expectations in us.

Then some enterprising producer comes along and gives life to what we already birthed in our heads.  With breathless excitement, we naively believe that the movie will conform exactly, or near exactly, with what our vision is.  Unfortunately, unless we're on set with a blank check, that never happens.  Things change - that blond we envisioned now becomes the brunette actress we think isn't serious enough for the role; our main character appears more hesitant; or the constant rain that provided mood goes from steady to mist to downpour.

Even worse, the story sometimes changes.  Characters aren't even seen(I'm talking to you, Peeves), or the ending doesn't match the book and we walk out feeling cheated, as if we paid for one thing and were given something else.  We scream and shout "I paid to see XXX and they made me look at YYY.  It's not the same thing!"

In order to come to terms with this, I think we have to accept that most of the public doesn't read.  Whether out of laziness or daftness or whatever, they just don't like it and would rather watch something on screen do all the imagining for them.  That means that film studios have to make films that have much more mass appeal than we might like.  They must cater to enough people to turn a profit, and that means drawing in more than readers of the book.  Accepting this, as well as the fact that what you're watching won't match with what you read, is the key to watching anger free.

Although on a smaller scale, this can work in reverse too.  However, it also often comes back to we readers.  Movies will do amazing, and we'll exclaim, "Then you have to read the book!"  Of course, the viewer already has in his or her head what the movie laid out for them, so that severely taints the process of imagination.  People may read the book and say, "Meh, it was okay."  This produces outrage in us when they had the gall to not love the book as much as we knew they would.

We need to accept that we're dealing with different mediums - imagination versus optical - and know they'll never match.  If we can't, we'll always be left wanting at the final result on either end.

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