Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Books before films


There have been times when I’ve watched a film and thought “I wonder if that was based on a book?” And sometimes it has turned out there is indeed a book. And sometimes I have gone ahead and sought out that book, and read it.

Sometimes films are released as a book afterwards (to cash in on the film’s success perhaps), and I’ve read a couple of those: Back to the Future 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest. Neither of these were very good as books – they were very basic and written for youngsters really. Or, sometimes a film is based on a book and then re-released in a basic book version after the film (like a basic version of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine I read). It gets confusing.

I think it’s best when a film is based on a book, rather than a book be based on a film, but then for children the latter is perhaps a good way to get them interested in reading – they’ll already be familiar with the story, so they shouldn’t find it so easy to lose the plot.

The reason I like to read a book that has lead to a film, is because after watching the film I often suspect there is ‘something more’, something deeper, to be gleaned from the novel – something closer to the author’s imagination, rather than the film director’s interpretation of it. Plus, often bits get cut out of the original book in order to fit them into the time-constraints of a film, or make them more screen-friendly. Sometimes I have been disappointed when I found that a film wasn’t based on a novel, so there was nothing for me to read and no further insight to be had.

The problem with reading a book that a film was based on after having watched the film, is that your imagination, how you visualise everything, will be largely based on what you saw when watching the film – the characters will look like the actors that played them. Whereas, if you had read the book first then your imagination will have the freedom to make something up, based ‘primarily’ on the descriptions you read. One such book I read that fits this example is Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was later filmed as Blade Runner. I found the book to have different twists and concepts to it that the film director emitted/missed, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book in a different way to how I had thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, but I couldn’t help but imagine the lead character as Harrison Ford who played him in the film! Funny, but a little annoying!

In the case of Philip Dick, I’ve been tempted to read other books of his, although I haven’t yet.

Next up, another Harrison Ford film based on a novel: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Again, I couldn’t imagine the characters, or the things they constructed as anything different to how I had seen them in the film.

When I saw the trailer last month for the up-coming film The Martian (set to be released in October 2015) I thought, “Wow! This looks great.” and when I Googled it Wikipedia informed me it was based on a novel. Keen to do things the other way round this time, and read the book before the film, I got my local library to order in the book (by Andy Weir) for me and I have just finished reading it. It sure is a page-turner, although I think you’ll certainly need to be into sci-fi and such films as Apollo 13 (as it has been compared to) in order to visualise some of what the stranded astronaut and NASA colleagues back on Earth have to deal with. So here is the crux – while I haven’t yet seen the film for this book, I found it hard not to visualise things as how I had seen them in films I have watched! In some ways I thought this was a fault of the author – perhaps he hadn’t put enough work into describing things, and relying on the reader to already have an impression of how things would look. Then again, the bulk of the text is message logs recorded by the stranded astronaut, so unless he was more descriptive (and why would he be – he’s not the one writing a novel?!) the text would have to bounce a lot more between his message logs and the author’s commentary, and in doing so it wouldn’t probably end up not being so readable. Even though the text is largely message logs, the stranded astronaut is very humorous – I’m guessing this it largely the author’s own character because I can’t imagine how you can imagine humour without it being your own.

Furthermore, I’m not sure if there is any more to the book compared to what there will be in the film, regarding that ‘something more’ and something deeper I mentioned before. I think the film may have the plot reduced somewhat, along with some of the details about how the stranded astronaut gets himself out of his tricky situation – just to keep the action going (not that the book suffers in this department). The book raises some subtle questions about the financial cost of space missions, and the last page or so ponders philosophical points about the human race. Time will tell.

Coincidentally, The Martian is directed by Ridley Scott who also directed Blade Runner (and Alien).


3 comments on “Books before films

  1. bribikes
    14 July, 2015

    I usually try to read the book before watching the movie, even though sometimes I get slightly frustrated when the film “messes things up”. I am reading through the Lord of the Rings Trilogy right now and then I plan to watch the movies, it is about time, all my brothers watched them years ago.

    • Brian
      14 July, 2015

      Wow, that’s worse than me – I usually give my brother the “huh?” look when he asks me “Have you seen such-and-such?”… I mean, everyone’s watched Lord of the Rings :p Sometimes I just don’t consider finding out if there is a book for the film until I’ve watched it and wanted more. I haven’t read any of the Lord of the Rings books though, so you’re ahead of me on that.

      • bribikes
        14 July, 2015

        I know! I am so out of touch with reality! My life is sad 🙂

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