Should I Read the Book or Just Watch the Movie?

Should I Read the Book or Just Watch the Movie?

Paige Rassey, Staff Writer

If I liked the book, will I like the movie? Should I just skip the book? Will the movie be better or worse? Are there a few movies that stand out from the crowd? What is the secret to making a well-received movie adaptation? All of these questions can be answered by examining the target audience of these films as well as attributing to my personal opinions on the select successful adaptations.

The key to unlocking an adaptation’s potential lies in the ability to cater to the film’s target audience. The simple logic behind adapting best-selling books to films is that they come with a built-in fanbase. This is true as those who’ve read the book are expected to watch the movie because of their pre-established love of the characters and plot. This makes readers the primary targeted audience of these adaptations and a goldmine for movie makers.

However, there is an unfortunate element of complexity added to this logic that puts a stopper on the cash flow. Those who read the book first are less likely to enjoy the movie because of the direct comparison to the book that inevitably accompanies transferring beloved stories onto the big screen. This is to say that adaptations that bring every preconceived vision to life and satisfy all moviegoers are nearly impossible because of every reader’s differing personal interpretations. Ironically, viewers experiencing the story for the first time who haven’t read the book are more likely to enjoy the movie as they aren’t able to make this judgmental comparison. By this logic target audiences, readers of the books, generally like adaptations less than other viewers. In all, liking a book does not always guarantee contentment with the movie.

This being said, there are certain book to film adaptations that serve as excellent examples of how to create a product which satisfies both readers and unfamiliar viewers, including “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, “The Witcher” Netflix Series, and “The Maze Runner”. 

Starting off, the positive public feedback of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is explained through a comparison between the first and second films of the quartet and a glimpse at the changes that allowed for the expansion of the book’s dystopia. From the perspective of someone who has both read and watched the movies, the main issue of the first movie was the shaky camera angles. The goal of these camera angles was to capture parts of the movie as if they were being filmed by the Capitol’s (the orchestrators of the games) cameras, offering a more removed view of the story. However, unsteady cinematography inhibited audiences’ ability to connect with the protagonist, Katniss, when the camera angles were filmed from the perspective of her enemies. In response to backlash, Gary Ross—the director of the first movie—did not return for the second film. With a new director came new and improved camera angles that brought the sequel to life.

Additionally, the hiring  of new cast members coupled with the introduction of new characters in the second novel refreshed the franchise, leading to better reviews. Although there was inevitable recoil to certain new cast choices as there had been in the first film, the casting was generally well-received by the public. Personally, I think the casting of the second movie was well done as each actor brilliantly captured the essence of their character. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is among the few well done movie adaptations of beloved books as a result of the producers willingness to pivot based on input from the book franchise’s fanbase. 

“The Maze Runner” movie is another member of the elite list of successful movie adaptations, although it’s not for the reason you may think. The movie made many creative changes to the structure of the plot, something readers often find distasteful. Production took a major risk in straying from the story and structure that the fanbase already loved. However, despite having loved the first book immensely before watching the movie, I can say that these changes were not all bad. In my opinion, as long as the character development is relatively similar and the overall start and end point of the plot are the same, getting there can be condensed and reinvisioned to better suit the film. The first movie in the maze runner trilogy was a success in spite of the many alterations to the original storyline, and is definitely worth the watch.

Lastly, an adaptation of The Witcher book series and the video game has taken the form of the Netflix original released a few years back. This was one of the rare occasions where I watched the show first, loved it, and then attempted to read the books. Key word being attempted as I personally found the books hard to read due to lack of description. This is to say that I liked the show far better than the first book in the series as the developing effects of this day and age made for an immersive world of fantasy and adventure that I found the books lacking. Although the directing quality of action scenes in the first season are debatable, I believe that the Netflix original was a genius adaptation that allowed the beloved story to shine on a different platform.

Although many film adaptations of beloved stories are poorly executed, there are a select few that have proven fan-favorites in spite of the inevitable harsh comparisons made by readers. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, “The Maze Runner”, and “The Witcher” series prove that the adaptation can be just as good, or even better than the book. These film adaptations are worth your time.