Should movies be faithful to the book?


Unless you’ve been living in a dark cave on Mars for the last few months you’ll probably have heard/seen all the hullabaloo about the big screen summer blockbuster World War Z. Before you read any further I’ll state right now this is not going to be one of those posts where I drone on and on about how the movie was nothing like the book, how the director and movie making people raped a very good story and created junk, and how much I detest that sort of stuff.

To quote Icona Pop: “I don’t care! I love it!”

I read Max Brooks World War Z over 5 years ago and loved it. And when rumours started circling about a movie version I began to drool like a zombie.

I love zombies.

I suspected the movie probably wouldn’t be much like the book because it wouldn’t make for an edge of the seat, thrill-a-minute, roller-coaster ride sort of movie.

But that doesn’t matter. With Brad Pitt staring it was obvious a lot of money would be thrown at the production and I looked forward to epic action zombie goodness. If you’re a fan of zombies how can you fail to get excited about a vast horde of the undead swarming like rapid ants up a giant wall?


Okay, I admit I was looking forward to the Battle of Yonkers because it would have been awesome to see that on the big screen. But the zombies hordes attacking the walls of Jerusalem was just as entertaining. Even the concept art for those scenes is pretty stunning.


Book v Movie? Well done on wasting everyone’s time.

Big round of applause to every movie critic for figuring out the movie wasn’t the same as the book. Oh yes. You’re so smart for pointing that out to us morons. Oh and congratulations for wasting 2 minutes of your 5 minute review by talking about the damn book!<end sarcasm>

Way too many critics love to compare a book to the movie adaptation, but it amazes me why they bother. I want to see a movie critic review the MOVIE as a stand alone thing. I’m not interested in their opinion on whether it’s faithful to the book (and I’m sure plenty of other people feel the same) because they’re two different mediums.

I don’t remember ever seeing the words BOOK CRITIC next to their name on any website with the word MOVIE in the logo.

Why do they waste valuable screen/page time banging on about the same weary topic? Not everyone has read the book of the movie so why waste their time? Movie critics should stick to just that – review the actual movie. Full stop. Period. End of.

I get the feeling movie critics like to bang on about book/movie infidelities because they think it makes them look smart. You can clearly see that patronising smile and I-spotted-every-single-mistake glint in their eye when they start saying stuff like: “It’s not faithful to the book” or “I’ve heard Author Joe Watshisname isn’t happy with this adaptation” and the all the usual classics that every other movie critic is also spouting to make them look intelligent.

That’s why I like Mark Kermode. He cuts through the bullshit and gives quality reviews on movies without becoming a sheep and following what other critics are saying.

Books and moving pictures are different, didn’t you know?

One is made up of lots of words that enable our imaginations to create visuals, the other is a sequence of images created by a director/screenwriter/producer etc based on their interpretation using their own unique visual style.

Take Cloud Atlas as an example (one of the best books I’ve ever read, I thoroughly recommend it) it has a beautiful story, rich characters, amazing dialogue and a plot that kept me turning the page.

Before I saw the movie I was keen to see how any director could make it work as the plot is kinda messed up and not easy to recreate in a visual way that would make sense.

However, I thought the movie was extremely well done. There were obvious differences but that doesn’t mean the movie was crap. I enjoyed it for what it was – an entertaining, visually stunning, beautiful movie.

As I was the only one of my friends who had read the book, I couldn’t help but say stuff like: “That didn’t happen like that in the book” despite feeling myself cringe as the words came out.

If, like me, you read Cloud Atlas before seeing the movie, maybe you appreciated and understood some of the dialogue in the distant future sections a little more than those who haven’t read the book. I soaked up those bits in the book like a hungry word eating sponge. Even the first few lines were a treat to read:

Old Georgie’s path an’ mine crossed more times’n I’m confy mem’yrin, an’ after I’m died, no sayin’ what some fangy devil won’t try an’ do to me…so gimme some mutton an’ I’ll tell you ’bout our first meetin’. A fat joocesome slice, nay, non o’your burnt wafery off’rins…

– Sloosha’s Crossin’ an Ev’rythin’ After – Cloud Atlas.

I judge a movie on its own merits.

So what if the movie isn’t the same as the book? Does that really matter? Is it really that important to anyone? I guess perhaps to the author, though I suspect (and hope) that David Mitchell was pretty chuffed with how Cloud Atlas turned out on the big screen. The same goes for Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games. Great book. Great movie.

There will always be disappointments if you compare the two, so why go there? Why muddy your memory of a good story with negativity if the movie didn’t follow the book to the exact letter?

Every so often I’ll over hear people bouncing the negativity ball about how the movie wasn’t the same as the book, and I can’t stop myself from joining in, only to ask them why they’re swapping bad memories of a movie that if judged on its own wasn’t bad at all. I ask them to consider how they’d judge that movie if there hadn’t been a book.

It’s interesting to see how people can change their minds, although many do circle back to the: “Yeah but the book…blah blah…” at which point I roll my eyes and walk away.

Those are the same people who can’t see beyond someone else’s furniture in a house they’re thinking of buying. Stop commenting on the kitchen units, carpet colour, wardrobe style and all that crap and look at the actual room!

Do you read the book first?

Given the choice would you read the book before seeing the movie? I’ve done that on a number of occasions, Cloud Atlas and Hunger Games trilogy for example, though strangely only after my attention is grabbed by the trailer. On the other hand I’m glad I watched Game of Thrones before reading the book.

After season one I gave the book a try. It’s a great read. The problem I had with the book was the sheer amount of characters, places, religions, houses, crests and everything else that were crammed in right from the start. As I had visuals from the telly show I found it was easier to read, whereas I know that amount of information would have made reading the book feel like a chore.

My personal preference is to read the book first. I like my noggin to give me the images from words first, then I can appreciate how I director envisions the same story from their own perspective. For me that’s a treat rather than something to feel dismay over. It’s like comparing notes with the director!

Does being faithful matter that much?

Other than making fans happy I don’t think it’s that important. Lord of the Rings was pretty good, stayed close to the book, but The Hobbit seems to have pissed a lot of people off with way too much padding and extra stuff. So what? Does that really matter? Okay, The Hobbit was a pretty short book and there’s no where near enough content to make three movies out of it, but again…so what?

I applaud any director like Peter Jackson who is so embedded in Tolkien’s Middle Earth that he wants to expand on it, give that story more depth, more action, more beautiful scenery and of course more story which is kind of the point.

These days it’s all about the trilogy. They make money by keeping the fans coming back again and again. By giving fans more you get bums on seats at the cinema creating revenue for movie studios, which ultimately provides them the means to keep us entertained.

I’m happy to cough up a few monies so I can sit in a movie theatre for the sequel and have my senses spirited away on an amazing (or unexpected…groan, sorry!) journey to far away lands.

Thanks Mr Jackson! That’s at least 9+ hours of movie entertainment out of one small book. Awesome.

My question to you, dear blog reader, is this:

Should movies be faithful to the book?

Why or why not?

I’ll leave you an interview with Max Brooks on the subject on World War Z, book and movie.


18 thoughts on “Should movies be faithful to the book?

  1. Once in a great while I’ll read a scene that is so cool or interesting, that I can’t wait to see what they do with it in the movie. There are also times when the movie strays far from the source material. If the movie is good then it really doesn’t matter, but if you had a classic about a sinking ship, and the movie version featured apes from planet x then I might have a problem with it. As you say books and movies are two very different animals and should really be judged on their own merits. Good Read!

    1. Reckon I’d have to agree with you there Cliff! Straying too far from the book can be a huge let down, though I guess it depends on whether those apes from planet x make the movie better than the book or whether they add a different element to the story – wouldn’t mind seeing that actually!

    1. I sort of go into the movie expecting something different, from slight to huge, and though I judge movies and books on their own merits I still have that hopeful feeling that the movie will be close to the book as possible. Now I’m wondering if hopes and expectations are the same thing or not!

  2. This is a question that arises in my Reading Literature/Reading Film (high school seniors) class all the time. There is not one correct answer. It’s all about perception and expectation. I do believe the success of each needs to be based on the merits of individual discourse. After all, an adaptation of a book is, inherently, the perception of the director, actors…There are loose and tight adaptations. For example, in my course, we view at least six adaptations of Hamlet and they are all slightly different depending on the goals of the director, the setting, the actor’s interpretation of the character. There are so many variables. And when one sees an adaptation that they’d preconceived all of that–it all depends on how what they’ve imagined has converged or diverged with the portrayal in the film. Oftentimes, it isn’t black and white; some parts fulfill your expectations and some don’t. Going the other way– watching the film, then reading the book– prevents us from truly imagining the situation because we have these fixed images of the way it “should’ be in our heads.
    Thanks for sharing some very thought provoking thoughts!

    1. Very well said Donna! Expectations are a pain when it comes to the movie adaptation. Interesting how you referred to viewing different versions of Hamlet, where the director puts their own slant on the play. I recently read a review about the new version of The Great Gatsby, where the movie critic said it wasn’t the best version but simply a version for our time.

      I guess the same can be said for any movie of a book or even a remake, that it’s a vision of a director based on the current trend of our time, within reason I suppose. Interesting comment, Donna, thanks! Given me food for thought!

    1. I take it you didn’t like it then? If I hadn’t read the book I would have still enjoyed the movie, well, parts of it at least. The visuals were good enough, some of the dialogue was a tad corny and pointless. And I’ve read how Gerry’s mission was pointless and served nothing more than to have a jaunt around the world to show off big set pieces.

      I do agree with that but only because of what happens to the virus specialist guy! Kinda made me think: “Oh, they might as well go home then now!” Others have slagged off the weird trip to the WHO facility in Wales as being a huge let down. I actually liked that bit as it felt more real that the vast scenes of CGI monsters that, whilst gripping and entertaining, didn’t feel very realistic or much of a threat to the characters.

      Problem is that the director or movie making folks couldn’t figure out how to go with the movie, keeping some elements of the book, and abandoning other possibly stronger sections.

      I’ll look forward to watching it again from my sofa. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more. A little like Skyline. I came out of the theatre after that weird one thinking I must have missed something. However, after watching it at home I really enjoyed it!

      I was a little distracted in the movie theatre by the moron two seats in front of me who kept taking photos of the screen with his mobile phone! Surely there has been enough World War Z junk online without the need to snap a blurry photo, right? Idiots are everywhere!

  3. I completely agree with most everything you’ve said. I always try to keep this in mind when I see a movie that’s been made from a book, and I’ve noticed that if a movie (I Am Legend, World War Z) is different enough, it becomes easier to judge it separately from the book. I can’t say I’m not still disappointed with some past adaptations (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the most disappointing adaption I think I’ve ever seen) but it is far more enjoyable to watch a movie without trying to compare it to the book the whole time.

    1. It’s funny you mention The Prisoner of Azkaban because I really enjoyed that one. It was at that stage when I started to tire of Harry Potter, not the characters but what I felt to be way too much padding that failed to drive the story forward.

      Sadly I never read I Am Legend, though I am tempted to find out why so many people said it failed to represent the original story.

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more. I wouldn’t expect a director to have a hope of competing or matching what anyone’s imagination can create. I find it curious why so many critics moan when a movie differs from the book. Like you say, they’re two different mediums so enjoy them on their own merits.

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