How many times have you seen a movie and though, “Man, the book was so much better,” or had a friend who read the book say the same to you?
I can definitely say that the cases where the movie is better than the book are far outweighed by the reverse – probably in the range of 20:1. In fact, the only writer whose work seems to function better on screen than on paper is Stephen King, and even then there are plenty of books in his exceptionally large canon that are much better than their cinema counterpart (anyone remember The Dark Tower? I hope not).
So given that the general consensus is that the book is better, why do so many people get excited over new Hollywood adaptations of their favorite books? With some things, like fantasy, I can see the appeal of getting to “see” a book you like. Books are a great story medium, but are quite lacking when it comes to communicating aesthetics.
Why not just look at the concept art? Why not an illustrated edition, with full-color plates? A graphic novel edition?
Those things are infinitely cheaper than a big-budget film and still competently “show” the aesthetics at play. In fact, that might be my first attempt at crowdfunding – a real illustrated edition of some of my fantasy books. Some of the Robert E. Howard illustrated collections are dynamite – more compelling and imaginative than the latest Hollywood attempt at Conan.
I get why Hollywood likes adaptations. They are an easy way to apply a filter. A successful book has already proven its story to be popular, and the work has a built-in fanbase that will hype the movie. But then… they somehow seem to screw that story up. Some of it is the limitations of the format, but I think most of it is a lack of respect – producers and directors want to show their own creative muscle, and they destroy the product in the process.
As a consumer, I think you can use this filtering system in reverse. If you see a movie coming out that is based on a book you haven’t read, skip the movie and read the book.
It’s always a better experience, after all, and if the book sucks, chances are the movie will, too.
There are multiple books I have read because I saw the movie that turned out to be quite interesting – American Psycho and Fight Club to name two – and while I thought the movies were good, had I skipped them to read the book I would have still had a great experience. A better experience, actually, even if only marginally better.
So when people ask me what I expect with the new Dune adaptation, I say I don’t expect it to be good. Hollywood doesn’t make good adaptations by their own track record and Dune is a difficult book to adapt.
So crack open the book and leave your money in your wallet (don’t give money to people who hate you). You’ll have more fun anyway.
Also, you can just read the huge catalog of stories that are great that Hollywood hasn’t noticed yet, including mine:
You can also get this HUGE AND FREE collection of stories that the entire text for “Crown of Sight”