Hollywood loves to adapt books into movies and TV shows. When this happens, do you try to read the book first, or do you avoid the book to judge the adaptation on its own?
[Note: The following post is spoiler-free.]
I’m a fan of ‘Game of Thrones’. After some friends forced me to watch a few episodes, I decided to read the first George R.R. Martin novel in the series (does anyone actually call it ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ anymore?) before watching the rest of the TV show. I’m currently working through the fourth book.
Recently, I was driving on a road trip with a friend who informed me that he was likely to nap soon. I said that was fine, but that I was going to turn on an audio book so that I wouldn’t get too bored and fall asleep at the wheel. As I listened to ‘A Feast for Crows’, my friend started asking questions about the characters. I answered, and then I asked him, “I thought that you had read all of ‘Game of Thrones’ books?” He informed me that no, he’d actually just read summaries online. I said something like, “Oh, I see…” I hope that my disdain wasn’t too evident.
The thing that I find most enjoyable about the ‘Game of Thrones’ series is how much I care (or possible loathe) the individual characters in the sprawling narrative. I think that the TV show manages to do this as well, but I don’t see an online CliffsNotes version as being anything more than a great big plot spoiler. Anyway, we ended up talking about books, and about how getting a nice visual of a character in a movie can help when reading the book later.
If I want to see a movie that has been adapted from a book or something similar, I try to read the book first. I think this started way back with ‘Starship Troopers‘. I’ve rarely regretted the decision, unless both the book and movie are lousy. I read ‘I Am Legend‘ while in the UK, because I suspected that the Will Smith vehicle would be abysmal. Yet I had seen the previous adaptations of that book, ‘The Omega Man‘ and ‘The Last Man on Earth’. If I still wanted to read the book after seeing ‘I am Legend’, wouldn’t it still have been great?
Similarly, I had never watched ‘The General’s Daughter’, but wanted to read the novel because I like author Nelson DeMille. The book was decent, and presents a fascinating perspective on the U.S. Army among other things. The movie, on the other hand, is mostly memorable for early scenes where John Travolta attempts a terrible Southern accent. The only enjoyment I got from watching that movie was seeing how quickly and decisively the filmmakers had failed to adapt the book effectively.
One last example is ‘Shutter Island‘. I really like author Dennis Lehane, and I avoided the movie until I had a chance to read his book (about a year or two). Unfortunately, even with some interesting spots, I found both completely awful. If I had just seen the movie, I might have saved myself the disappointment of reading a lousy book.
Feel free to expound on your reasons for reading or not reading a book, especially if you can illustrate why seeing a sub-par adaptation could be redeemed by familiarity with the source (e.g. Michael Crichton novels).