Why I like to read the book before watching the film

Reading the book before seeing a movie adaptation is often seen as the “hipster” thing to do. There’s always those people who are like “I read it before it was popular”, “You’re only a real fan if you read the book first” or “The book is so much better than the film”. And I can say I’ve been guilty of thinking and even saying some of these things before, though nowadays I’m really not so fussed about other people’s reading habits.

I personally like to read the book before seeing the film for a number of reasons – and none of them are so I can say “I read it before it got mainstream” (though I may get a sense of pride as I think it).

Naturally the book is going to be able to go into the backstory of the characters and (if it’s set in a different world to our own) give a deeper understanding of the world. A book can be more nuanced and have underlying subplots and secondary characters that may or may not become more important later and even if they don’t it just adds more interesting, fleshed-out elements to the book. A film in contrast has to be heavily plot driven and must fit everything that’s important in it in just two hours.

I think the key word some readers forget is that the film is an “adaptation”. It has have the main plot points and characters and (ultimately) be a marketable film so yes, it (unfortunately) may leave out some characters and not have all the key themes that the book had.

Another reason I like to read the book first is because then I can imagine what the characters look and sound like. No matter how hard I try, whenever I’ve seen the film before reading the book the characters always end up looking like the actors who played them in my mind. This is fine, but it would obviously be nice to see what my mind thinks up based on the character descriptions alone. Also if I’ve seen the film first I find myself waiting for scenes to happen in the book that I really enjoyed in the film and sometimes I’m left disappointed after I realise that that scene was never in the book. I have The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum sitting on my shelf but I’m incredibly hesitant to pick it up since I love the film so much and just know I’ll be imagining Matt Damon and waiting for certain scenes to happen or characters to show up as I read it.

Often hearing that a book is being turned into a film is what will get me to pick up the book. My general thought is that if a book is being turned into a film it has to be at least one of three things – 1. A good book. 2. A popular book. 3. A book that can be a marketable movie – so has an easily definable genre or target audience – so it will make the studio money. If you look at any of the book-to-movie adaptations of the past few years you’ll see that even if you personally don’t like the book or the film, you can see why the film adaptation came about.

When thinking about book-to-film adaptations it’s hard for me to not think about two series that had a big impact on my childhood, both on my taste in books and my taste in films – Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Both of the first film in each series was released in 2001 and at age 10 I saw them both in the cinema. Now I had read all the Harry Potter books that had been released so far before seeing Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone whereas I’d not even really heard of The Lord of the Rings, let alone read it, when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring. I have since read The Lord of the Rings but I find it interesting how my relationship works with these series’. I have read the Harry Potter books numerous times, probably at least seven times now, whereas I’ve only watched each film in the series maybe twice. With The Lord of the Rings on the other hand, I have only ever read the trilogy once (when I was a bout twelve) but I have watched the films probably once a year since I got the DVD’s. Did the order in which I read the book or watched the film influence me in the long term? Who knows, I just know I love both Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

So, how do you feel about reading the book before seeing the film? And have you read the book far more than watched the film or vice versa?

I’ll end this with a few books I want to read before the film adaptation is released over the next year:
The Maze Runner – James Dashner
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

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6 comments

  1. I think like you I would prefer to read the book first and then watch the film. I love reading and going to the cinema too, especially if the film happens to be an adaptation of a book I have loved.

    1. Yeah it’s always a nice but sometimes weird feeling seeing your favourite book on the big screen – I also like how film adaptations of books give the book more exposure and get more people to pick it up.

  2. I do the same as well. I get interested in books-that-would-be-adapted-into-film-or-tv-series but I don’t necessarily read them all (I’m not sure if I should purchase and rent ‘Gone Girl’).

    There’s a book blogger who reads the book, watch the adaptation and then write reviews about them. I can’t remember the blogger’s website but if I do, I’ll leave the link here.

    1. Exactly! When a book is being turned into a film it give the book more exposure, I’ve heard of some books for the first time because they’re being turned into a film. It is hard to read them all though.
      I highly recommend Gone Girl (I only read it a few weeks a go but loved it, it is a bit slow to start though)
      Thanks! It’s always interesting to see how well a film adaptation matches up to the source material, I don’t like reading the book & watching the film too close together as I think one may spoil the other.

  3. I wish I read Harry Potter before watching the first film, however, it does not apply to other adaptations. I actually prefer to watch the film first before seeing if the book is worth the time.

    1. That’s also true, I think it depends on the book/film and if it’s in a genre I’m not sure about. A film is definitely a good way to figure out if you want to read the book, especially if the film is of the first book in a series – I’m always hesitant about spending my time on a series.

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