I think most of us can agree that the book was better than the movie. Maybe some movie-purists won’t, but I think the phrase is well-known enough for it to be basic knowledge. Now, not all movies based on books are bad. The movies based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter collection of books are some of my favorites, but I feel as though other media adaptations of original works cannot live up to the standards due to the goals of each media form.
Let’s start off easy. Going back to Mr. Potter’s adventures in the cinema, they are enjoyable works of art on their own right. The characters are lovable, the locations are memorable, and they are really fun to binge-watch. However, each movie is based off one of the books, with the exception of “Deathly Hallows,” which was split in two. Despite movie precedents of ranging somewhere around 90 to 120 minutes, the Harry Potter films clock in at around 150 to 160 minutes. While they are longer than the typical movie, they do not cover every bit of information featured in the book. Details could be left out, but that won’t be noticed by those who haven’t read the book. By default, the lack of detail and content in the movie, at a storytelling perspective, is inferior to the book. Why don’t movie producers just make the full book in a movie form? Well, movies are expensive. The first film in the Harry Potterseries, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, cost around 125 million US dollars to make, which is less than half of what it cost to make the movies based on the books towards the end of the series. If the movie ended up being 6 hours long and included every detail from the book, imagine how much that would cost to create. The movie might not break even. For a stand-alone movie adaptation of a book or an adaptation of the first in a book series, having a 6-hour long film could turn many viewers off from seeing it in theaters.
Now, a comic book with a movie adaptation is more widely accepted and enjoyed. Having a comic book to read is one thing, but having a two-hour movie with the same characters, one-liners, and everything you love about the comic but as a motion picture? That sounds amazing! So why are comic books as movies not as criticized? It’s the way in which comics are produced. On whatever schedule is decided, comics come out in issues. 2008’s film Iron Man is just Iron Man. If the film remained the same as we know it, but was called “Iron Man: Issue #57,” there would be a serious problem. (I just checked to make sure Iron Man #57 isn’t what is featured in the first movie. It actually features the same villain from the third Iron Man film!) The movies are the equivalent to starting the series over again with a #1 issue. As long as Iron Man is still Tony Stark and acts just like his original counterpart, the message of the movie being a story about Iron Man is achieved. (despite the overall quality of the movie and how much money it made). However, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a distinct name, which is one of the books, so it is expected that the movie is accurate to the books, which is not entirely, since it is missing details.
On another note, just because the movie is based off a comic book, it doesn’t mean it works. The film Scott Pilgrim VS. The World is a movie adaptation of the entire series. The name is fitting, but it shares the name of the second volume, which could be misleading. It encompasses the entirety, including volume 2, but it is not exclusive to volume 2. Again, making a 112-minute movie to cover 6 graphic novels will have some drawbacks in terms of what is included. Some examples include certain dialogue pieces being said at the end of the film, when the context and setting in which they were said were excluded entirely. Each form of entertainment media, as Douglas M. Kellner and Meenakshi Gigi Durham put it in their book Adventures in Media and Cultural Studies: Introducing the Keyworks, “media and consumer culture, cyberculture, sports, and other popular activities engage people in practices which integrate them into an established society.” In the case of Scott Pilgrim, fans of that series, comic readers, and movie watchers, are all societies. One person can be in all of them, like I am, but they are separate.
Movies aren’t the bane of a book’s existence, though. Would you want to read a novel (just words!) of Star Wars: A New Hope that includes nothing extra? Even if it was a comic book that still just included images and set pieces from the movie, what would you get out of it? Maybe it could appeal to collectors and the art could be fun to look at, but how can it achieve the iconic sound of Star Wars blasters or the ear-piercing whirring of the TIE Fighter? When it’s the other way around, the movie fails in comparison to the book on a storytelling front, but it is still exciting to see the casting, the visuals, etc.
Fans of each medium will be able to criticize and point out certain things due to their belonging in different societies and their normalities. People used to comics expect the characters to function and look how they are supposed to. That’s why people didn’t like how Spider-Man in the Tobey Maguire trilogy didn’t build a device to shoot webs but could already shoot from his body. The effects of each form are what makes it unique. What if you took the art out of the comic book? Captain America would be a stick figure holding a circle. What if you took the detail and explanation out of a novel? It wouldn’t be the same.
Durham, Meenakshi Gigi., and Douglas Kellner. Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Blackwell Publishers, 2001, https://we.riseup.net/assets/102142/appadurai.pdf.
The MIT Press. “Understanding Media.” The MIT Press, The MIT Press, https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/understanding-media.