I have to admit I was late to the Game of Thrones party. I haven’t read all the books yet and haven’t seen every episode of the show yet (Yes, I’m working on catching up). However, last week’s season finale of the excellent HBO series made me think about how different forms of entertainment tell stories and how I perceive each form. Among my group of friends who have watched both the show and the books, general consensus is that the book is superior to the series. But personally I enjoy both, but have to give the edge to the series.
If you ask most people how they feel about a movie based on a book, many films leave consumers thinking the movie was good, but not as great as the book. I’ve caught myself making this comparison a lot. But as I get older, this way of thinking has lost its appeal to me. I’ve learned to appreciate the intricacies of the different mediums.
Reading a book, the pace is your own, as fast or leisurely as you like it to be. There is no rush and no fixed length. You can take the time you need. One of the great benefits is the ability to extend the characters with your own backstories and to make minor characters more important. The power of your own imagination is the key to a great reading experience. Creating your personal mental images of the world the author tries to transport you too is endlessly fascinating and rewarding.
Movies take away that joy as the director and producers have molded the world the author created and you brought to life into their interpretation. More often than not, their imagination fails to match your own. I remember the disappointment I felt when watching the first Harry Potter movie. The 12-year-old me did not appreciate the changes Mr. Columbus and his crew had made and how their world differed so greatly from my mental imagery.
Fast forward to 22-year-old me eagerly awaiting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. As I’ve written about my Harry Potter obsession before, it was clear to me from the start the movie would not match the book’s prowess. But it didn’t have to anymore. I was able to enjoy the whole movie because I stopped comparing it to my view of the source material; a comparison the movie was destined to lose anyway. After all, everyone likes to believe they know best.
This allowed me to focus more on the characters and how they are portrayed and how they’ve interpreted the material adored by millions of fans. It sharpened my view on the outrageous and exaggerated special effects. After sitting through the movie, I didn’t think “It was good, but not as great as the book.” I felt like the movie had been an exciting experience and that I’d probably rewatch the movies again.
Since Hollywood hasn’t been producing many original films lately, blockbusters nowadays are based on comics, children’s toys or Disney World rides. Nobody has ever told me “Transformers was good, but not as great as the toys.”. (On the other hand, I haven’t heard that many who have said Transformers was any good at all.)
Great movies have the gift to break down a story to its core. They can highlight the important sequences and focus on the heart & soul of a story. Fantastic actors can bring the characters you adore to life, revealing insecurities or motives that were hidden between the lines, waiting for you to pick them up. Movies allow you to get lost in the story for approximately two hours and give you the visual sensations which enhance some stories. And these are reasons why I’ve come to view movies and their books as only loosely connected.
A recent example is the new Leonardo di Caprio movie “The Great Gatsby”, which is one of my favorite classics to read. While I found the book rather understated and holding back, the movie goes all-in with over-the-top visual effects, and a focus on the party life and decadence of the twenties. It is a totally different product compared to the book. Did I enjoy the movie? Yes. But not because it was similar to the book, but because it was fun and a great visual experience (a bit long though).
Video games on the other hand are a blend of books and movies, with the unique element of participation included. Similar to books, you can choose how quickly you want to play, either rushing through levels to beat the game or exploring the worlds the developers have created. But you also have fast-paced action and a world that wants to pull you in through exciting scenery and atmosphere. Good movies are the same. Games are also getting more sophisticated in their acting, with more and more TV actresses like Camille Ludington (Californication) or Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) taking on roles in video games (Tomb Raider and Mass Effect, respectively). Story-telling in video games has been improving steadily.
Most franchises nowadays have launched a three-headed attack on living rooms. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have started out as books, have been huge successes at the box office and are also available as video games on different platforms. Star Wars started out as a feature film, but now has an extended universe including comics,science-fiction novels countless games from different genres. Warcraft begun as a strategy game, became the most successful online rpg in history and has brought their story to a series of fantasy novels. The next step is World of Warcraft – The Movie, which is about to release soon.
I believe that great stories will continue to thrive as different forms of entertainment. Movies, games and books each have their strengths and I enjoy each medium. Comparing books to movies and vice versa can take away some of the joy and excitement about what’s lies at the heart of entertainment: a great story. It can cover tiresome writing, a weak script or faulty programming. And most importantly, when story is told with pure class regardless of it’s form, you can bet I’ll be the first in line at the bookshop, cinema or video game store.
What do you think about the different forms of entertainment? Pick your poison and let me know!