You know that book in your to-be-read pile, that one you’re really looking forward to reading, the one you just haven’t gotten around to yet? What would you do if you found out that Hollywood is going to adapt it, and it’s going to be the next big movie/television show?
Would you read the book before watching the movie/television show?
Or are you going to watch the movie/television show, and then read the book?
For a lot of people, the answer is clear: because the book is always better, they read the book first, because there’s no way the movie/television show can compare. For the longest time, that was my philosophy as well. If it was a story that I had planned on reading anyway, I’d read the book first, no question. Of course, there would always be the movie or television show that I’d watch which would capture my imagination, and I’d come to the source material afterwards (examples being Fight Club and The Lord of the Rings), but by and large, I’d read the books first. I admit, I enjoyed the feeling of slight superiority I got from knowing what was happening on Game of Thrones and, to an extent, The Walking Dead, even if I wasn’t always surprised.
Then I made a mistake.
Gone Girl was announced, and David Fincher was slated to direct. Fincher is my husband’s favorite director, so I knew we’d be seeing this movie in theaters, and since I’d always wanted to read the book, I settled down and read the book before seeing the movie. The book sucked me in with the writing style, the mystery, and of course, the twists. I couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen. But… while the movie was incredible well-done, already knowing those twists had me disengaged from the story, and I found myself telling people who had the similar choice to see the movie first instead, and then read the book, because the book goes into so much more detail and they’d get so much more out of the story.
This experience bothered me, because I’m not a purist when it comes to adaptations. I attended a writing workshop not long after this experience and the topic came up, and another writer said he always chooses to see the movie (or television show) first, because, and I’m paraphrasing here, he’s never had the movie ruin the experience of reading the book, but he’s had the book ruin the experience of watching the movie.
This, dear readers, was a revelation.
For Speculative Chic’s Resolution Project, I decided to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I have, of course, until the end of the year, but in my resolution I noted that I might throw the film in as well, because Mitchell’s novel was adapted by the Wachowskis back in 2012. I never got around to seeing it, and I’d always wanted to, despite the controversy surrounding the issue of yellowface used in the film (which is a topic for another day and time). Now that I’ve decided to read the book, I had to take my revelation and really consider it: my resolution was to read the book. The movie would just be a bonus, but I knew I wanted to watch it. Would I embrace my revelation and watch the movie first, and allow that movie to be a kind of Cliff Notes guide to my understanding of the book? Or should I read the book as planned, watch the movie if I had the time, and allow the book to possibly sour my viewing experience of the movie?
In the end, my choice was made for me: iTunes was running a $0.99 rental special on the film, so I rented and watched it. Originally, I thought about reviewing the movie independently of the book. After all, even adaptations of films are meant to stand on their own two feet, independent of their source materials, but this movie clocks in at practically three hours, and it’s so detailed, complex, and rich in theme and story that after I finished, my first thought was, “I’m glad I watched this first,” and my second thought was, “I’m going to have to watch this again after I read the book.”
Now, the question remains, will I feel the same way when I read the book? Will I feel having seen the movie first has spoiled the pleasure of reading the book? While I doubt it now, the question does remain, and it won’t be answered until I read it (before the year is over). But until then, I ask you:
Do you have to read the book before you see the movie or the television show? Or do you prefer watching the adaptation before curling up with the source material? Or, like me, have you been burned and have you changed your tune, and what changed your mind?