As a kid, I was a book lover before I was a movie lover, so my natural approach over the years has always been to read the source material first. In other words, as soon as I heard that a film version of a book that I hadn't read before was in production, I'd read the book. Of course, time and finances are limited. And lately I've been finding that reading a book shortly before seeing the movie version is more distracting than illuminating.
The latest example is The Losers. The movie is based on a comic book series, written by Andy Diggle and illustrated by Jock*, that ran for 32 issues. The first 12 issues were recently republished in a single volume at a good price, so I picked that up and read it about a month ago. I enjoyed it immensely and could readily see it as an 80s-style action movie, which seemed to be the aim of the filmmakers, according to a report by our own Elisabeth Rappe. But as I watched the finished product on screen, I kept getting tripped up. The script cherry-picks scenes from the series and places them in a different sequence, certain characters are dramatically different than the printed predecessor, and so forth. What remains is the audience-pleasing, comedic chemistry on display from Chris Evans, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, and Oscar Jaenada.
A movie is, after all, a different beast than a novel or a comic book series or a TV series or a graphic novel or a non-fiction book. Within a shortened running time, events and characters inevitably change. Yet the question is, inevitably: how was it, compared to the book?
The comparisons seem to commonly trip up movies based on comic book series or graphic novels. Zack Snyder was both praised and damned for his allegiance / disloyalty to Watchmen and, before that, 300. Last week, Matthew Vaughn came under fire for changes to Kick-Ass, even though, as Mark Millar has acknowledged, the not-yet-finished (at the time) series took inspiration from the script by Vaughn and Jane Goldman.
But it's been happening for decades, ever since Hollywood began adapting beloved literary classics for the big screen. David O. Selznick was a big one for that, leading up to Gone With the Wind and the impossibly high expectations of millions of people who had actually read the book. The modern equivalent is The Lord of the Rings, with tens of millions of copies in print. Peter Jackson's films came under close scrutiny by legions of faithful readers.
Now, I'm not suggesting that anyone avoid reading a book entirely simply because a movie version has been made. To the contrary, I'm thinking it's best to enjoy the book on its own merits but then give the movie version the same due: whether a film succeeds or fails shouldn't be measured by how faithful it is to its source material.
What do you think?
* UPDATE: Jock's name corrected. Thanks to commenter nondisbeliever.