Why read the book instead of just watching the movie adaptation

Movies and books are different mediums that cannot be equated. One is oriented inwardly; the other is oriented outwardly. When you move a story from a fundamentally internal orientation to an external one, something gets lost in the translation.

When you read a book, you only have the words to conjure images. This annoying thing is called imagination, which can be a drag. Sure, maybe the author does a solid and gives you some descriptive details, but you do have to do most of the work yourself. Bad deal compared to the movies that do all of the work for you, right?

Wait a minute. Here’s where books make up for its sorely lacking audiovisuals: its narrative. Images aren’t the only part of a good story.

Narrative tells you things. It can let you peek into a character’s mind and feelings. It can leave you with some new thoughts, from the pithy to the profound. It tells you of great social change that can’t quite be expressed in pictures. Heck, done right, a good narrative can change your mind.

Film just can’t do these things. Not with the unerring precision that books can.

Let’s look at this tidbit:

Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Through words, Kundera meditates on the absurdity of conflating making love with sleeping with someone. This nuanced and rather philosophical examination cannot be done in any other way other than words. This is the kind of story that must be told not shown.

Some things are better told with words than pictures. Herein lies one of film’s weaknesses.

Movies tell stories that stimulate the eye and the ear, our outward senses. Moving pictures, dialogue, and music carry the story. Sometimes, it’s helluva story with awesome visuals and scintillating dialogue. Some stories are meant to be seen and heard, not told. (This is why action movies are awesome as well as many comedies.)

Movies’s audiovisual bias means that you stand on the sidelines for the internal components of the story. You can only guess at the characters’s thoughts, your deduction completely dependent on then actor’s ability to emote. Even if you guess right, your thoughts would never reach the sophisticated levels of Kundera’s prose. We just don’t think that way … unless we read about it.

Something essential gets lost in translation between the two radically different mediums.

There is also the not-so-small fact that the movie must cram hundreds of pages of such events, thoughts, feelings, and atmosphere into 90 minutes. Things must be cut. Characters consolidated. It’s like someone wriggling into pants two sizes too small, some things are gonna rip. There are only a rare few times where this improves the story (Blade Runner and, arguably, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), but these are the exceptions that proves the rule.

Bottom line: when you watch a movie adaption of a book, you’re getting only the external—things that can be seen or heard—components of the story, not the internal one. Since books deal quite a bit with the internal elements , you’re missing out on half—if not more—of the story.

Do you really want to get 40% of what you signed up for? Sounds like a bad deal to me.