A little while back I argued in Book Versus Movie that there is much to gain from seeing film as a different language of art.
But I’ve been thinking about it some more and watching The Book Thief on tv recently crystallised another aspect of the book versus movie debate. I didn’t watch the entirety of the movie (I will watch it in full one day) for one reason that I hadn’t thought of: voice.
I love The Book Thief. It is a magnificently written book and one of my favourites. Death narrates the story and it is this voice, and the voice of the author, that makes it such a stirring novel for me. While watching the film, I didn’t have the same sense of voice. The film looks superb, the characters well defined, but it was the lack of authorial voice that I was expecting that made me turn off.
Similarly, my viewing of The Lord of The Rings is informed by my reading of the novels. There are parts that I love and adore in the film, and others that are just downright cheesy and lacking the right voice to give the scene its proper gravitas or humour. The voice of LOTR is sometimes as dry as mortuary dust but that is what gives the novel is authenticity and pathos and humour.
Voice is one of those almost intangible aspects of writing; you know what voice you like, those you do not, those that sound mellifluous, those that sound like a Year 9 class on Friday afternoon. I think voice works for cinema too but it is more a chorus.
The “book was better than the movie” debate is too simplistic and we need to unpack it to understand why it is said, and whether we believe it or not. Both are art forms, with different voices and different modes of production, and should be treated as such. To simply divide is to denigrate one art form, extol the other and the division is not helpful.
Appreciation and understanding is the aim.