Is it ever okay to watch the movie before you read the book?

Is it ever okay to watch the movie before you read the book?

Once upon a time I was strictly in the ‘You need to read the book before you see the movie’ camp. As a general rule, I do try to read the book first when I can but it’s not always possible and sometimes, I don’t think it’s the best way to do things either. I think it calls for a good old pros and cons list.

Most book lovers will tell you that you need to read the book first, so let’s look at the case for turning the pages before you head to the cinema:

  1. Films are shorter. It seems like an obvious point to make but books are drawn out while movies are only about 2 hours long. Of course, some people see this as a huge benefit of sticking to the movie. The reality is that a movie will never be able to capture everything from the book, so reading the book is the best way to get the full story.
  2. In a film, you don’t just have the voice of the author – the director, producer, screenwriters, actors and about a million other people have a say in how the final film comes together. Everyone reads books slightly differently so everyone thinks characters should look or sound a certain way. The film will almost always shatter your personal opinion on these things but when you see the film before reading the book you’re even not giving your imagination enough space to play.
  3. I’m a big believer that you should experience things the way the creator intended. Reading the book first means that you pick up on things that might not translate to film quite as well and you read the story in the order and from the character perspective that the author intended.

So, is there any reason why you should see the movie first? I think there are several!

  1. Seeing the movie after reading the book can be really frustrating. Once you know how the plot goes, it’s hard to watch a movie that doesn’t stick to the story you love. The shorter time frame of a movie means that you will almost never get the whole story and Hollywood is prone to taking a very liberal approach to adapting. Save yourself the stress and just see the movie first.
  2. Not a book person? Some people just aren’t. I don’t relate, but don’t ever let the guilt over not having read a book get in the way of seeing a movie that’s interesting to you. After all, maybe it will be the story that inspires you to read the original!
  3. The biggest reason I see films before reading the book is that I find it much easier to understand the plot of classic stories when they’re wrapped up in a nice BBC period drama package. Older books can be difficult to read, especially when we’re used to reading 21st-century books that only just stop short of including emojis in the text. I found it extremely difficult to get used to the names (why are do so many older books have 10 characters with the same name??), structures and styles of older, ‘classic’ books. Watching the films or mini-series first meant that I got my head around the plot so that I could then enjoy the writing a little more when I went to the novel. I do this all the time and I feel no shame in it.

I’ve spoken before about how film adaptations create opportunities for more people to find stories that they love and this idea translates to which order you experience a story. If you read a book first, you get the joy of experiencing a story you love come to life on the screen and if you watch the film first, you get the joy of discovering the original story and seeing how more there is to it on the page.

Which movies have you seen before you read the book? Did you ever regret it?

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