Big Screen vs Small Page - Are Films Ever Better Than Books?

The madness surrounding the inhumane brutality of billing Watership Down on Easter Sunday has now died down, thank goodness. But don't think for a minute normal service has resumed and the subject of insanity has left the building, because the furore last week got me pondering the age old debate - are films ever better than books?

I know I might not be the best person to answer this question. I admit it - I have a problem. I have unhealthy relationship with books. If a support group existed, my book-weary husband would drag me there. I would be the first shamed to my feet muttering 'My name is Annette Kinsella, and I am a readaholic'. I struggle to cope with everyday life without the comforting touch of a book in my bag. I panic if I leave the house and forget my Kindle. When I dream at night I wake with the rustle of pages in my ears. I am definitely book-dependent.

So I can see that I have an unfair level of bias, leaning so steeply towards print over celluloid. And yet, there are a clutch of films which I think are as good as - if not better - than the book. Even writing that sentence feels like a betrayal. For the stand-out example has to be The Shining. I'm certainly not a die-hard Stephen King fan. I couldn't struggle through The Dark Tower. Mr Mercedes left me cold. Having said that, I knows what I likes and, for turning the everyday into the macabre, The Shining works its (black) magic every time. A creepy hotel in the dead of winter - the plot line is straight out of Scooby Doo. But witnessing the slow mental decline of caretaker Jack, who takes wife Wendy and son Danny to live in the bleak Colorado hotel out of season, is unspeakably chilling. And it works as well on screen as it does on the page.

The book certainly enjoys greater detail than the film. We get the full history of The Overlook Hotel. We're aware that for many years an evil entity has stalked its corridors, cursing its inhabitants and inspiring a series of bloody murders in order to soak up psychic energy. By contrast, the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film is less about The Overlook and more the story of Jack's descent into out-and-out craziness.

Oddly, some of the most enduring images of the film are absent from the book. Jack's manic "All work and no play" manuscript never sits on the typewriter. The elevator never gushes torrents of blood. Jack doesn't freeze to death in the maze. And the final heart-stopping image - a youthful Jack captured forever in a 1927 photograph to the tune of a crooning gramophone - was never written by King at all.

Equally, some of the book's most blood-freezing moments were abandoned in the film. The topiary animals that come blindly to life to terrorise Danny never made Kubrick's cut, while the hose in the corridor - which in the book becomes a snake - stays stubbornly inanimate on film.

For me, this is why the book and the film work so well in tandem. The film is not a straight reselling of the story, but neither does it deviate so far from the plot as to make King's vision unrecognisable. The book provides the details, the film the images. Who pictures The Shining - book or film - without seeing Danny's tricycle pedalling furiously down the corridor? Who doesn't conjure up the homicidal Jack stumbling after Danny in the frozen maze? And - best of all - whose memory is not seared with indelible imprints of the floridly retro carpets? The Overlook's furnishings alone are enough to send the viewer into catatonic shock.

I know this viewpoint is controversial. King himself hated Kubrick's adaptation, so much so he commissioned a miniseries in the 90s to put the story straight (has anyone seen this? I'd love to know more). But even this is understandable - just as no suitor is ever good enough for the daughter of a proud parent, maybe even the most gifted filmmaker would have failed to reproduce King's storytelling genius to his own satisfaction.

So in answer to the question, is the film ever better than the book? No. But occasionally, when the stars are in alignment, what we see on the screen can equal what we read on the page.

#books #filmadapatations


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