In this lesson we compare a book to its film version and discuss several things to examine and consider when rendering the comparison and examine To Kill a Mockingbird.
Comparing a Book and a Movie
”The book was better” is a common reaction to hear among the crowd exiting a movie theater.
Indeed with the sheer volume of books being turned into movies today, it’s almost impossible to find a movie on the big screen that wasn’t first written on paper. And it’s not just books, video games are finding their way to the big screen too. For some, the adaptation is never as good as the original, while for others, the movie is the only thing worth enjoying.In the classroom, the differences between an original story’s form and movie form can be analyzed to develop critical thinking skills and discuss the differences between plots, storylines, characters, and even the different merits of each medium. In this lesson, we will explore a few of the different ways you can start thinking about these important questions, before analyzing one such example.
First off, be sure to read the original story first. Original stories in general, though not always, tend to be a longer story than the film version. Be sure to get the whole story first.
After all, in some poor movie adaptations, important details get left out that are integral to the plot. Knowing these can enrich your viewing of the movie.After experiencing the original format and watching the movie, it’s time to analyze the differences. Brainstorming sessions can be a great way to kickstart a meaningful discussion.
Some examples of good questions to ponder include:
- What parts of the original story were left out of the movie?
- Did the movie add anything (plot points, characters, etc.) that were not in the original book version?
- Did you like the movie or the book version better? Why?
- Did you imagine the characters differently when reading the book/screenplay than they were portrayed on screen?
- Why do you think the movie producers changed the story in the way they did?
- In the case of a play versus its movie version, how did the film change the lighting and/or setting as opposed to the original story?
These are just some of the basic questions that can really get you thinking about the differences between the movie and the original book version. It should give you plenty of ideas upon which to base a paper or other assignment that your teacher assigns you.
Example: To Kill a Mockingbird
Briefly, To Kill a Mockingbird revolves around the trial of an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, for the rape and assault of a white woman in a rural Alabama community in the 1930s. Told from the point of view of Scout, the daughter of Tom’s lawyer Atticus Finch, much of the racial prejudice inherent in early 20th-century southern society is revealed through the course of Scout’s adolescent experiences in the town during the trial.
In addition, the largest change in the movie is the role played by the Finch’s black housekeeper, Calpurnia. Calpurnia is an important part of the book. She accompanies Scout to the trial where they sit in the balcony reserved for blacks, and she plays a key role in Scout’s early understanding of the racial tension in the community.Symbolically, her presence in the book–the black housekeeper of the only white man in town willing to defend a black man–highlights the practical contradictions present in Scout’s own household.
It questions Atticus’ own views on race, which are never fully expressed: is he friendly with blacks? Does he believe in full equality? Or does he secretly hold racist views but is representing Tom Robinson as a favor to a friend or out of a sense of duty to the right of law? In the movie his progressive ideology is made apparent, whereas in the book, it is not nearly so clear.Even though Calpurnia’s character is much-diminished in the film compared to the book, she is still in a few important scenes. For example, she is the one who calls Atticus at his office and asks him to come home because a rabid dog is approaching their house and he proceeds to shock his children by being a perfect shot with a rifle. In another important scene, when one of Scout’s schoolmates is having dinner with them and Scout laughs at the little boy when he pours a ton of gravy on his meat, Calpurnia serves as the disciplinarian explaining to Scout that a guest of their house, whether poor or wealthy, is still a guest and she needs to learn to respect this. Yet this lesser role in the movie version helps to remove the contradictions and questions and serves to further Atticus Finch’s (Gregory Peck’s) image as the white knight in shining armor.
It simplifies (and ignores) an important facet of a key character, and this is perhaps the movie’s largest failing when compared to the original form.
The push-pull between books and plays and their movie adaptations is nearly as old as movies themselves. These differences can be discussed to develop critical thinking skills and encourage broader discussions. Different questions comparing the two mediums can foster great debates about the merit of each medium.
In addition, the ideas which occur to you while you are comparing a film to its book version can aid you in future assignments that your teacher may give!