Are Books Really Better: Rethinking the Standard

As a child, my mother instilled in me a love of reading, as well as its importance. I was consistently captivated by stories that kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of the plot. Over time I also developed an understanding of cinematography and I also wanted the ability to bring to life the stories that I only had my imagination for.

There is no doubt that each story is unique and that comes with a challenge – fulfilling the obligations and duties of the original writer while adding something that sets the film apart from the crowd. Classic stories, such as EB White’s “Charlotte’s Web” or “Stuart Little” require little re-thinking. Although the stories are seen in a new medium, directors are able to recreate or modernize a story with little or no changes to the plot or characters.

And in my opinion this works. I loved the animation of “Trumpeter of The Swan” as well as the realism of “Stuart Little” and even though the characters are mostly animals in “Charlotte’s Web” the casting was great. Yet in my youth I did not have the depth of analysis and criticism to assess certain cinematic choices in depth.

Recently, while watching one of my favorite movies of all time “A Wrinkle in Time” (2018), I recognized the importance of challenging rigid structures or ideas in a particular story or character.

Almost 70 years after Madeline L’Engle published her classic novel “A Wrinkle in Time” with her own set of ideas about the characters, Ava DuVernay beautifully recreated this masterpiece on film with a modern twist, adding what previous films may have lacked: a little more imagination and diversity. Due to the fact that the film is not an exact copy of the book, this emphasizes the message that Madeleine L’Engle emphasized about embracing our individuality and differences. As I pondered this thought more, I considered other movies adapted from books, and I immediately thought of “Hidden Figures.”

I remember being in my AP Language & Composition Class and going through a very long list of books to write their research paper on and I found the needle in the haystack. I didn’t even realize “Hidden Figures” was a book as I had only seen the 2016 movie with triple supporting performances by Taraji P Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer. I was amazed when I watched the movie to hear about the true story of these three black women and so many others who worked behind the scenes at NASA. But when I started reading “Hidden Figures” by Margot Shetterly, I was surprised to find that the movie was completely different from the book.

After all, the book was a work of nonfiction that reminded me of my AP US History textbook, with heavy historical contextualization and less telling of specific women’s lives. Shetterly brilliantly weaves the stories of many black young women who worked at NASA with the surrounding history from World War II to 1969. It is almost impossible to compare the film with the literature.

When producing films based on a true story, it is imperative to stay true to the facts, but with fiction, there is no limit to the changes that can be made. The interesting part is watching a memoir unfold on screen. It wasn’t until 2017 that the New York Times Bestseller “The Glass Castle” written by Jeanette Walls became a movie.

This memoir is an insight into Jeanette’s life, with her dysfunctional and nomadic yet vibrant upbringing that shaped her identity.

Walls begins her memoir with a scene from adulthood, when she looks out the window of a New York taxi to see her homeless mother rummaging through a trash can. She later invites her mother to lunch and after a conversation her narrative sets her life at 3 years and continues linearly towards her life now.

The film presents Wall’s story, which first begins with a life-changing and quite dramatic moment from childhood and then as a young woman coming to terms with her childhood, which is seen in flashbacks that alternate throughout the film. Through each lens, one can be equally captivated by Walls’ story and her resilience as well as her love for her family despite the breakup she endured.

As I reflected on these and so many other stories, I realized that while books may be better, sometimes movies actually allow audiences to recreate a story that shatters expectations of what the story looks like.

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