Tomorrow, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol storms bookstores and Kindles and libraries and sets the stage for the inevitable Why The Lost Symbol Is Going to Send You to Hell! followups (all "kidding" aside, it would highly surprise me if there is not a book called "The Truth behind The Lost Symbol" before the Spring). What's more, while Angels & Demons only tripled it's budget in world-wide box-office (and under performed in it's domestic), the series as a whole has earned, based on BoxOfficeMojo in the order of 1.24 billion dollars. This does not include any marketing deals (of which there were more than a few) nor any of the DVD/Blu-ray sales (due out near Thanksgiving, the pre-order sales of the Angels & Demons Blu-ray edition already put it at #34, which is likely to increase as it becomes a "safe" media gift for Christmas, while The-Numbers.com has The Da Vinci Code DVD pulling in another 100mil or so). All this is to say that almost certainly will be a movie called The Lost Symbol in theaters, I would wager about 2011ish. And, as it is sitting there, underperforming in the box-office and being protested by Catholics, there will be that steady but rather milquetoast outcry that the book, for what it is worth, was better.
As a rabid book lover, I can understand the sentiment. Recently I tweeted "Writing a [part serious, part tongue-in-cheek (currently)] entry about "Ways Books Just Might Be Better than Movies". Any suggestions?" I got very few suggestions. This does not surprise me. While I have several friends that are big movie watchers while cold to tepid about books, I have few that are the other way. I am one of the most anti-media people I know, and I have a DVD collection the size of Kentucky (there are two hyperboles in that sentence, let's see if sharp-eyed readers can spot them). I still think it is a worthwhile sentiment. As one of my respondents replied "Think about how many times people have said, 'The book was better than the movie.'"1.
Here, then, is my list of reasons they can cite next time and back up their claims.
#1 Margin Notes: You are watching the brand-new Wes Anderson movie, and you get to the "every thing moves slow as some indie-alt song plays in the background scene". You notice the color of shirts change from earth tones to bright colors as Luke Wilson (statistically probable) runs past them. You want to jot this down and in a hurry. Suddenly, snap, it occurs to you: this is a movie and you can't. Had you been reading Cormac McCarthy's gripping new novel about a man trying to find the body of his murdered father, you would have had a good three-quarters inch of white space to jost down "red = machinatin?" and spend the rest of your life wondering what the heck you meant by that...
#2 No Loss of Big Screen Experience: You realize that Michael Bay's Transformers: CGed Hot Mess has slipped your mind and you missed it in theaters. You wait, patiently, for the Christmas season timed DVD release and play it on your 19" Sanyo with the green-tint off. Man, Optimus Prime looks lame and that explosion had less feeling than a late 90s cell phone ring tone. What about the sure to follow Alan Dean Foster tie-in novel? Doesn't matter if you read that at home. It's all in the imagination. Go ahead, picture the explosions. Aren't they awesome? Optimus Prime? Oh yeah, he's totally kick-butt and rad.
#3 No Glass Ceiling for Indie-Releases and Impressive Effects: While we are at it, go out with a couple of buddies and make a film about a man that can topple buildings with a single punch. Make me believe it! Or, how about this, go out and write a short story about the same thing and get descriptive? Burn a few extra paragraphs describing the carnage as they topple like dominoes. Guess which one you are going to be able to cobble together for under $5 (assuming you buy a mocha while writing the short story)?
#4 Used Books are Better than Used Movies: You get a history of a book's readers with every used book. The smells of past houses. Faint margin notes, possibly partially erased. A jelly stain of page 24 of War and Peace. A greasy finger print on page 476, a 1970s newspaper clipping about a garage sale bookmarking page 602. You know what you get from a used DVD? Scratches.
#5 You Know Whom to Blame for Books: I've already picked on Michael Bay once, so let's say, um...you are watching someone else's movie about CG creation running around in a blue screen void while post-teen actors play stoney faced juveniles. Who do you blame? The Director? The script? Producers? The actors? The CG Team? The ratings board that felt two or three key scenes were a bit too suggestive? The test audience who thought the "she's turned into a robot" was too bleak and so switched it for that fooking piece of crap about brain implants? It's frustrating how many ways a movie can go wrong (not to mention, how many ways it can go right) and trying to figure out whom to blame/praise for it (sure, most go for the director, or, in the case of something where Tim Burton's name shows up on anywhere, and I mean anywhere in the credits, Tim Burton). You know whose fault it is that James Patterson's last novel sucked? That's right, whoever ghost wrote it this time.
#6 Speaking of Ratings Boards: Sixteen Candles has a boob shot, several expletives, masturbation references, copious alcohol and tobacco use by teens, contains more than a few racist comments, and a scene that pretty much amounts to joking about (and maybe or maybe not doing) date rape. Bottle Rocket has some cursing and a moral lesson that crime does not pay. Guess which one is rated "R". That's right, the wrong one. Not only do books not rely on an asshatted third party system for a decision of which ones the parents are just going to ignore the ratings of while bringing their kids to see; but books are still the de facto art for pushing censorship boundaries and representing free speech. While movies and rap stars are blasted for misogyny and racist lyrics, Charles Bukowski is practically a hero for the exact same thing. You ban a book, and the ALA is going to make sure it is in every kid's hand from here to Timbuktu.
#7 It Is Rebellioius to Reread Books: Seriously. You do it and people think you are crazy. You rewatch a movie and you know what it's called? A saturday afternoon.
#8 You Can't Take the Smell of Movies to Bed or the Beach: Not 100% behind this one, mind you, but whenever I talk about liking a Kindle or reading the new whatever via the eReader format copy I got in Fictionwise, I always get bitched at about how I have no appreciation for the smell of books or the cozy feeling of taking a book to bed. So, there. Ditto for movies. Take that. This one was a one-two freebie for me.
#9 The Insta-Rewind Effect: What if you are one of those who does read in bed? Chances are you spend about a third of your reading time looking at that same paragraph over and over again. The miracle of books is that you can do this. Try rewatching the same scene in a movie over and over again. You'll wear out your remote control thumb. This also works for those thumb-through searches where you trying to remember, say, exactly why he felt "we are too manny". Go ahead, find that scene in Jigoku where they say something about "9 o'clock" while watching the movie without having to skip forward and back and spend a lot of times hitting the chapter and x16 speed buttons. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but if the picture is flashing by 40+ frames a second, you better look fast. I would point out that with ebooks, it's even easier to find the word "manny" and then return to last read page, but then I would get bitched at again.
#10 Why do you watch the movie before you read the book?: Because you really should watch the movie before you read the book. Why? With only rare exceptions, the movie ellides the book and in some, I would say many cases, to a degree that boggles the mind. To make up for it, they often add in totally unnecessary scenes. What's more, the devices of internal narration and creative style (say: footnotes, sidebars, asides) can be used to create greater depth of character and world and provide a joyful playfulness of form while feeling like part of a narrative whole. When movies do it, unless they do it well (Fight Club), it can easily feel trite (original cut of Blade Runner). If you watch the movie before reading the book, you are likely to expand the world and to see missing gaps. If you do the book first, you feel like things are left out and sudden jumps between unrelated scenes jar you. Let's add some statistics to back up this claim: Twilight the book has a full 75% more of Bella's whining that does Twilight the movie. You can't argue with numbers like that. And, who doesn't like to think that Alan Rickman is Snape?
#11 It's OK to Be Alone While Reading: Assuming that you manage to avoid Dalmilling (i.e. people who try and make small talk while you read) bastards, books allow you to bring out your inner misantrophic beast. It is not only ok to like books and hate people, and trust me, people will hate you for being an elitist that reads so it is only fair game; but insitutions like libraries, where even the faintest whisper of a sigh is crushed with a loud "SSHHHHH!", enable you to read in the utter silence of the void, where mild fantasies of everyone else being wiped out by a "Time Enough at Last" like event play like a delightful summer's dance in the back of your head.
#12 Books have the Better Fans: Seriously. Go and look at discussions on GoodReads versus discussions on IMDB.com. Notice how the GoodReads discussions are actually semi-literate, as opposed to the Internet equivalent of someone taking a dump on a keyboard and hitting enter? Talk to someone about their favorite book and you will see star-crossed eyes go back to some teenage summer night, when they feel in love with a fictional character for the first time. Talk to them about their favorite movie, and look at that blank, soulless glare as they think back to some college night where they picked that movie to be their favorite because they felt it might give them indie cred. Books are also one of the few art forms that online piracy increases actual sales. That's right, once a book fan finds something they like, they honestly brag about it if not go out and buy a copy. And, let's be honest, book chicks with their thick glasses and smarts are way flipping hotter than movie chicks with their vapid faces and too much mascara. Fact.
1: There may be a type of false-positive involved, mind you. Let's call it the Tolkein-Jackson phenomenon, where people think they are supposed to say it, or keep their mouth shut.
Si Vales, Valeo
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Written by Doug Bolden
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