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The Cinematic Chicken And The Literary Egg
by Xavier Jones-Barlow

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One is a movie, the other a book. I swear.

One is a movie, the other a book. I swear.
This is not a stupid 'what came first?' question. That could hardly be worth debate. It is more; what should come first? For a large amount of movies we watch there is a book already written. It is our choice as to whether we read that book before or after we see the film.

Is there any point? Is it worth your bother? Well, everybody is different, but this is how I see it. Try a bit of everything. It will turn out that way anyway. You have probably seen a film and have yet to read the book. Consider this list; Fight Club by Palahniuk, Oil! by Upton Sinclair, The Other Boleyn Girl by Gregory, The Goblet Of Fire by J.K. Rowling and No Country For Old Men by McCarthy. Have you read all of those? You must be close to seeing all the films.

On the same note, there is a good chance that you have read at least one of these; The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Lovely Bones by Seebold, The Half Blood Prince By Rowling, Picoult's My Sisters Keeper or The Alchemist by Coelho. All set to appear on the big screen within a year or so.

There are all sorts of perils and pleasures for confusing the chicken with the egg. Annoyingly, I am going to point a few out to you.

The Problematic Potter

I was one of the very few British people that had not read any Potter before watching THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE, or whatever you called it over there. In fact I did not get round to reading any of the books until after seeing THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. Once I did pick them up I was immediately presented with a problem. Despite some very detailed and descriptive scrawling courtesy of J.K. Rowling I simply could not picture Harry as anything other than Daniel Radcliffe. Odd, don't you think? I often wonder if even J.K. Rowling herself ever succumbed to that train of thought, she is only human, I'm betting she has. The association is not confined to the character of Harry either. Most of the cast find their way into my imagination every time I read one of the books. I can see in my head Alan Rickman doing the things he is supposed to do in later films. It is a bit weird.

Why so weird? For me, the descriptions in a book highlight the minds power to construct something out of nothing. The less elaborate the description, the more the imagination has to compensate. I find this fun. Invariably, I often succumb to either laziness or vanity and cast myself as the protagonist, as I understand, this is healthy and quite normal. So I became quite perturbed when I had Radcliffe flying around on a broomstick in my minds eye when it should have been me. I think I would have quite enjoyed being a boy wizard thank you very
Things could have been soooooo different...

Things could have been soooooo different...

As I caught up with the books, the subsequent films had already been shoot in my head and unfortunately the 'Xavier's Head Cut' surpass the silver screen variants. I find myself speculating that my disappointment could have been avoided if I had waited years to read the books, or even just gave the films a miss. This speculation in itself is a paradox though. I cannot guess how long I would have waited to read the novels if I had not of seen the films, if ever! You see I really enjoyed CHAMBER OF SECRETS, it remains my favourite of the series, in words and pictures, and after watching it I sought the books out.

It must however be a useful tool for actors and directors. I would love to find out if Emma Watson read the rather wordy tomes and forward projected herself in them. Has it affected her performance as an actress? Is this why she has yet to release any work that is not Hermione?

To summarise, it appears that I have completely ruined the whole Potter experience for myself. In terms of themes, lessons and morals both the book and the films get the same points across. By polluting my fragile noggin with cast iron character representations I have impaired my enjoyment of reading the later volumes. In turn, my disillusionment has been rudely transferred to the later films. Bummer.

Waiting For The Seeing Stone

With all this in mind, I resolved to do a little personal experiment. I don't really find myself buried in children's literature, it is not that I avoid it; I just have plenty of other things to read. With the recent release of THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES I had an excellent opportunity to explore whether my dulled experiences with Potter were down to my rash foolishness, or to poor filmmaking (and indeed, sub-standard writing). It is very convenient that they are of the same genre; the similarities to the franchises would only make me feel that my analysis had more validity. I made a point of not watching any of the trailers. I did not even look at any of the promotional posters. I did not want to give my subconscious any excuse for sloth. Instead I got all five volumes and got stuck in.

I enjoyed the books. It surprises me how stories designed for the 8-12 age brackets are inherently dark. I think back to what I was reading at that age, and then I get quite depressed as I struggle to remember anything. I allowed myself to be immersed in the world Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi have created. I put no pressure on my inward vision to perform, but I did not hold back either. As a result I found reading them to be quite delightful. So enthused was I, and so well
'Hang on, the books were not this scary?!'

'Hang on, the books were not this scary?!'
versed in the fable I was able to hold quite a few heated discussions with a couple a group of ten year olds. Heated discussions and joyous recounting I would like to add. All this and before its nationwide release.

I was quite excited when I actually went to see it. I forced myself to keep an open mind. I was not willing to let that cynical side of me to readily dismiss the movie. Rightly so, it turns out. You may well be surprised, not as surprised as me, pleasantly surprised I would hope, that I thought the film was excellent. As delightful and enjoyable as the books. To put it plainly, the film is just an interpretation, someone else's interpretation. In my head the mischievous Sprites had an altogether different look and vibe about them. Imagine how I felt when seeing the 'movie Sprite' I found myself preferring them. The film version of Mallory was much more likable, which was a relief to me. To top it off, the flicks Goblins, and the tales top bad guy, Mulgarath, were much scarier and vivid in the film.

Now the misgivings one would have when faced with the conundrum of having already got to know the story are maybe a little more obvious. You already know what is going to happen, so there is little room for surprise? You may be expecting things to happen that don't, or have an altered impact. This is not the point I am trying to make however. (Is there a point? Is there ever a point to what I write? Pssshh. Sometimes I wonder.) As it turns out, the way I have approached SPIDERWICK I was able to enjoy it in all its forms. The written word, the 'mind movie' and the screen version.


So what does this all mean? Really, do you think I know? I will tell you this however, and it really is just my personal opinion. I find that if I watch a film without having read the book it is less likely I will seek the book out. No matter how good I thought the film was. This is a shame, it may mean that I will never get round to reading I AM LEGEND, THE KITE RUNNER or even LITTLE WOMEN. I have of course gone and read the book after seeing the film, sometimes to understand the story more, or because I was particularly fond of a character. There needs to be a special motivation.

On the flip side if I have ever read the book, and an adaptation is made I will definitely, no shadow of a doubt go and see the film. I call it my 'bigger picture complex'. Do you want me to list all those books I have read and are imminently getting released? Well I will, all in good time.

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Xavier's Book Club
Every other Saturday

Xavier analyses film, literary. A bizarre melding of books and movies.

Other Columns
Other columns by Xavier Jones-Barlow:

My Month As A Teenage Girl

Mr Jones and the Shame of the Spolier Scolls

Fragment: Consider Revising.

Proof Reading The Movies #1

Indifferent Imaginations

All Columns

Xavier Jones-Barlow
Xavier lives in Scotland where it is very cold. He spends his time writing about live bands and people dreamt up in his bizarre imagination. Quite huggable .

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Xavier Jones-Barlow by clicking here.

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