There are three crowds when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations: the ones that are adamant about reading the book FIRST, the ones that buy the book and promise to read it first but DON’T, and the ones that don’t do either of the first two and WATCH the movie. Narrowing down on the second and third types who guiltily stare at their bookshelves bulging with heavy-weight paperbacks they promised themselves to read, it might seem that there is little reason to invest the time after indulging in the 130-minute adrenaline high. But that is not the case.
1. THE ENDS ARE NOT THE SAME
No—just because you watched the movie does not mean you already know what will happen! And it’s not just the climactic conclusion I’m talking about. If you thought the movie was great, the book is bound to blow you away. Think of it as watching those picturesque slideshows while your tv is on pause versus actually going to those places; that’s the level of difference that exists between watching the movie and reading the book.
Though the movie has the visual elements down—everything from the city, the characters, and the action, there is a significant lack of depth and scale. In the book, you get to experience Jack Reacher’s analysis of the environments, the people, and the events happening around him (especially the ones he causes). Also, there are far more places to see in the book versus the movie, which cut down on locations due to the budget and streamlining the story. Because of this, the book provides a far grander experience of both characters and settings than the movie; the former had only 130 minutes to get the job done, whereas the latter had 481 pages.
There are tons of scenes in the book that were nonexistent in the movie—characters that were never even introduced—and menace that was severely missing from the villains. When I finished reading One Shot, it occurred to me just how much better the climactic action scene was between Jack Reacher and the main villains. The movie structured the showdown to be between Tom Cruise and Jai Courtney, with Robert Duvall firing rounds in the background. The book included far more viewpoints and made good on the promises of characters introduced far earlier. There was also a better resolution/reveal of context behind the villains’ operations. That’s why Werner Herzog’s performance of The Zec failed to inspire as much fear and mystery in the film versus the book. The character and events run far deeper than what is apparent in the movie.
2. MOre of the Feelz
I’m not talking about the kind that soap opera characters engage in, though I’ll admit (grudgingly) that those can be fun to experience. Rather, the book is packed full of all those good ol’ thriller novel sensations, like suspense, angst, anticipation, and the pleasure of seeing your favorite character kick the lights out of the villain’s mediocre puppets or outsmart the police.
This is where the film and book would be on equal footing…if not for the book’s advantage of bulk. The movie could only do so much with the time it had; however, the novel is like a long-lasting narcotic full of adrenaline, cortisol, and, everyone’s favorite, dopamine. The action, the pacing, and the details that are strewn about amp up the reading experience far beyond anything the movie could handle. And yes, the book beats Tom Cruise when it comes to intensity.
3. Better Stakes
Both the book and movie have stakes, and the movie did a fairly acceptable job at “showing” the menace of the villains with the time available; however, it was severely limited because of…characters.
As mentioned in reason number 1, the book contains characters that the movies never even featured (a necessary evil for the sake of time). What the editors forgot to consider was why those characters were introduced in the first place. We’re talking about Lee Child here—LEE CHILD, the bestselling thriller writer. If he writes a character into his book, you can bet your jeans that they have an important part to play! And one of those parts was to give emotional stakes to Jack Reacher’s hunt for the villain. In the movie, it seems that he’s just trying to track down an operation because the sociopath he knew years ago who enjoyed sniping people too much (that had supposedly gotten over his sociopathic tendencies) claimed he was innocent. That’s it. So, all the determined work of Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher appeared purposeless—like he’s doing it because someone served it to him on a silver platter. In the book, there are other people to consider, like James Barr’s sister. And characters who were introduced but had minor roles in the movie were given more depth and importance to the plot. Things are simply more intertwined in the novel than in the movie.
Considering the long debate of whether certain books are better than the movies and vice versa, it is important to note that, whatever outcome one reaches, they are two different works of art in and of themselves. Lee Child’s book stands apart from Tom Cruise’s film. With that said, it will always be fun to compare works that are fundamentally connected by the thread of telling a great story via different mediums.
Whether you agree with the above reasons or not, the point is still to gain enjoyment and thrills from such works.