I think on balance, and it is especially evident from the many comments posted on blogs, that books offer far more depth and also allow a more personal interpretation of characters and locations. With a film there is no imagining what the place looks like, there it is… right in front of you. What are the striking features of the protagonist? Gone in an instant is your question, because you have the guy standing before your eyes.
However, if an image is worth a thousand words then how many tomes should a film be worth with its on average 144,000 frames? In that respect, films fail to meet the mark, but then literature and celluloid are not scientific disciplines and cannot be measured as such.
Where I have found films certainly underperform consistently is in the area of YA books, I cannot, however, help but notice more high-brow books, which one would assume could never be matched by film, do not have such one-way traffic.
For example, Angela’s Ashes is a beautiful book but what an artistic portrayal by the director Alan Clarke! They are on a par for me. So is the Shawshank Redemption where the screenwriter has taken a central theme only hinted at in the original story and made it triumphant on the silver screen, namely the ideal of Hope. Magnificent script adapatation, with all of Stephen King’s eternal lines kept safe within its body and then the music score on top. Both works are victories. It is one of the greatest films and arguably the greatest novella.
Where I enjoyed the film far more than its masterpiece of literature was The Name of the Rose. Which for some, if not many, will be seen as a sacrilegious declaration. There is no doubting Umberto Eco’s genius as writer and historian, but the novel was overflowing with Latin and I gained a greater sense of medieval melancholy in the movie than in the book, which gave it a more sympathetic tone. That said both treatments of the story inspired me greatly to write my first novel, The Last Treasure of Ancient England, and include Latin riddles and cyphers, but not too many.
And one ‘book’ that can never, ever, be equalled in film is anything on Sherlock Holmes. TV series have come and gone and entertained us all, but none, not even major features have come close to submerging the viewer wholly into the menacing smog of Victorian London and immersed us fully in the turmoil of Holmes’ eccentricity.
But what if we were to turn the tables? Consider this dilemma: could the book version of Amélie ever be as good as the film? I sincerely doubt it. And why is that?
One thing is certain though, no matter how much we loved the book, we are drawn helplessly like moths to the silver screen as soon as it is released at the cinemas.