I‘m going to make a vow right now to never again say in print or in conversation the words: “The book is better.”
Not because the book isn’t better, not because I don’t think the book is better in many cases, and not because I don’t think it’s ever valuable to compare a film adaptation with its literary original. But because the statement “The book is better” is too easy a gut reaction, too simplistic a critical statement, and too cliched a response. It doubles as an elitist phrase, both revealing that you’ve read the book in question and that you, being literary, prefer it to its pop-art cousin the cinema. Now, of course not everyone who uses the phrase intends those elitist connotations and I don’t mean to suggest that they do.
Instead, when dealing with a film adaptation of a book, I will seek to compare how they differ, what specific things the book did better, and what specific things the film did better. Sometimes I can’t be that specific, because the difference is more ephemeral than that, but I will be specific about that, too, as specific as I can.
I already try to do this, recognizing that the film, though based on an existing work, is also its own work of art and ought to be treated as such rather than merely a copy/shadow of the original. But I will make it explicit. Hold me to this. If any time after today, you hear me say the words “The book is better” or see me write them, call me on it. Remind me to think more carefully about the relationship between the two works, and tell me to rewrite or expand what I wrote.