"The book was better than the movie". It's such a common phrase it should be a disclaimer on most adapted screenplays. But the idea behind it has always fascinated me. Why is the book generally considered better than the movie? (…and why does everyone feel obligated to share their opinion about it!?)
The obvious difference with books vs movies is the element of descriptive language vs visuals. It’s so obvious it feels stupid to write. The setting in a book is explained over multiple pages to visualize the protagonist walking into a strip club. But a movie can accomplish the same feet as fast as it takes the actor to open the club’s door with a subtitle that reads “San Antonio, 2006”.
But what book readers mean when they say, “the book was better than the movie”, most times, has nothing to do with this visualization and has everything to do with the meaning behind it.
The book has the ability to illustrate poetically the protagonists struggle with alcoholism, the sexual abuse growing up that led to a life of self-hatred, and the alienated daughter who now works at that strip club. But the movie would have to utilize out-of-context dialogue or several flashbacks with actors of different ages selling the exact emotions the book portrays to get the same emotional response, all in all, to show the same scene of the protagonist walking back into the San Antonio strip-club in 2006. Most movies don’t have time for all of these details, so they’ll trim them down to only what’s important to push the plot forward. Leaving the book readers thinking, “it feels like they are flying through the book!”
Movies/TV shows can visualize easier, books can elaborate easier, and the movies and TV shows that understand this are the ones that succeed. Enter, The Outsider.
If you haven't read it, please do… Stephen King wrote it, and that's all you should need to know. But I digress…
Jason Bateman adapted Stephan King’s book, The Outsider, into an HBO series. And instead of trimming it, he expanded it. Making it a TV show and not a movie allowed him the freedom to incorporate the details Stephen King uses over his 600+ pages, but it also allowed him to add characters and scenes that would have taken Stephen King another 200 pages to add in.
Without spoiling the book or the show, I’ll keep with the strip club analogy. Jason Bateman was able to add a scene of the alienated daughter crying holding her phone that shows the Dad had tried texting her 20 times over the years without her response. Jason Bateman was able to add the club owner character and her friend by showing a scene of the club owner handing the daughter drugs in an attempt to console her and the look of despair on her friend’s face when she accepts them. He used his ability in film to set a scene faster, to in turn add more scenes quickly that added layers to the characters stories, layers that would have taken the book several chapters to accomplish.
Stephen King downplays the unrealistic aspect of The Outsider the whole book, which makes this horror novel feel more like a unique true-crime book. But downplaying the fantasy aspect also caused the ending to feel forced. However, Jason Bateman being able to visualize the unrealistic aspects more subtly throughout is setting up for a more gratifying ending.
In a story about an unknown being and the emotions around coming to grips with reality, descriptive details are important, but so are the visuals, and Jason Bateman knew this. He perfected The Outsider. And I have to say, so far, the show is better than the book.