Today is the 64th anniversary of the mass publication in America of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book considered one of the most influential of all time. 

What a pity I’ve actually never read it. 

And this is despite the fact that I’ve owned a copy since I was 17, when everyone else I knew read it. Or did they?

That aside, the fact that I haven’t read the book also means I haven’t watched either of the two film adaptations of the book - because when it comes to the book before film argument, I am 100 per cent guaranteed to read the book first. 

Now depending on which side of the fence you sit, you’ll either experience shock and disbelief or a comforting sense of being understood and appreciated. 

Sound a little dramatic? Try typing “book before movie” into Google or Twitter and see what pops up for you. 

This is a passionate topic for a lot of people and rightly so with an average of 30 novels being churned into film every year. 

Moira McDonald is a film reviewer/blogger for the Seattle Times and says she loves not reading the book before the movie because it allows the movie to “surprise her”.

She also admits to the utterly unthinkable: reading the book “after” seeing the movie.

“I read Revolutionary Road after watching the movie, and was thrilled by both experiences, all the more so because I had no idea what Kate Winslet’s character was going to do,” she says.


I’m definitely with The Tome Traveller who at the time of writing was devouring the book Julie and Julia, a story depicting some of the events in the life of American gourmet Julia Child and Julia Powell who aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Child’s cookbook, before hitting the cinema.

She writes: “For some reason, once the book is in my imagination I have no trouble watching someone else’s imagining of it. But if I see the movie first, then my imagination never gets to do the work and it ruins things for me.” 

Here’s five reasons why I’ll always be book first, movie second. What about you? Have you any add to this - or can you list reasons that movie-first is the way to go?

1. Read the book first and your imagination rules the roost. You design the set, the character and sometimes even the time and place.

2. You set the budget! There is nothing more reassuring when movie makers capture a place or character just the way you imagined but how horrible is it when they don’t? 

3. You get an ‘even’ sense of every character, their purpose and their potential impact on their story. Movie adaptations often only explore one aspect of a character. 

4. You can really drag out the ending. Or should you choose to, you never have to read the ending at all. Arguably this could also be achieved with a pause button. Difficult in the cinema though. 

5. It’s much easier to indulge in a love of book-honed detail. You can also really annoy everyone else by constantly braying “that’s not the way it was in the book” when you do watch the film. 

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    • Margaret Gray says:

      01:23pm | 26/08/09

      Orwell’s wieldy tome says more about the state of modern politics and those that write about it than they would care to admit.

      And is a relevant now as it was 64 years ago.

      Maybe more so.

      What’s more it has been a MANDATORY READ for anyone who uses words to craft a living.

      “...I am 100 per cent guaranteed to read the book first…”

      Then before you read the next Harry Potter instalment, might I suggest you read THIS book first.

    • Jasper says:

      01:33pm | 26/08/09

      The main reason why one should read the book before seeing the film is because Hollywood adaptations invariably try and “disneyfy” the ending (although I’m sure Revolutionary Road is an exception here) which will often remove the major emotional impact of the story.

      My favourite example of this comes from one of the children’s books that has stayed with me: Bridge to Terabithia. The producer and screenwriter (who also happens to be the son of the author of the book)  had difficulty marketing the screenplay, mostly because of the death of a major character; “if you can believe this, I did meet with some companies that asked if I could just ‘hurt’ Leslie a little bit…”

      The whole point of the book would have been lost with this disneyfied ending!

      But this is staggeringly common and I find it amazing that film executives think it is logical to buy the rights to a popular book and then change the ending because of concerns over how the audience will receive it. WTF?!? The audience who read the book and loved it will suddenly be unduly distressed by the ending because it is filmed?

    • Rob says:

      02:13pm | 26/08/09

      You can read it easily in a day.

      No valid excuses.

    • Gibbot says:

      02:41pm | 26/08/09

      How about:

      6. Movie adaptations can at best give you the director’s perception of the work. A great book often requires you to have to work to find its intent. 

      A great example is ‘The Name of the Rose’. As wonderful as the movie is, its essentially nothing more than a murder mystery. In the book, Eco uses the murders as a sub-plot to weave a far grander picture of the rivalries & power struggles of the various monastic orders of the day. You just can’t portray that sort of complexity in a 2 or 3 hour movie.

    • stephen says:

      03:17pm | 26/08/09

      @Margaret Gray.
      The only time I read a harry potter masterpiece was in the dunny.
      (By page 5, I was wipen’ the ‘floor’ with it.)

    • Krissy says:

      03:25pm | 26/08/09

      I do both.  Pride and Prejudice, the movie edition, was the worst for me, because although I still liked it, they had to cut out some stuff that was just so important and the settings weren’t always right. Having said that,  Sometimes a movie can give me a slightly more accurate depiction of the setting then one I can get myself.  It always astounds me how different it can actually be. 

      I can honestly say that Fear and Loathing in las vegas was my favourite book to movie adaption.  I actually saw the movie first and appreciated their view and then I read the book and got my own mind going.  I appreciate the imagination behind movies and books both because I love them both.  Plus sometimes I just want to know what hasn’t been said in the movie.

      Animal Farm is a great book and you need to read it now!

    • CH says:

      03:32pm | 26/08/09

      I’m definitely in the read-the-book-before-watching-the-movie camp.  I’ve just finished reading The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, am re-reading Julie & Julia and hope to make it all the way through Where The Wild Things Are before the film comes out. wink

    • pc says:

      04:30pm | 26/08/09

      Gibbot, I agree and what goes for the name of the rose doubly so for Foucaults Pendulum, which sadly hasnt made it to film. Nevertheless the name of the rose is still a great movie.

    • Jimmy says:

      05:18pm | 26/08/09

      I wonder how often I’ve watched a film without realising it’s based on a book?  Most recently was probably Revolutionary Road which Jasper has just put me onto - thanks I’ll be getting a copy of the book.  I certainly watch more films than read books and I think when I see a great film it’ll often open the door to the book.  Guess the most notable example of seeing the film before reading the book for me was Lord of the Rings which i tried to read as a kid and gave up.  The films gave me the impetus to try again and I made it through very quickly (living in NZ prob helped, dark nights etc.) but I found it hard to seperate the film imagery.
      I nearly always find the book has more depth than the spin-off film but it’s great when the screenplay manages to capture the books magic and add a new spin.

    • Gibbot says:

      06:15pm | 26/08/09

      PC - That would have to be one of my all time favourite novels. Again, though, any attempt to adapt it for celluloid is bound to disappoint.

      Jimmy has a good point. A film can be a success if it draws new readers to the book. LOTR is an exceptional example, though. I can’t think of a film that managed to capture the imagery of the book so successfully, and for good reason. Peter Jackson’s obvious love of his subject matter, and obsession with the smallest of details was a fitting tribute to Tolkien - who is the only author I’ve ever read that truly created a world.

      Jimmy - from someone who had read the book numerous times before seeing the film, the imagery was unnerving. It was almost exactly as I’d pictured it on my very first reading.

      Krissy - Fear & Loathing was another one. I was already a fan of HST when I first saw it, though surprisingly had not actually read the book apart from an excerpt in The Great Shark Hunt. Johnny Depp was brilliant. I shelled out big bikkies for the Criterion Collection version which actually has a running commentary by HST himself that is probably the only commentary - ever - that’s better than the movie itself. When you learn that Depp actually lived with Thompson for a year before filming it puts his performance into perspective. I strongly recommend tracking down a copy.

    • J says:

      11:43am | 27/08/09

      Lucy, please read Animal Farm - Rob is right, you can easily knock it over in a day.  It’s powerful, and will stay with you.  It’s brilliant.

      And if you haven’t already, read 1984 as well.  It’s one of my favourite books of all time.

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