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Why TV is a better format for novel adaptations than Film


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We've all heard the saying, the book is always better than the movie, and for the most part, this is generally true.

However, with the advent of Netflix and Amazon Video, more and more novels are coming to the small screen rather than the big screen and, let's be real, they tend to be more satisfying. Why is this? Here are several reasons why novels work better on the small screen and some recent novel to TV adaptations that have got it right.

1. They share the same serialized format, so TV is a more natural fit

Both books and TV have a somewhat episodic format, whether it be a single book which is split into chapters, or a series of books, TV is just a better form to tell a full story, because each episode can focus on a single chapter, or a single book can be focused on over the course of a series, allowing TV to show a book in more depth than a movie can.

Case in point: A Series of Unfortunate Events

I was really disappointed with the movie version of this series starring Jim Carrey , as it was a well loved series from my childhood. The movie attempted to cram the first three books into just under two hours, and the tone was completely wrong. The new Netflix series however manages to adapt the first four books much more faithfully.

The tone is much better, straddling the line between dark and humorous just like the books and Neil Patrick Harris' Count Olaf is so much closer to the book version than Jim Carrey's. It captures the wonderful, weird zany spirit of Lemony Snicket's books perfectly and I can't wait to see the second series next year.

2. It allows room for the little details

One of my biggest bugbears as a book fan is that usually the scenes that get cut are the scenes which show minute details which mean nothing to the filmmakers but are very important to fans of the books. With TV, you have several hours of television over the course of a series, so more of the little details from the novel source can be included. Films are good at capturing the general tone of a book, but it can miss out on the little details and nuances that can be captured on TV. 

Case in point: Thirteen Reasons Why

Admittedly, this series has become controversial due to it's handling of some of the subject matter of the book, but there is no denying, if you have read the book, that is a pretty faithful adaptation, with each episode focusing on a tape, as the book does and the reasons remain pretty much unchanged.

3. Character development can be expanded on

A movie only has two hours or so to develop the characters from a book, unless it is a movie franchise which could have several movies to expand characters in. But even then, movies can miss some of the more intricate details of character development that you get in a book that you read over a matter of days or weeks. With TV, you have an entire season, or several depending on the show, where you can see the characters grow and develop and change, and delve deeper into their emotions than it is possible to do in a two hour movie.

Case in point: Sherlock

Admittedly, I haven't actually read any of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, but having seen other movie adaptations of Sherlock, I can definitely say that the BBC version is my favourite. I love the modern twist on Conan Doyle's famous detective and the chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is definitely what makes the show as brilliant as it is. Not only is it a faithful adaptation, but it's also hugely experimental - transporting Conan Doyle's characters to a contemporary setting.

4. Some books are just too sprawling for films

Can you imagine Game of Thrones as a movie? It just wouldn't fit - there is far too much content for even a series of movies let alone just one. For certain books, movies aren't even an option because you wouldn't get even a fraction of the story told properly.

Case in point: Outlander

Granted, again, I haven't read the books, but the TV series has certainly made me want to, which I figure is the marker of a great adaptation. Claire and Jamie's relationship is lovely to watch and I really enjoy the historical aspects of the series. With time and space playing such a critical part of the series, it's hard to imagine this transcending love story crammed into a 120 minute feature film.

5. It allows you to become more invested

Movies are all well and good and there are clearly some movie adaptations that people become very invested in (see Harry Potter) but the longer format of TV allows you to get much more invested in the story and characters than you would in a two hour movie, simply because you are spending a longer time with them.

Case in point: Gossip Girl

I actually read a couple of the books, and the TV series is so much better. The glitzy, glamourous world of the Upper East Side just comes across so much better on TV than it does in the books. 

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