Anna Weir is a publicist who begrudgingly admits to having hipster tendencies.
At some point or another, we’ve all heard someone say it, or maybe we’ve even uttered it ourselves: “The book was better than the movie.” Depending on the book and movie, there are varying degrees of truth to the statement. Many fans of the Harry Potter series are fonder of the Hogwarts they imagined while reading the books rather than the one in the movies, but the average non-Elvish reader might (emphasis on might) prefer Peter Jackson’s on-screen interpretation of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy over Tolkein’s original classics.
The big issue with book-to-movie adaptations is that previous fans fell in love with the story when it was told a certain way and in a certain format. No matter how close to the book a movie sticks, there are some things that absolutely must change when on screen (See The Hunger Games—some liberties must be taken when the original text is told in first person present). When the same story is told two different ways, it’s hard not to choose sides.
But when both the book and the movie are “based on a true story,” how can you decide which retelling is a “better” representation of the truth?
The incident between Mary Decker and Zola Budd at the 1984 Olympics is extremely well-known even if thirty-odd years later the memories have faded a little in the public consciousness. This Olympic year, however, the coming-together on the track is gaining attention stateside with UNP’s upcoming title Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd (November 2016) and in the UK with the documentary The Fall.
The book and the movie both tell the same story, but with a different focus. The documentary prioritizes the collision itself and its aftermath. Interviewing other runners who were there that fateful day and bringing the two leading ladies together after thirty-two years of silence, the documentary has been a “cathartic” experience for Decker. Budd also “thought it was time” to return to that fateful day. Author Kyle Keiderling, however, spends more time providing a full biography of Decker and Budd, detailing their lives and their running careers leading up to and then after the 1984 Olympics. By illustrating just how much both women desired victory that day, the fall itself becomes that much more painful to watch.
Another true story told in print and on screen moves us away from the Olympics and toward the stars. Rick Houston and Milt Heflin’s Go, Flight!: The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, 1965-1992 tells the same story as the upcoming documentary Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control. Both include interviews with the men and women who guided NASA’s astronauts into space and worked tirelessly to bring them safely home. Both discuss how ventures into space were made possible by the politico-social climate, and what could be possible if the climate changed again. Both offer unique and valid insights to the same story.
As for whether the books are better than the movies…
Well. Somethings are better left unsaid.