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Comparing an Original Story to Its Film Version

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we compare a book to its film version and discuss several things to examine and consider when rendering the comparison and examine To Kill a Mockingbird.

Comparing a Book and a Movie

''The book was better'' is a common reaction to hear among the crowd exiting a movie theater. Indeed with the sheer volume of books being turned into movies today, it's almost impossible to find a movie on the big screen that wasn't first written on paper. And it's not just books, video games are finding their way to the big screen too. For some, the adaptation is never as good as the original, while for others, the movie is the only thing worth enjoying.

In the classroom, the differences between an original story's form and movie form can be analyzed to develop critical thinking skills and discuss the differences between plots, storylines, characters, and even the different merits of each medium. In this lesson, we will explore a few of the different ways you can start thinking about these important questions, before analyzing one such example.

Starter Questions

First off, be sure to read the original story first. Original stories in general, though not always, tend to be a longer story than the film version. Be sure to get the whole story first. After all, in some poor movie adaptations, important details get left out that are integral to the plot. Knowing these can enrich your viewing of the movie.

After experiencing the original format and watching the movie, it's time to analyze the differences. Brainstorming sessions can be a great way to kickstart a meaningful discussion. Some examples of good questions to ponder include:

  • What parts of the original story were left out of the movie?
  • Did the movie add anything (plot points, characters, etc.) that were not in the original book version?
  • Did you like the movie or the book version better? Why?
  • Did you imagine the characters differently when reading the book/screenplay than they were portrayed on screen?
  • Why do you think the movie producers changed the story in the way they did?
  • In the case of a play versus its movie version, how did the film change the lighting and/or setting as opposed to the original story?

These are just some of the basic questions that can really get you thinking about the differences between the movie and the original book version. It should give you plenty of ideas upon which to base a paper or other assignment that your teacher assigns you.

Example: To Kill a Mockingbird

Briefly, To Kill a Mockingbird revolves around the trial of an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, for the rape and assault of a white woman in a rural Alabama community in the 1930s. Told from the point of view of Scout, the daughter of Tom's lawyer Atticus Finch, much of the racial prejudice inherent in early 20th-century southern society is revealed through the course of Scout's adolescent experiences in the town during the trial.

To Kill A Mockingbird cover
Cover of To Kill A Mockingbird

The book, written by Harper Lee, was first published in 1960 to critical acclaim, and it was made into a movie only two years later, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus. When asking some of the questions above, we can discern some of the important similarities and differences between the two versions of the story.

Fortunately, the plot of both is largely the same. Atticus reluctantly agrees to defend Tom at the behest of his friend, a local judge. As a result, a series of incidents occur before, during, and after the trial that portray the ugly side of the quaint rural town.

For example, at one point Atticus goes down to the local jail to stop a white mob from lynching Tom, who is awaiting trial. This incident, and several others, occur in both versions. Both the film and the book also show the evidence in the trial clearly pointing to his innocence. In both, he is still found guilty by an all-white jury and is shot and killed shortly after the trial ends. While some scenes are left out of the movie, likely for the sake of time, most of the events important to the overall plot are included.

But while the general plot is the same between the book and the film, the perspective is not. The book is told from the point of view of Scout. Furthermore, she is the main character, and the book revolves around how she experienced various events. Though the movie begins with Scout's voice narrating, most of the movie quickly centers around the actions of Atticus. While he is an important character in the book, he is not nearly as prominent as he is in the film version.

Gregory Peck, was an enormous movie star in the 1960s and Harper Lee approved of the casting. Nonetheless, it alters the story significantly, as the trial and the defense of Tom Robinson takes center stage--and not, as in the book, the everyday experiences of Scout. In part due to this decision, the movie highlights even more the racial prejudices of the South in the 1930s, even if doing so in a less nuanced fashion.

Atticus sits next to Tom Robinson.
Atticus and Tom

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