Does it Matter if You Read the Book First or Watch the Movie?

The holidays are around the corner, and the offering of children’s movies often grow at this time. I usually cringe when I hear about a children’s book being turned into a movie. Not because the movie infrequently lives up to the book, but rather because children read or listen to the book with preconceived images from the movie. They miss the opportunity to create images from their own imaginations and the text. Sometimes, however, it really doesn’t matter.

This weekend I saw the movie Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick) and I was pleasantly surprised. The movie Hugo, is directed by Martin Scorsese. I wasn’t surprised because I was expecting the carnage one is used to in his movies (Goodfellas, Gangs of New York). I was surprised at how this beautiful book was transformed to film and still managed to capture the magical elements in its storytelling.


For those familiar with the book, it is a visual feast. The movie is too. Scorsese doesn’t imitate the book. The movie is quite different in style. Instead he uses the same elements of visual storytelling. There are long moments in the film, like the book, where there is no dialogue, but the plot advances beautifully. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t either read the book or seen the movie. In this rare case, I don’t think it matters which one you do first, both are exceptional.



2 thoughts on “Does it Matter if You Read the Book First or Watch the Movie?

  1. We just got back from seeing the movie. I read the book last week. Both are truly wonderful.

    I have to wonder if this is really a “children’s book”. Since it’s published by Scholastic, that must be what they think. The two main characters are children – but then, that’s true of “Huckleberry Finn”.

    Many movies are “loosely based on” a book; this one is “tightly based on” the book. I believe you could come first to either the book or the movie and not be disappointed by the other.

    One of the “long moments” in the film without dialog is the very opening. It must be at least 4 or 5 minutes into the film before there’s any real dialog.

    It really is a “visual feast”. We saw it in 3D. I’m usually skeptical as to whether that adds anything essential. Here it does.

    The movie adds a few new characters, builds up the role of the Station Inspector, and cuts out at least one plot element. None of this detracts from the story or the telling.

    In the Afterword, Selznik says that there are about 23,000 words in the book. At 500 per usual page, that works out to less than 50 standard pages. The film runs a tad over 2 hours. (Selznik is related to the Hollywood Selzniks.)

    Ben Kingsley is a standout as Papa Georges. He deserves a nomination.

    If you’re a film lover, this one is definitely for you.

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