Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Books to Movies, Movies to Books

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm on a great reading binge right now--yay! One of the books I finished this month was BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty. I read it after seeing the HBO miniseries starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. (I won't use spoilers in case some of you haven't seen or read it and plan to.) I loved the show, I think even more than I loved the book--though the book was a humdinger of a page turner. I wondered if this was an artifact of the order? Usually, it's the other way around, I like a book and so go to the movie and end up preferring the book. 

But this got me thinking about the process of choosing a book to be brought to life on TV or in the movies. And also some of the decisions about making changes. Which subplots would be better cut or added? And which characters could be eliminated because they really don't add to the story? (Madeline’s son for example in Big Little Lies, had very few lines of dialogue, and no forward motion depended on his character. Nor did he seem very important to his mother’s character. Cut!) I'm thinking about the book I'm writing now and who could be trimmed to tighten the story. This isn't a spoiler, but in the movie a pair of characters goes to a therapist. In the book only the woman goes. Why the change? 


And why change the ending? This seemed like a big adjustment that changed the character’s motivation for the accident.

Obviously, I have more questions than answers. If any of you have experience with moviemaking or screenwriting, I’d love to hear your experience of how decisions are made. If you have none, and most of us don't, do you enjoy going to movies that have been made out of books? What about reading books where you've already seen the movie? Was there an adaptation that you thought did an especially good job?

64 comments:

  1. Since there’s generally so much more in the book than can be contained in the movie, I often find that I enjoy the book much more than the film. We took the grandbabies to see ‘The Lorax” a few years ago, but the book was so much better. Conversely, the first “Jurassic Park” movie captured the essence of the book and I enjoyed it very much, even though the filmmakers changed some things that had happened in the book [with an eye to making a sequel, I’m sure] . . . .

    That said, Hallmark has done an admirable job making movies based on mystery books. They’ve done several well: “Murder She Baked,” based on Joanne Fluke’s books; “Fixer-Upper Mysteries,” based on Kate Carlisle’s books; “Aurora Teagarten Murder Mysteries” based on Charlaine Harris’s books come immediately to mind . . . .

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    1. Joan, isn't it great that Hallmark has been turning all these series into shows? Kate Collins's Flowershop series has also been turned into a series, although in order to accommodate the star's older age they've changed things considerably. In the books, Abby is in her twenties; Brooke Shields is most definitely not.

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    2. But Brooke does a great job in Kate's series!

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  2. I've really come to appreciate each of the story telling methods for their own strengths and weaknesses. Movies have to cut things, and TV shows have their own limitations. But sometimes, they convey something the book is missing. If I can remember that, I can enjoy both as parallel universe type of things. A perfect example is the Murder She Baked Hallmark movies Joan mentioned. They are so very different from the books, yet I completely love them.

    And at times, I can see why something is removed or added for the movie version. A perfect example is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the more recent theatrical version). They add some scenes for Edmund that aren't in the book, but they show us the changes he is going through. In the book, that's all internal monologue, something you can't do on screen. It's perfect for the movie and solves a plot point problem for the adaptation.

    (Just don't get me started on the changes they made for Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I get they wanted more of a unifying story line for what are essentially a group of short stories in the novel. But a mist? Really? What were they thinking??????)

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    1. Interesting thoughts about adding scenes to show his internal workings--I know I've heard that about writing screenplays. Nothing can be only in the characters' heads.

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  3. As on most things, I can go either way. (grin)

    I usually prefer the book for all the usual reasons, depth, detail, direction. An exception is the Vera series. Brenda Blythen has so completely nailed the character that I find I can't imagine the books without her face attached. However I suspect that is an exception. Ann Cleeves says Brenda knows Vera better than she does. And of course the TV series is only gently based on the books. I like that because seeing or reading one first doesn't spoil it for the other.

    I recall watching the movie, "Still Life", and thinking what have they done!? Evidently Louise Penny felt pretty much the same way.

    The answers to your question are limited only by the numbers of readers and viewers. all of whom have strong opinions on most everything.

    Ann in Rochester on a beautiful summer morning with temps predicted in the mid-seventies. Sorta like me.

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    1. Don't you think that makes it more fun, that the books and shows are different? It gives us a reason to enjoy both!

      Craig Johnson said his Longmire TV shows end differently than the books they're based on, to give his fans a bit more to anticipate. I love that he thought of the fans in this process.

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    2. I haven't read Ann Cleeves yet, or seen these shows. On my list!

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    3. Yes Karen, which is why watching Vera and reading the books are such different experiences.

      Lucy Roberta, you're in for a treat.

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  4. Lucy Roberta, if you liked BIG LITTLE LIES, have a go at TRULY MADLY GUILTY.

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    1. I'm pretty sure I have that in a stack somewhere...

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  5. Generally I like the book better than the movie, because the book is much more detailed. In fact, most of the time I don't see a movie if it's made from a book I've read. A recent exception for me was the movie version of The Shack. I thought the movie was so much better than the book.

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    1. Thanks Chris. I've held off seeing it but maybe I'll put it on my not-so-busy weekend schedule.

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  6. I try to look at movies from books as apples and oranges. I can like both, but they rarely have much in common. I can think of one instance where just about the only thing that was the same was the name of the series character. That was a short lived tv series called Gideon Oliver. For starters they changed Aaron Elkins' physical anthropologist, known as the skeleton detective, into a cultural anthropologist college professor. I do think people tend to prefer the form they in which they first encountered the story, assuming they enjoyed it, but I've also heard that book sales shoot up every time an adaptation airs. I know that's happening right now for Dana Cameron's Site Unseen, another Hallmark movie in which they change quite a bit, including changing the sleuth from married to single. They made major changes to the romantic relationships in the Aurora Teagarden series, too. I get that the books are more complex, but sometimes the decisions producers make seem to be changes for the sake of change. Hmmm. Why does that suddenly remind me of past experiences with certain copy editors?

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    1. The same thing happened with Kathy Reichs's "Bones" series. Tempe Brennan isn't on the spectrum in the books, and has a lot more social ease than the TV show version.

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  7. I watched BLL with my young adult daughter before I read the book. Nicole Kidman nailed her part in the movie, but otherwise I preferred the book. Brenda Blythen owns the character of Vera Stanhope as Alec Guinness owned the character of George Smiley. My hands down favorite is the "Shetland" series which brings Cleeves's Jimmy Perez books to life. It's not just the acting and script, it's the location, weather, and vocal accents. Fabulous.

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  8. If the movie is well done, I enjoy it. But I never read a book if I have seen the movie first.

    As an example, I've never read the Game of Thrones books but love the series. And I know they've changed a lot of stuff from the books.

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  9. As I've said before, my husband is a filmmaker, and the son of a filmmaker before him. An inveterate reader, he was an English major, too. We often discuss how things have been changed, twisted, or trimmed in book to movie efforts.

    Sometimes it's for time constraints. Even as long as Gone With the Wind ended up being, they couldn't fit everything into the movie. Another issue might be the cost of recreating some scene that was conceived in the mind, but would be too epic for a production. Gone With the Wind again: think of that incredible scene of the dead and wounded stretching into the distance. Today, that would have to be CGI, I'm sure.

    And sometimes it's because of the big name person attached to the project, as I mentioned above about Brooke Shields. Think Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum; her hair is the wrong color, and she's too tall, really. Also, they compressed the plots and action of two or three books into one movie. Which was for the best, really, since they screwed it up.

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    1. This is great to have insights from your hub, and you too!

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    2. Karen, as much as I love the Janet Evanovich books, that Heigl movie was just a complete abomination.

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  10. Usually I much prefer the book to the movie but maybe that is because i usually read the book first. There are a couple times when I saw the movie first and then read the book and I preferred the movie. But I recently watched The Light Between Oceans. I really loved that book and it turns out I liked the movie just as much, which surprised me. I have just read A Man Called Ove and I'm not sure I want to see the movie - it might not match the pictures in my head so probably I should wait if I do decide to see it.

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    1. Loved the light between oceans too, Judi, but did not see the movie. Someone told me it was essentially 2 hours of weeping and that didn't sound too appealing. I should see it!

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    2. I thought the movie, A Man Called Ove, was just as good as the book. Give it a while though. I find a little elixir of time lets me forget enough to make the experience new again.

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  11. For me, the absolutely best book-to-film adaptation remains the Harry Potter series. Sure, they couldn't fit everything in, and yes, they added things that weren't in the books--but even those bits seemed inspired by the spirit of the story they were telling. And I think that's when adaptations work best--when the movies are inspired by the story/characters. For example, Karen mentioned 'Bones.' Okay, this is a subject I'm pretty familiar with--having had professors and colleagues who were involved in both the forensic and archaeological sides of murder investigations. Love the books--they absolutely nail the science and do so with great characters, settings, etc. But the TV series might as well have been made up whole-cloth for as much as it resembles the books. Not to say that I haven't enjoyed the series at times--but it took a character's name and occupation and ran with it.

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  12. Here's what I ALWAYS think about. and I lough every time, because I think it's the essence and secret of "book into movie.".
    James Grady's wonderful spy thriller SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR was turned into a movie with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. The movie was titled THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.

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  13. Think of To Kill A Mockingbird. The movie is only TWO of the plots, the Tom Robinson case and Boo Radley's existence. The book, equally wonderful, is a lot more than that.

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  14. And one more thing: You can't have too much internal dialogue. Things have to happen happen happen. Think how much in a book is someone deciding something, or mulling it over, or having a memory, or wrestling with a conscience. How are you going to show that on video? So everything you write has to be cinematic. AS we say it TV, if it's not on video is doesn't exist.

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  15. Sometimes the adaptation is better than the books. For instance, I loved the BBC series "Hamish Macbeth," but found Beaton's books almost unreadable.

    That said, I appreciate it when the film adaptation cares about the readers. I saw the first Harry Potter movie in a theater filled with little kids. The film critics had all complained about how much time the movie spent looking around Hogwarts, but all the kids loved it! The film stuck very close to Rowling's descriptions, and the kids around me were clearly thrilled to see what they had imagined from the page come to life on the screen.

    And then there are those films that, for whatever reason, go their own way, leaving readers of the book puzzled. There was a gap of some years between when I read To Kill A Mockingbird, and when I finally saw the movie, but I came away from the film scratching my head. It seemed like just a loving tribute to Atticus Finch, which was not what I remembered from the book at all. I mean, Atticus was cool, but the book was about Scout, and her introduction to the way the world works. I suppose, if you're a filmmaker with dibs on the big best seller of the decade, and you have Gregory Peck on board to star in it, you make the film about Gregory Peck, not some pre-teen female character who isn't even hot, but dang! I think To Kill a Mockingbird is long overdue for a remake.

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    1. The Chris Columbus Harry Potter movies were so true to the books it was like walking around in what I'd imagined when reading them. I totally loved it, too.

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    2. Gigi, you beat me to the point I came in to make! Actually, I thought this was true not only the BBC version of "Hamish MacBeth," but their version of Beaton's "Agatha Raisin", too. I was always pretty iffy about both series in book form, but I thought they adapted into very watchable TV.

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  16. I'm thinking about the TV adaptation of James Runcie's Grantchester books, which I've been stewing about since the new season started. The books are SO MUCH BETTER! Sidney in the books is kind, thoughtful, reflective, and compassionate. (He also marries the German widow, Hildegard, whom he adores.)

    I do NOT like James Norton as Sidney, no matter how good-looking he is. Sidney comes across as shallow, slightly sleazy, and so passive that I want to strangle him. I'd take lovely Leonard for my priest any day. Of course I would watch Robson Green read the phone book, and Geordie is a bit of a jerk in the books as well. And I will still watch the series, for 50s sets, for Cambridge (since you never seem to actually see Grantchester)and for the marvelous Tessa-Peake Jones as Mrs. Maguire.

    But I'm also listening to the audio version of Sidney Chambers and the Power of Evil, so I don't throw something at the TV.

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    1. Debs, who would you cast as Sidney?

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    2. Not me. I adore James Norton and Robson Green but then I haven't read the books yet. Now I have a dilemma.

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  17. Having taken a year long screenwriting course and worked briefly in Hollywood many years ago, I can tell you that movie scripts are not supposed to be any longer than 120 pages. Romantic comedies are closer to 110. Those numbers are for a feature length film, and keep in mind that those 110 pages have a lot of white space on them. Adapting a book into a movie is an exercise in extreme editing. It's a wonder that any of them are any good!

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  18. Right, length is a huge difference. But then you have all those visuals and sound effects at your disposal which can communicate in a heartbeat what it may take a paragraph to convey.

    Read the original Wizard of Oz... it's basically a journey. The tornado is on page one. The rest of the novel is Dorothy's adventures in various places in Oz. You instantly see how brilliant the movie script is -- adding a back story (the farm, the three farmhands, Agnes Gulch...) none of which is in the book. And then cutting most of the adventures right to the core of Dorothy encountering obstacles to getting home and finally succeeding.

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    1. And the shoes were silver. My hooligans and I still debate why the change.

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    2. Technicolor was a big, big innovation in 1938-39. Silver shoes would have looked fine in black and white, but ruby slippers looked ever so much better in color.

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  19. BIG LITTLE LIES was a great adaptation. Liane's books are all really good and I have heard they are thinking of adapting another one for HBO. Of course, they are also considering a sequel to BLL, which is just such a weird idea. But as long as Liane is involved, I will watch. She says that the show did make her want to revisit the characters, perhaps in a short story.

    If you watch the news on what books Reese Witherspoon has secured the rights to, it's pretty much an excellent reading list. She certainly knows what books will translate well to another medium. And she has the money to put behind them. And she makes sure they all have excellent roles for woman. All good things.

    I suspect some of the changes to BLL was intended to make the show a bit more appealing to male viewers. Things like having the couple go to counseling rather than just the wife, gave a meatier role to the actor. I didn't mind that so much. I actually agree that maybe the miniseries is even better than the novel. This movement towards shorter run shows is nice - more room for development than a movie, but with an end-point in mind.

    Although I do agree with Finta that the Ann Cleeves adaptations, especially Vera, are excellent. But most of them are only inspired by the characters and it's more episodic in nature. The recent adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale is another case where the tv version excels over the novel - again, because the author was involved and made approved changes.

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    1. You remember at the very of BLL, there was an odd action from the detective? I definitely think they were setting up for a sequel. Though it's hard to imagine where they could go with a follow up, as the story was pretty much told.

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  20. Kristopher, I'm watching "Vera" right now and loving it. I also thought "Shetland" was terrific. A lot of liberties were taken there, too, (like making Cassie older) but I think they made the story work better on the screen.

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    1. I almost like "Vera" better on TV than in the books. (Ann Cleeves, please forgive) Brenda Blethyn picked up that ball and really ran with it. Do you know she shops for Vera's clothes herself, hitting street markets and used clothing shops! Ann says Brenda knows more about Vera than she does, including her birthday.

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    2. Is it my imagination or has she gotten less crotchety as the series has progressed? I'm referring to the TV series.

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    3. Yes, Vera has gotten a bit less grumpy, but some of that is developments from the show. I love the Vera books too, but Brenda is just so great. The Shetland books are near and dear to my heart, so I don't think the show comes close to them, but it is very enjoyable. I haven't seen the latest series - which I think is a full season on one case, so that should be interesting. I do have troubles with the accents on that show though.

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    4. After griping about Grantchester, I have to say how much I love both Vera and Shetland. And I also almost like Vera better on TV that in the books. Brenda is so perfect.

      It took me a bit to get used to Doug Henshall as Jimmy Perez, but the series is just brilliant.

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  21. This goes back a few (!) years. When I heard they were making a movie of 84 Charing Cross Road, I simply said, Good luck with that; it's all letters.

    Well. It was Just. Wonderful. Still is.

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  22. Aliasme, You won yesterday's Meg Gardiner giveaway! Send me your mailing address at Ingrid@ingridthoft.com.

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  23. Lucy,

    In the old days Before movies were accessible on TV and in the theaters (subtitles on TV and rear window captioning in the theaters), I used to read the book Before I saw the movie. Sometimes the movie was so different from the book that when I saw the movie, it was Harder to follow the story. LOL

    Now I prefer books to movies. However, some books like Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries is really difficult for me to read (e.g. confusing the stories, confusing the characters, some sentences are vague). For me, the movie version makes it a little easier. The stories are sometimes confusing, though I follow the stories better after I see the movies again and again.

    Since I love cozy mysteries, some of the cozy mysteries have been adapted for Hallmark Channel. Usually I have not read the book before seeing the movie.

    Once in a while you see a movie that is faithful to the book.

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    1. You're right--sometimes the movie version is so different, it's hard to recognize the book.

      Hallie, if you stop back over this afternoon, let us know what you thought about the movie adaptation of NEVER TELL A LIE?

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  24. I see books and movies as fraternal twins; from the same creator but different. I don't enjoy when the ending changes. When written becomes a visual I sometimes find inner dissonance -- Flukes' Hannah has RED Hair.. give the actress a wig.. it depends on the skill of the movie maker and the level of persnicketyness in Coralee on any given day.

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    1. Oh, that sounds like a title: THE PERSNICKETYNESS OF CORALEE!

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  25. I am usually a stickler for reading a book before seeing the movie, and there are some books-to-movies that I won't see because I loved the book too much and know it's been changed for the big screen. I think the Harry Potter books are probably the best books-to-movies that I've seen. The movies were magic and conveyed the spirit of the books to the letter. Another favorite adaptation is The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I actually liked the movie a bit more than the book. Another of Fowler's books, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is one of my unexpected favorite books, and I'd be interested in how they could bring that one to movie format.

    Another of my favorite books is The Good German by Joseph Kanon, and I adamantly refused to see the butchering of that book in the movie. Even having George Clooney and Cate Blanchett wasn't enough to get me there.

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    1. Kathy, you're reminding me that I must read those books by Karen Joy Fowler!

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    2. Lucy, I think she really comes into her brilliance with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

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  26. I've resolved to see the book and the film as two different things. However, I have very much enjoyed the TV series based on books by Anne Cleeves. They seem very true to the books.

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  27. Oh, I just thought of "A Beautiful Death". Such a good book and I can see it being a great movie. Hope someone is working on that.

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  28. By the way, if you all think it is hard to deal with a book being made into a movie and what gets cut, try dealing with when they make a comic book movie which usually has stories that start in the 60's (or earlier if you are making a DC Comics based movie) and a fanbase that is obsessive over ever single storyline that has EVER been written featuring said character.

    I remember when they made the (admittedly BAD) Elektra movie starring Jennifer Garner, the second they revealed what her costume was going to be, the Nerds lost their ever loving mind because it wasn't her regular costume from the comics. Keep in mind that the costume in the comics isn't humanly possible to wear in the real world. Garner's comment about the discrepancy was, "Sorry, I'm a superhero who wears panties."

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    1. so funny--that's a different world for most of us...

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  29. Aw, gees, I watched the HBO series and loved it - but wait, what? The ending was different? Dang it, now I have to read the book. Obviously, not a hardship but still...why do they change things. It can be maddening!

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    1. it's not unrelated, it's just different enough and I'd seen the series and read the book in close proximity, so I noticed a lot of little changes.

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  30. It does not make a difference to me if I see the movie or read the book first, because the book is always better than the movie.

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