First Impressions

“The book was better than the movie.”

“You have to watch it in the original language. The english dub is painful.”

“The original version is by far the best.”

My wife and I saw The Hunger Games yesterday after she plowed through the book the day before. While we disagreed on some of the finer points, we generally agreed that the movie fell short of the book, that key moments, details and events were left out. While movies are oftened accused of not being as good as their source material, watching this particular movie brought up two points that I thought were worth sharing.

1) You’ll always think the first thing you saw/read/heard is the best version

For me this comes up all the time in Anime. While generally speaking I try to watch all anime shows in their original language, there are a number that for one reason or another I saw in English first. For me Hellsing sounds terrible in Japanese, as do Akira, Steamboy (I mean who’s better than Patrick Stewrat) and Metropolis. Conversely, the english adaptions of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bleach and Trigun are painful to listen to (particularly Trigun). I think one of the main reasons for this is that moment when we form our impression of the character, what they look like and how they sound.

In The Hunger Games I listened to the audio book rather than reading which gave me some very set preceptions of how names were pronounced and how certain characters sounded. In particularly Effie (played by Elizabeth Banks in the movie) has a much more exaggerated affectation in the audiobook, and I found Banks to be too subdued (though kudos to her for sitting through makeup that would make Mrs. Slocomb faint).

A kind of exception to this rule for me was Watchmen. Though I find the graphic novel to have a much richer amount of background material, due to the way it was published, I liked the movie ending better, despite having read the graphic novel months before. The movie ending pins the destruction of the world on one the main characters and not on some manufactured evil brought in from seemingly nowhere. The graphic novel is like a mystery where the murderer is introduced only in the last few pages, rather than in the first 20% of the book. In the movie we meet our murderer up front, have time to suspect them and others.

But I digress.

I formed a lot of my impressions of The Hunger Games from the audiobook, a form of reading that is often more practical for me since I can listen to audiobooks at work. Reading in this fashion does have some downsides however which may have colored my perception of some characters.

2) Audiobooks choose what points to emphasize rather than letting you decide where to place emphasis

More than just the affectations of Effie, the audiobook shaped my impressions of some of the main characters particularly Peeta and Katniss. I didn’t really like either of these characters at first. I found Katniss to be cold, to suspicious of people around her, and at times very flightly and indecisive. I found Peeta’s love from afar to be far from believeable, and found Katniss’ references to him as “the boy with bread” to be distracting. (I don’t want to give people the impression I didn’t like the book because I actually did overall).

Audiobooks are a performance like any other and I didn’t realize until I saw that the movie how much of my feelings about these characters was colored by that performance. Seeing the movie, even with its faults, made me much more sympathetic of Katniss and much more believing in Peeta’s love and overall charming and noble nature. Even before the movie however, I was softening on both of these characters as I read (this time on the Kindle) the second book. While we may have a preference for the first way we encounter something, this does not mean we can’t learn or change our views by seeing other versions.

I still stand by my standard axiom, read/see/hear whatever came first then see what came next, but I think it’s important to recognize how we bias our opinions of what’s to come.

What do you guys think? Is there always a “best” way to see something, or is it subjective?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “First Impressions

  1. Chuck Conover

    I am with you on this – I think that (mainly) it is sujective.

    Take Dances with wolves. Regardless of what you think of Costner, this is a visually stunning movie and it goes a great job of telling the story. It is very faithful to the book, which I read after. I find I like the movie better.

    Another Costner epic – the Postman. Despite the fact this movie lost money at the box office and was panned by every major critic, I liked the movie. So I found the book and read it. Not even close. But I think the major issue is that the movie and the book diverge on major plot points. The book is a story defined by the time in which is was written. In many ways the movie was a simpler story, and as such, easier to get involved with.

  2. With Hunger Games, I read the book first and then saw the movie. I actually liked the movie better, but I think I’m in the minority there.

    I also liked Contact much better as a movie than as a book, but in that case I saw the movie first (at least twice).

    • I felt like the movie, while not being as good as the book, helped me to care about some of the book’s characters more. As I said earlier, it might be one of the quirks of how I read the first book, but I’m not sure. Never seen Contact, but another one I was thinking about from the early 90s was Jurassic Park. I like both book and movie the same, but probably because their plotlines become wildly divergent (it’s almost like two completely different things).

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