The book is so much better than the film!

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog lately. After spending much of my writing time editing and proofreading A Tale in Few Words (available to pre-order on Kindle now ready for launch day on the 31st March), I am now busy promoting it online, while taking a little break from writing anything new. As well as the usual work and DIY at home, I have been trying to read a little more, and once I get myself wrapped up in a good book there is little time for anything else.

The aforementioned work has also felt busier in the last week or so. I have needed to go into the office or on visits to assess people more in the last week than I have done in the last month. I suspect the lockdown is starting to take its toll on some of my patients who are struggling with the ongoing restrictions, while provisions to support them in the community remain woefully limited. It has been a busy time, and I am certainly looking forward to both my book’s release in a couple of weeks, and a few days off for Easter after that.

Even though I sound mostly doom and gloom at the moment, life is not all bad. One particular perk of needing to drive to visits is I get to spend more time listening to my latest audiobook choice. I have written before about my new found love of audiobooks, and as I wrote then, the pace I have been listening to them has slowed greatly.

I am currently working through a collection of 10 Penguin classics, including Frankenstein (as mentioned in my previous post), Northanger Abbey, Great Expectations and War and Peace. I chose the collection as regrettably I have only read one of these classic works (Great Expectations was a set text at school) so decided my time in the car could be best used to expand my repertoire of books read. Some books I have loved (Frankenstein), some not so much (what is the point of Northanger Abbey?) and I have four left to read after my current choice, Oliver Twist.

While I had never read Oliver Twist, I was well aware of the broad outline of the story through several viewings of Oliver! the musical. I really hate the film, but as my family are musical fans, have watched it more times than I would like. Don’t get me wrong, I love musicals too, Les Miserable for example I would watch over and over, but Oliver! really grates on my. For the annoyingly repetitive songs to the wooden acting, if I never have to see the film again I would be a very happy man.

Having listened to most of the audiobook reading of Oliver Twist (I have no more than half an hour to go on a 6 hour book), I now have another reason to hate the film; the book is just so much better.

I am aware filmmakers (or in this case originally the person writing the script for the musical I dispose) have to make creative choices on what to include and what to miss out when adapting a book to stage or screen, but they seem to have made all the wrong choices when it comes to Oliver Twist. The book is darker and with a much richer plot than the film, and the characters are just the more rounded and devious. There are problems with the book, the horrifically anti-Semitic character of Fagin stands out in this regard (something I believe the deliberately changed to make him more of a comic character), but even so, the book beats the film hands down.

It got me thinking during my last drive about the often mentioned belief that the book is always better than the film it is adapted into. I can certainly think of examples I have seen and read myself (the Harry Potter series stands out here) and there are only a few examples when the opposite is true (I know for some the Lord of the Rings trilogy are better than the at times dense books). Can it be true that the book vastly outperforms the film adaption save for the rare exception?

Thankfully, as is often the case, statistics comes to the rescue here to answer the question for us. A couple of years ago Numberphile (a YouTube channel exploring mathematics) and Hannah Fry (a mathematician) helpfully produced a video to attempt to answer this very question. I would strongly recommend watching the video (and all the Numberphile videos if you have time) as it explains the statistics much better than I could, but briefly it may appear books are better than the films made about them because of Berkson’s Paradox.

Simply put, when considering the quality of books and their respective films, you are only considering a small selection of books and films which exist, typically good films and good books, and this appears to skew the data to make it appear that the better the book, the worse the film. As they show in the video, when you apply a statistical technique called a Z-Score to give you a better impression of the data, and when you do this, well if anything there is a positive trend. The better the book, the better the film and vice versa (though to be clear the correlation is weak at best).

While it may appear that on the whole a book is better than the film adaption, statistically speaking, if anything the opposite is true. Good books make good films, and bad books are never made into films in the first place.

And so having rewatched this video with Dr Fry explaining the statistics behind the correlation between books and films and why the view of the world we have is skewed by limited data, have I changed my opinion of Oliver! like any good scientist should when confronted with the data?

No, of course I haven’t. It’s a terrible film and should be avoided at all costs, while the book is brilliant and should be on everyone’s to be read pile. After all, there are always exceptions to the rule…

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