Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cinema over Literature: The Ultimate Medium

In the battle of cinema versus literature, cinema is the ultimate medium of human desire.  Why?  We are psychologically drawn to realism.  When people read a book, they are creating a movie with their imagination.  The fact that film adaptations of books are grossly more popular than novelizations of movies proves the greater desire.  This does not mean literature is absolutely superior in every single case.  There are other reasons for the preference, but I believe they are lesser.  Film is the furthest degree we can now take storytelling.

The human mind seems to be innately drawn towards empirical realism.  Why is it that many, if not most people, hate modern art?  It's usually because it is too abstract for their taste.  As a general rule that certainly does not describe everyone, the less a work looks like the empirical world, the more people don't like it.  By this standard, film is the ultimate medium that we currently have for storytelling.

Which of these paintings do you honestly prefer?

What do people do when they read a book?  Generally, they read the words and use their imagination to create an image in their minds using those words.  One could mostly say they are creating a movie in their minds.  Having an actual movie cuts to the chase and removes levels of abstraction.  When I read a book, I'm essentially creating a movie of sorts in my mind's eye.  While the imagination can in many cases do grander things than a movie, it can not put these images in front of my real eye.

To give an example of my point, how many times have you read a book and thought, "I would love to see a movie of this"?  Maybe you were curious how they would go about it.  On the other hand, how many times have you watched an original movie and said "I wonder what this would be like on the page?"  If the book came first, one may very well be interested due to the fact that the book is the original material, but novelizations of movies are generally only popular with very popular movies and even then, one would have to be a very diehard fan to read it.  I've also never heard of a novelization of an original movie achieving serious critical acclaim.  The movie is the furthest point.  It is the ultimate medium.  To make something a book is a downgrade.

Does this mean film is automatically superior in all cases?  No.  The ultimate medium and the best medium are not necessarily the same.  This has to be judged on a case by case basis.  Depending on the content, literature may be the better medium.  Writing is certainly better when the realm of storytelling is left and the purely intellectual realm is embraced.  This is because images usually add very little to abstract thought.

Are there other reasons that people prefer film?  Sure.  The most obvious is that it is so much easier to watch a movie than to read a book.  Perhaps the book reader's desire for a movie is just to have the story they enjoy on the easiest medium.

I would add that the impulse to want our stories in the most literal medium possible has also led to a whole lot of live action remakes of animated movies, despite the special magic and capabilities of animation.  Rarely does this go the other way either.  Perhaps VR will turn out to be the ultimate medium.

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