Here’s a quick blog brought on by a workplace discussion about Game Of Thrones, and my holding out on the books until I’ve fully seen the show, and my propensity towards watching the film before reading the book.
I don’t know how common this is, but I have a fairly visual imagination. Make a joke about a coworker’s privates or mention that particular video involving a jam jar, and my horrible horrible brain will throw pictures of it at me. It’s a double edged sword for writing, since seeing everything so clearly makes for easy scene setting, but also limits me in recalling just how much of the scene I’ve actually set.
No matter how much a film differs from the book it rips off, watching the film first will always colour your reading of the book with images grabbed from the screen. Which is fine. You’ve been given a set of premade visual puppets to work with, even if the book does make them dance to a slightly different tune or story than the one you’re familiar with, or fleshes them out a little more.
If you read the book first, you make the characters first. Sure there’s guidelines in the text but ultimately its your own visual imagination that paint their faces and gait, deciding upon their most likely expressions and mannerisms. Maybe you’re told that they smile or scratch themselves, but you set the framework for those actions, and decide how they scratch or smile.
Along comes the film and suddenly what you have in your head is at odds with what you’re seeing. That isn’t Edward Rochester, it’s Orson Welles. That isn’t Anton Gorodetsky, it’s Konstantin Khabenskiy. You’re not watching the text, you’re watching a film interpretation of the text, populated with actors and props and budgets and limited suspension of disbelief that steadily pisses you off and alienates you. When I pick a fight with a text I want it to be for mature and thought out reasons, not because a character “doesn’t look right”.
There are exceptions. Intentionally one dimensional nobodies like Neuromancer’s Henry Dorsett Case can be played by anyone, as can anyone whose characterisation is more about their actions or feelings than how they appear to themselves or others.
My most obvious ignorance of my rule of thumb was to rapidly consume the Harry Potter books before exposing myself to each of the films, an exception I find mainly excusable because of the very loose relationship the films seem to have with the books, be it for marketability, dumbing down, or trying to put David Tennant’s face into as many things as possible.