Guest Blogger Cameron Lincoln: The Great Debate — Book vs. Film

Guest Blogger Cameron Lincoln: The Great Debate — Book vs. Film

This week’s contributor for the Summer Blog Takeover is someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing as both a fan of his work and a friend for over two years, and he is my second guest to make a return visit as guest blogger. One of the first things I learned about author and poet Cameron Lincoln after we had our first marathon conversation was that this was no ordinary movie fan. He was as gushy a geek about film as me, and that was truly saying something. But upon learning he was also a former film student, that explained so many of his keen observations and I quickly learned he was a much more sophisticated moviegoer than me and saw far more of the subtle nuances of filmmaking than I ever did.


With that said, I give you the clever and witty Cameron Lincoln as he dissects that age-old question “Which is better – the book or the film?’ His answer might surprise you, and whether or not you agree with his perspective, you are sure to be intrigued and enlightened. Oh, and don’t forget afterward to scroll under his guest blog for links to where you can connect with Cameron and his work further!


Lights…camera…action! ~ Chris


 The Great Debate — Book vs. Film by Cameron Lincoln


My summer mission to catch up on my staggering to-read and to-watch backlog is proceeding reasonably well, and I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir.  This is a book masterfully designed as a page turner, throwing its protagonist into a desperate situation – stranded on the surface of Mars during a botched NASA mission–and following him through the turmoil of survival. It is whiplash-paced, tense, realistic (I’m guessing, since I’ve never been stranded on Mars, though it’s on my bucket list, right before liberate Mars from a fascist techno-government) and has a wonderful sense of humour to make its hero, Mark Watney, someone to really root for.


Immediately upon finishing, I watched the trailer for the upcoming adaptation, directed by Ridley Scott.  I’d put off checking it out because I didn’t want it colouring my imaginings of the book. I was delighted to see what appears to be a worthy adaptation.  That tone is there.  There are the familiar scenarios I’ve just read about.  There’s the ratcheting tension.  There’s Mark Watney, as I pictured him, being snarky and fearless against overwhelming odds.  And there, thanks to Mr. Scott, is tremendously beautiful imagery.


It got me thinking about adaptations of books, and particularly that withering mantra so often clung to by readers as tightly as the tomes they adore: “The book was better.”


Hear that?  That’s the sound of my interest in any potential discussion sauntering off to look at dandelions.  “The book was better”, as an opening conversational gambit isn’t “I’m not sexist, but…”, but its about as likely to render a meaningful and open-minded discourse.


A film is not a book in the same way a song is not a painting.  They are entirely different media and art forms, pulling together a different set of components to build different structures, but both with the intent to produce something that will have an emotional effect on those who consume it.  A book isn’t better, or worse, than a film, in the same way that your most beloved song isn’t less special than that painting that makes your heart soar.  Its DNA is different.  It appeals to different sensibilities, using different techniques and cues.


Films, largely, are constructed with a tried and tested three-act structure.  Their twists and reveals often occur at specific points in the structure.  Our hero encounters that great trouble, that inciting incident, within fifteen minutes or we’re bored.  The midway point should reveal something new that changes the nature of his journey, and sets him up for the final act.  A descent into the darkness, perhaps, and a triumphant rise.  A novel, while telling a similar overarching story, is different.  Its path can divert far more easily.  We can get into their heads via long monologues that would be leaden on screen.  We can cover past, present and future in a way that a movie flashback may render trite.


A more appropriate argument than “the book was better” would be, “the book had a different effect on me, because…”  Then I’m hooked.  I’m in this discussion for the long haul.  If that different effect was pure loathing, that’s fine. This is not to say there aren’t terrible adaptations of great books.  Boy, are there. I adore the book I Am Legend.  I do not adore the adaptation of I Am Legend with Will Smith.  Or The Omega Man with Charlton Heston before it.  But I do like certain things in each of those films, whether they’re lifted from the book or not (psychic butterfly mages and philosophising sunglasses-wearing albinos are not amongst those certain things).  I strongly dislike more things than I do like. But I’d never simply throw out “the book is better” because it’s comparing different things entirely, different experiences, and it’s reconciling the two versions of me that consumed those texts at different times.


How is The Martian going to be different to the book? I can only guess based on the trailer, a maligned, murky and marvellous marketing medium unto itself, but it seems it will be different in all the ways it can and should be different.


The book’s writing style bears similarities to a screenplay; short, sharp chapters, smash cuts to action millions of miles away in the turn of the page, and a brevity of description, in terms of character and locations, to keep the pace going. First person accounts are translated to to-the-camera video logs, which make perfect visual sense, because a man typing ain’t all that cinematic.


There are very few interpersonal relationships in the book, because we spend the vast majority of our time with Watney alone on Mars.  Messages to the crew are limited; they’re all specialists in their individual fields, because the plot requires them to be, but they’re not incredibly fleshed out characters.  Likewise, the NASA team back on Earth are just names, barely sketched. Here, the interpretation of performance will be paramount to making relatively one-note characters become a little more 3D.  Having the gifts of Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean in your cast isn’t going to hurt your chances at all.


Watney refers to his parents once or twice in the book, but the adaptation looks to give him a wife and child back home, thanks to a stroking-of-a-photograph.  There’s an emotional hook the book doesn’t have, which I will root for immediately.  I did not mind that it was absent in the book, but I love that it’s there in the film.  It’s fleshing out themes of love and friendship.  Even the curmudgeonly cynic here loves a bit of that. The Martian is a book rich in tension but light on emotion and subtext.  Its summation comes in the final paragraph of the book, which happens to be, more or less word for word, the opening monologue of the trailer, so the focus here seems to be the emotion, the theme, right alongside the grit and toil of survival.


I’m interested.  I want to see this story told in this medium as well as it was told in the book.  Neither will be superior, and both will be valid, in their own ways.  Dismissing an adaptation of any book, simply because it isn’t the book, is the laziness of a lofty elitism.  Dig deeper.  Prose and film are incredibly subjective art forms derived from the most objective of signs and symbols, be it words ordered on the page, or the quantifiable miseen scene upon the screen.  A disappointing movie adaptation of a favourite book should never change the book for you; though the two may colour one another, one’s weaknesses should only strength your love for the other.


We are not hermetically sealed, stranded on a lonely planet, and we’re way better than limiting an argument to four dismissive words.  We bring our baggage, our loves and our losses, our parades of jesters and demons when we absorb any piece of art.  The facts of what we read and see become our own wonderful, subjective and unique stories. Precisely as it should be.


So what are your worthy adaptations?  What have you loved, and what have you disliked, and why?




CameronLincoln_smallerCameron Lincoln is an author and poet who has stretched his talents across genres and literary formats, from romantic erotica to fantasy, from novels and anthologies to poetry. His voice has resonated with  contemporary romance and erotica audiences in works like Holiday Heat and Perfect Pleasures: An Anthology of Romantic Erotica. His poetry collection Mine: Body & Soul was an exciting milestone for the author, becoming an Amazon #1 bestseller on its first day of publication. Cameron lives in England where he is working on his latest literary endeavor, The Mayfly, an urban fantasy novel. Connect with Cameron on Twitter at @Cameron_Lincoln, on Facebook, and at Cameron’s website.



  1. Guestblog for Chris Kuhn: The Great Debate – Book Vs Film | Cameron Lincoln - […] Read the full blog over at Chris Kuhn’s website here. […]

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