It’s true, I don’t really watch films very often. Name a film that “everybody” has seen, and the odds will be that I haven’t seen it, and I have no wish to see it. Same with TV series – I have never seen any episodes of many series that “everyone” has seen – Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, etc.
I was asked why this was, when I read books (and write them as well!). I didn’t have an obvious answer at the time, but I think I have some answers now.
On-screen dialogue is often weaker than written
This often refers to the “film of the book”. A book can use more dialogue with a more complex structure than a film. Written dialogue in a novel is often more complex and less true to the way in which people actually talk than film or TV dialogue. This (a) provides a much deeper understanding of the character, and (b) the reader is able to revisit the conversation later on in the story to determine exactly what was meant by a character’s words.
I can put a book down and come back to it
I can’t do the same with films. Once a film has started, I become emotionally invested in it, and stopping or pausing breaks the flow. There aren’t many occasions when I have a couple of uninterrupted hours to lose myself in a film – but occasionally my wife and I will agree on something that we both want to watch all the way through. Not many of them, though.
I lose interest in films or series
With a few exceptions, series don’t hold my attention past four or five episodes. This may just be me, of course. Recently there have been a few exceptions – mostly catch-up on series I missed while I was out of the UK (I’ve subscribed to Britbox to pick up some references, though): the first series of Line of Duty; all of The Thick of It that I could find; and a lot of the first three series of Hustle. I loved the characters and the plotting of Hustle, Line of Duty because of great acting and plotting (though I’ve felt no wish to see any further series), and The Thick of It because I sort of identify with Malcolm Tucker, and I love this sort of politics. The US House of Cards and Veep didn’t do it for me, though and Borgen lost me after about two series.
There are a few others that I saw all the way through, but they tended to be based on real life situations: Inventing Anna, and Queen’s Gambit come to mind. Some time I will get round to the UK House of Cards, but I don’t really feel an urgent need to do so. And this brings me to another reason why I don’t watch films.
Films now are crap
I have zero or less than zero interest in Marvel or DC franchise films. I’ve seen two on plane journeys. That’s two too many (and one was Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange). This seems to be half of the recent Hollywood releases. The other half are remakes of older films or “movies of the book” (see below). There are exceptions to this, of course, but they’re not subjects that appeal to me from their description, though I might actually enjoy them if I was dragged in to watch them.
I can watch a series of documentaries on the SAS, but the recent fictionalisation on BBC is basically military porn. Forget it, and the majority of formulaic crime series. And I really can’t be bothered to get into 30 years of missed backstory of Doctor Who, excellent though it may be.
The BBC SHERLOCK? Loved the first series, liked the second a lot, thought the third was crap and never bothered with the fourth.
The film of the book
“If you can sit and read a book, how is that different from watching a film of the book?” There’s no comparison. Part of the joy of reading a book for me is imagining the scenes and the characters. Even if they are minutely described in the book, they never match the film versions exactly. Description is part of a book’s appeal. There is no description in a film – the scene is handed to you on a plate, and there’s no room for imagination. Dialogue (see above) is often dumbed down, and the witty lines made in passing are highlighted so that you won’t miss them.
Two exceptions to screen versions of books: The McEwan/Scales/Hawthorne Mapp and Lucia. It’s not accurate in plotting, but the characterisation is lovely, and; the Granada/Brett Sherlock Holmes, which again fools with the plots, but the characterisation is wonderful. So perhaps it’s the lack of characterisation or the lack of fidelity to the written characters on screen versions that turns me off.
Interesting exception – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – the TV series took a few liberties with the plot (how could it not?) but at the same time, actually expanded the character of Mr Norrell, and made Jonathan Strange a more rounded figure in many ways. However, the Gentleman failed to impress, and of course, the whole business of the Raven King and the massive footnotes that make the book such a joy for me were necessarily lost. Also Good Omens (see my review here).
So… I’m not stretched enough by screen adaptations, with very few exceptions. Reading a book for me is an active experience – films and TV are passive. Is this Marshall McLuhan’s “hot” and “cool” media? I think so.
A lot of (most?) people will disagree with me on most or even all of what I am saying. However, when I say I haven’t seen such-and-such a film or TV show, there are reasons that I believe to be valid why I haven’t done so. It’s not a value judgement on the production, or even on the medium, but a personal choice.