How many movies have you watched after you read the book? I would wager in almost every case, indeed every case I can think of, a good bit of pruning happened. The plot was shortened, characters were removed, or conflict was reduced.
Take for example the Harry Potter movies. As we know, the later books are very long and very rich. To make the films, they were pruned significantly. This article shows some of the items that were left out.
So if a picture is worth a thousand words, and a two-hour movie has about 216 thousand frames or “pictures,” how can the entire contents of a book not be represented? A movie should allow the representation of 216 million words. A typical novel has 80 to 200 thousand words.
One could argue that making the film is an opportunity to trim out the boring parts of the book, or that certain scenes don’t translate well to visual media. A director might be making a complex subject more approachable to the audience. Or the special effects budget wouldn’t allow for an expensive scene. Sometimes these are valid reasons, but if the reason is “we can represent more information in a shorter timespan in a movie compared to reading the book,” I would argue this is false. It never seems to be the case.
I have said it before that your brain’s ability to conjure a visual image, and fill in the gaps left vacant by the author, works faster than a movie projector and has infinite depth. There is no way an image shown on a screen can compete with what you can do on your own.
The Lost Senses
Let’s say the author writes, “the blooming flowers filled the air with the freshness of spring,” or, “the flavor of the apple pie reminded her of her grandmother’s cooking, tart and sweet at the same time.” How do you show this? The point is, three other senses are not represented visually or audibly that can be described in a book. So, awareness of the environment is lost in translation when going to film.
Recently I treated myself to an HTC Vive and must say I am blown away by the experience of Virtual Reality. Looking around, and having stuff happen behind you, takes entertainment to a whole new level of immersion. If you have not tried it, I cannot recommend it enough.
But as good as it is, something is still missing. It’s not a complete experience. It's not the end game. To get that, we need something that generates smells and a suit that can apply pressures to our skin. And we need a way to not run into walls. I believe these options are being worked on, and I am not complaining, but I can’t wait. Actually, I want the holodeck, but… baby steps.
So a book cannot generate any of these senses, but they all get equal weight when giving you cues to conjure up a mental representation of them. Nothing can compete with imagination, and although a picture may be worth a thousand words, they are not the best words.