I am a fan of both films and literature for different reasons. Still, there is nothing like a good novel. Books have the ability to help you truly escape. There have been times when I finish an awesome book and I find myself wanting to read more about the characters within its pages. With books, authors are given the opportunity to be more elaborate in their descriptions of settings and characters. They go into detail about places and events. There is no rush. If a flashback takes five pages, it's no big deal. If you miss something, turn back and read it again. Reading a book is like listening to a friend tell you a piece of juicy gossip. Watching a movie is like eavesdropping on a conversation that you aren't supposed to be privy to.
I agree, movies are fine, as are plays, but reading a book gives you more detail, and you can pause any time you like to digest it a bit or look something else up. The only thing I would add is movies "based on an actual event" or historical occurence are better passed up in favor of books. For instance, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a great movie, and more entertaining than the book. But it is quite different than the actual events, which are recounted in the novel. In a similar vein is the Crucible, one of the best of post-war stage productions, but not historically accurate.
Since dramas are written with the purpose of being performed, they seem best suited to film. And, it is delightful--and amazing at times--to watch a character come alive in the person of a talented, skilled actor. Moreover, viewing dramas seems a must as the interactions of actors on a stage and audience create certain ambiances.
However, regarding novels, there is a certain magic that is lost when one watches most film versions as posts #1 and #4 have mentioned. There definitely is something to cradling a novel and transporting oneself into a setting as the imagination enters the world of a work of fiction. Indeed, Emily Dickinson was succinct in her lines "There is no frigate like a book/To take us lands away...."
I'm a book fan first, but a good movie is art too.
Both books and films can utilize themes, symbols, foreshadowing, etc. You can "read" a film or interpret it using many of the same tools you use in literary studies. For instance, in Psycho (which is a really rich film, actually!), you might think about the symbolic implications of the stuffed animals surrounding Norman Bates. Much like you may wonder why a literary author begins a text a certain way, you can analyze shots and scenes in cinematic texts. How are the characters filmed? (Does the camera look up or down at the character?) How is the character situated in comparison to the landscape (for instance, Westerns often have longshots of the frontier, emphasizing the dominance of the land).
Another thing to keep in mind is that while texts have essentially one author (with some strong editors in the background), most films are the results of many "voices": the director, the cinematographer, the producer, the screenwriter, the actors. There may be a dominant "voice" in the cause of auteurs (Hitchcock, Capra), but still, the overall vision is ultimately more spread out than it would be with a written text.
I think the time issue matter too--films are generally 1.5-2.5 hours. The story needs to be resolved in that time. Novels don't have that limitation and it affects the way the story can be told.
I do think that while you can use some of the same tools for interpreting film as interpreting literature, they are very different media in some respects. Like many on here, I'd rather read than view, but that doesn't make film-viewing necessarily passive. I taught a whole course on Coen brothers' films, and my students watched and rewatched the films and did "close readings" of many of the scenes.
I think in general they are complementary but not interchangeable media. You can't replace a novel with the film version--they are essentially different "texts." But it can be fun to compare them!
I think this depends on whether or not I've read the book first. Of course, there are great movies out there...I love the Harry Potter movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. (it's amazing what they can do with special effects and computer graphics these days); there is definitely something to be said for the movie experience. It's fun, it's a wow! factor, and it's fast (good if you've got a finite amount of time for entertainment, but NEVER an adequate substitute for reading the book itself).
However, the book is always going to be a million times better. In the reading experience, I can picture and relate to characters in my own mind--I loathe watching a movie where the character looks and acts completely differently than I pictured him/her in the book. I like to take my time reading, too. This is so I can mull over what the author is telling me (reading actively is a conversation between the author and the reader. I want to understand completely the message I'm receiving. I want to connect it to things I already know from other books, movies, songs, TV, and personal experiences). I am often disappointed when a good book ends...it's like losing a good friend. And, if the book happens to be one in a series, it is TORTURE waiting for the next book to be written.
In the end, both are enjoyable hobbies, but I would choose reading over viewing any time. I own the book. The descriptions, characters, situations are envisioned in my mind the way I see them. The movie experience, while enjoyable, is the lazy-man's way out...it's all done for you, and so much that is in the book is left out because the director is rarely able to fit it all in the neat little 2-hour package of a movie. Relatively little thinking is going on about the text itself...you simply wait for the plot to unfold exactly as the director envisions it. He does the work for you, and that work is half the fun.
Although I would generally agree with linda-allen, I do enjoy watching movies about some famous books, asking why the director/actors decided to do it "that way" and then asking how I would have done it; the film version of "1984" is a good example of a movie I do this with. To me it's something like watching a play. The text of a play isn't the same as a novel; it's not an end in itself, but the raw material (complete with some amount of "direction" built it) that the performance is going to be based on. Watching different directors go from the text to the stage is an interesting experience. In a recent college class, the students and I watched two versions of "Death of a Salesman" --- the older with Lee J. Cobb, and the newer version with Dustin Hoffman. Although the overall impact is about the same, it was interesting to discuss what was included in one and not the other, why the set was set up the way it was on each set, etc. It was a good springboard for discussing the role of the author and the many choices that we, as readers, get to enjoy and think about.
So I would say that the different media are just that --- different, not in a vertical sense, but a horizontal one. Select the one that you like better in an individual setting and enjoy!
This topic should be on the discussion board.
Watching a movie cannot compare to reading a book. When I watch a movie, I see what the director wants me to see. I hear the characters' voices through actors' interpretations of their lines. I see landscapes and buildings through a set designer's imagination. When I read, I see the world of the book. I decide what the characters look like and sound like. I determine how to interpret what they say. It's the best kind of "movie" you can have!