|Photo found here|
book and movie side-by-side.
If I'm going to read a book and see the movie, I'll always read the book first. I've found that doing it the other way around gets images stuck in my head so I can't appreciate the book's subtler parts, and sometimes it confuses me.
Silver Linings Playbook has to be the first time I've liked a movie better than the book, full stop. It's not that it was a bad book. It was partly the strength of the actors, one of whom won an Oscar for her portrayal. Mostly, though, it was that the movie shifted the focus to external forces, rather than letting me wonder the whole time what was wrong with the narrator. Mysteries that drive the narrative in the book are stated outright in the movie, making it an enjoyable experience even for those familiar with the story. There were a lot of changes, but they all made sense for the movie's framework.
Another movie that accomplishes this is Stardust. I enjoyed the movie, but I have to view it separately from the book. They're different entities. The book is whimsical and sweet and understated, while the movie is funny and sweet and adventurous. I liked the bittersweet ending to the book, but would have been disappointed to see that happen to the movie characters. I can't say I like the movie better than the book, because I have to qualify it.
The Last Unicorn, The Neverending Story, and Princess Bride were all a part of my childhood, and I'd seen the movies long before picking up the books. I wound up liking the books better for The Last Unicorn and The Neverending Story, and I found The Princess Bride book to be indistinguishable from the movie, and so a tie.
I could list the examples where the changes between the book and movie infuriated me, or where I felt disappointed, or where I declared the movie didn't exist. But, you don't have all week.
I find that movies must, by their very nature, simplify inner monologues and leave character motivation implied. Action has to be moved to an external source, and revelations must be bigger. Movies have a tighter time frame to work in, so subplots and entire characters are often cut. (Oddly, Silver Linings Playbook added characters, and expanded the roles of some while compressing the time frame.) Sometimes, those cuts and changes lead simply to a different story, not an inferior or superior one, as discussed above. Most of the time, though, I find the movie oversimplified and lacking in everything I liked about the book.
A criticism I heard fairly often last year of The Hunger Games movie was that it was impossible to follow if one hadn't read the books. Having read all three books, I don't know if that's the case, but I'd be interested to hear from those who've only seen the movie. I'm also interested to know if you've ever watched a movie after reading a book, and wound up liking the book more. So, please, comment below if something comes to mind.