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Images or Words--is one superior?
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loki74
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Dec 29, 2007, 02:13 AM
 
Earlier today, I had an interesting discussion with an acquaintance of mine. This discussion took many strange turns, but the one I'm concerned with in this thread came about by my statement that video games have quite a bit of potential as storytelling devices, which remains untapped because of the overwhelming popularity of MMOs, FPSs, etc, as compared to the relatively miniscule popularity story-heavy, character centric video games enjoy. By extension (and this is the main question I'm getting at), I also asserted that as storytelling devices, books, movies, and video games are different, but one is not necessarily better than the other two. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, so the storyteller must find out which "vehicle" will most effectively convey his or her story.

He disagrees. He proposes that books can do everything film can, but that film cannot do everything books can. He argued that the exact, precise thoughts, feelings, images, and emotions that are evoked by a film could be created through words. That is, a person reading a book can undergo an exactly identical experience as a person watching a film. Furthermore, he stated that the superiority of books over movies as storytelling devices is a FACT. No, not his opinion--he says it's absolute, undeniable, fact.

Admittedly, I made a bit of a ridiculous counter argument: I said I would believe this was absolute fact if he could show me two identical EEG readouts, one from a person reading a book, and one from a person watching a movie. If these EEG readouts were exactly the same, his point would be proved. He counters by explaining that this cannot happen because film and novel are different sensory experiences and thus activate different areas of the brain.

But this is precisely my point! They are two entirely different sensory experiences, and thus one cannot exactly replicate the other, nor can one necessarily be better than the other. Neither can be universally more or less effective as a storytelling device. Of course, he's not satisfied with this. He insists that a book can create the exact same thoughts, emotions, and feelings as a film. And therefore, no matter what the story, a book could tell it better. And that this is absolute fact.

I think it's pretty easy to show that some things are better as books, and other things are better as movies. Movies offer the ability to have a consistent image presented to all viewers, and offer precise creative control over the visual and auditory experience, regardless of the viewer's imaginative capability. Books, on the other hand, are capable of conveying a much longer story, and allow room for much deeper character development. Screenplays are written in such a format and style that they try to cause the film to "play out" in the reader's mind. If words truly could capture the essence of a film--every detail in its entirety, why would anyone watch movies? Better to just read the screenplay. As and aspiring filmmaker, I believe that there are NO words (or combination thereof) in the English language that can fully and precisely capture my vision so that it will appear identical to anyone and everyone I show it to. But, as such, I am also biased. In recognition of this, I ask--

your thoughts?

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Cipher13
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Dec 29, 2007, 02:56 AM
 
Firstly, it's entirely subjective. For example, people that lack the ability to visualise scenes are severely disadvantaged when it comes to imagining scenes, particularly on a grand scale, represented by the words of books. To them, a visual experience may be superior in some ways.

There's more I want to say on this, but there's really little point - basically, the two are different. I prefer books myself, as I believe they can capture with precision the intention and emotion of the author, where an image is more open to interpretation and the viewer is quite likely to miss the minutia. That's just one reason.

Given that, though, sometimes scenes portrayed through visual media can be stunning beyond what we generally imagine, particularly things like in Lord of the Rings or The Wizard of Oz.

Oh, and your EEG argument is quite silly; it has nothing to do with the superiority of one medium over another, and even if it *was* possible to determine without exception the superiority of one thing over another, the way to do it is not through EEG matching. I'm a bit puzzled by what you hoped to accomplish with that argument.

In the end: they're different.

I hope that makes some sense, I'm sleep-deprived and tipsy. >_>
     
Nodnarb
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Dec 29, 2007, 03:02 AM
 
Honestly, I think you are both right. I think you both made valid points, and tried to argue them to their fullest.

You are right in that movies obviously don't give you the EXACT same experience as a book, one is a visual image and the other is an imagined (although vividly described) image.

He is right in that (at least in my opinion of every book/movie combo i've read/seen) that books are better than movies. Authors can do so much more with words than a director can with a camera (this is not to say directors cannot make amazing things, but the English language can delve so much deeper into the scene).

I don't think words can EXACTLY replicate all visual images, no matter how detailed and precise language is used. I do, however, think that storytelling is a much more personal and intimate (and therefore, IMO, better) experience when read as opposed to watch.
     
Nodnarb
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Dec 29, 2007, 03:07 AM
 
Originally Posted by Cipher13 View Post
Oh, and your EEG argument is quite silly; it has nothing to do with the superiority of one medium over another, and even if it *was* possible to determine without exception the superiority of one thing over another, the way to do it is not through EEG matching. I'm a bit puzzled by what you hoped to accomplish with that argument.

In the end: they're different.

I hope that makes some sense, I'm sleep-deprived and tipsy. >_>
I ended my last post with "All in all, I think your argument is really about nothing, as you both have valid points poised against eachother. But that may just be the drinks talking." (but i deleted that right before I posed it, as I didn't want to blow the steam straight out of his seemingly heated debate...guess thats been done )
     
loki74  (op)
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Dec 29, 2007, 04:45 AM
 
Originally Posted by Cipher13 View Post
Oh, and your EEG argument is quite silly; it has nothing to do with the superiority of one medium over another, and even if it *was* possible to determine without exception the superiority of one thing over another, the way to do it is not through EEG matching. I'm a bit puzzled by what you hoped to accomplish with that argument.
I wasn't addressing the issue of one or the other's superiority. This isn't, never was, and never will be, my stance. My stance is that one cannot be considered universally superior or inferior to the other. I was pretty much trying to show that they're inescapably and undeniably different. They will never be EXACTLY the same, ever.

Originally Posted by Nodnarb View Post
He is right in that (at least in my opinion of every book/movie combo i've read/seen) that books are better than movies. Authors can do so much more with words than a director can with a camera (this is not to say directors cannot make amazing things, but the English language can delve so much deeper into the scene).
But that's just the thing--I'm not talking about movie adaptations of books. I'm not talking about books that have been made into movies, or movies that have been made into books. I'm saying that for the intents of storyteller A and his story, a visual medium may be better, while for the intents of storyteller B and his story, a book may be better.

There are some things I've seen that I KNOW just would not be the same to me if it were in novel form. The most vivid example I have of this is actually not a movie, but a 37 episode anime miniseries: DeathNote. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you do (but watch the original Japanese dub with subtitles, not the stupid english dub). One of my favorite characters in the series is a rather oddball investigative genius who goes by the alias of "L." It is my firm opinion that Shakespeare himself could not render in such vivid detail all of the nuances of this character. And this is not to cut down Shakespeare; it wouldn't be his fault. It would simply be because I do not believe that I am capable experiencing the full impact of this character, no matter what or how many words you feed me. Some details are so specific and so fragile that they must be dictated visually to the majority audiences. I think this is where film has an upper hand. Of course, I will admit that if I read DeathNote as a novel, formed these images, and watched it as an anime, chances are I would be more satisfied with the book. The greater intimacy (as has been mentioned) between the book and its reader is extremely powerful, and definitely where the written word has an upper hand, but this may or may not be of great importance to the storyteller.

Which brings me to another point: TV series and movies are different. They are much more similar than movies and books, but I would make the same argument: some stories are better suited for TV series, and some stories are better suited to movies. I'm actually putting together a screenplay as we speak. I was going to make a movie, but I decided a three or four episode OVA would be a more effective vehicle for my story. Does that mean I think OVAs are better than movies? Heck no..

I guess what I'm saying is that the optimal storytelling device boils down to the intent of the author--this includes intended audience (as has been pointed out, some people may not be sufficiently literate to comprehend a story that would to the image justice). To render a story as a novel, a storyteller MUST sacrifice some control. An author simply cannot dictate every detail of the image, and do so consistently from one viewer to the next. But on the same token, a filmmaker in general simply cannot create the same intimate experience for the audience as an author could with a book, because he is exerting such specific control over the visual and auditory experience.

By the mere fact that they are different, film and books have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. It's a subjective matter for the audience, and a subjective matter for the storyteller. This is my stance. How can anyone say, "this is not my opinion, this is fact." ..???

I'm not asking, "Do you think the movie Lord of The Rings is better than the book," as the answer is quite obvious. I'm asking something like this:

Imagine your favorite movie/TV series/OVA et cetera. The best of all time. Now imagine the best book/poem/novel/short story, et cetera of all time. If someone asked you, "which is better?" could you not say in reply, "they're oranges and apples?"


PS-Nodnarb: you needn't worry about blowing the steam out of anything I discuss or argue! I don't argue to convince people. I argue to exercise my logical and deductive abilities, and to broaden my understanding of this world. It's better to walk away from an argument with new thoughts (whether you're comfortable with them or not) than to walk away with a frown. In my experience, the two tend to be mutually exclusive... ~_^

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BRussell
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Dec 29, 2007, 04:59 AM
 
I think words are superior, because the ideas that can be communicated are more complex than visual images.
     
subego
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Dec 29, 2007, 06:28 AM
 
Originally Posted by loki74 View Post
Movies offer the ability to have a consistent image presented to all viewers, and offer precise creative control over the visual and auditory experience, regardless of the viewer's imaginative capability.

Absolutely, positively not true.

Certainly not true from a pedantic viewpoint, in that the best you can hope for is that people in the same room are having a similar experience. However every theatre is different, with different projectors, sound systems and prints that have been (mis)handled differently. Once you get into the differences between a film and a DVD, we are unequivocally talking about discrete experiences.

From a more interesting standpoint, you get into the nature of art and technology. The archetypal example used to explain this is the Mona Lisa. The context of hanging in the Louvre is (obviously) entirely different than the context of sitting on a postcard. We are discussing the same image, but what that image does is highly dependent on context.



As for your acquaintance's argument, by his own reasoning, wouldn't film be a "superior" medium because you could very easily film the pages of a book (therefore subsuming the medium of books in their entirety), and have pictures to boot?

Not that I agree with the above. The whole thing seems kinda silly.
( Last edited by subego; Dec 29, 2007 at 07:06 AM. )
     
loki74  (op)
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Dec 29, 2007, 03:54 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
Absolutely, positively not true.

Certainly not true from a pedantic viewpoint, in that the best you can hope for is that people in the same room are having a similar experience. However every theatre is different, with different projectors, sound systems and prints that have been (mis)handled differently. Once you get into the differences between a film and a DVD, we are unequivocally talking about discrete experiences.
Okay, here's what I'm getting at. If, from a directive or cinematographic standpoint, I say, "The left hand 1/3 of the screen will be occupied by suchandsuch, very close to the camera, while the remaining 2/3 of the screen will be out of focus. At exactly this point, suchandsuch will go out of focus, and the remaining 2/3 of the screen will go into focus, revealing something or other," no matter who views it, they will see exactly that image. As far as DVDs and whatnot... don't even get me started about how silly watching fullscreen, TV-airings, or any otherwise butchered version of a film is. And as long as we're going on this path, the mere fact that everyone is different means that they will get something different out of it. But as a filmmaker, I can specifically control the image on the screen.

What you say could also be said of text. Certainly the person reading some text all in the font Papyrus typed into a webpage would undergo an entirely different experience than the person reading the exact same words beautifully typeset in TNR on the pages of a new book. But I'm not trying to split hairs this fine.

Can we agree that visual and textual media are "oranges and apples," and that some people will prefer one, and others will prefer the other, and that these preferences may change depending on a variety of factors? Because the man I was discussing this with seemed to insist that they are both "apples," and that films are the "rotten apple," while books are the "perfect apple."

Originally Posted by subego View Post
As for your acquaintance's argument, by his own reasoning, wouldn't film be a "superior" medium because you could very easily film the pages of a book (therefore subsuming the medium of books in their entirety), and have pictures to boot?
In a theoretical sense, I suppose that's true, but strictly speaking with regard to the efficacy of each media as a means of telling story, I don't think this argument holds water; I doubt if anyone would sit in a theater and view a highly detailed recording of a book's pages flipping, for the purpose of reading that book.

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osiris
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Dec 31, 2007, 02:32 PM
 
What will surely throw a wrench into this debate is the advent of virtual reality. When it becomes realistic enough - including the sensations of smell and pain - the argument of film vs books will become a thing of the past.

in the meantime, I have to say both are equally split. I've read books that have been difficult to reproduce to the screen (Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) that I enjoyed more as a book. But then, I could show a picture of some horrid atrocity that you could never imagine if it were only a paragraph describing it.
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MacosNerd
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Dec 31, 2007, 02:43 PM
 
Originally Posted by loki74 View Post
He disagrees. He proposes that books can do everything film can, but that film cannot do everything books can. He argued that the exact, precise thoughts, feelings, images, and emotions that are evoked by a film could be created through words. That is, a person reading a book can undergo an exactly identical experience as a person watching a film. Furthermore, he stated that the superiority of books over movies as storytelling devices is a FACT. No, not his opinion--he says it's absolute, undeniable, fact.
In general terms I have to agree with your friend, nothing ever comes as close to the printed word. As you mentioned yourself in the post. the precision, feelings and imagery are far more expressive in a book then they can ever be in a movie. Why else do we constantly here it was a good movie, but not as good as the book.

a book is only limited by the author's words and the readers imagination. A movie is limited not only by the director's imagination, but also the actor's, cinematography, the script, budget, special effects etc.

I've not come across a movie that has exceeded the book that it was based on (provided that movie was based on a book).
     
Chuckit
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Dec 31, 2007, 02:56 PM
 
Originally Posted by MacosNerd View Post
In general terms I have to agree with your friend, nothing ever comes as close to the printed word. As you mentioned yourself in the post. the precision, feelings and imagery are far more expressive in a book then they can ever be in a movie. Why else do we constantly here it was a good movie, but not as good as the book.
The opposite is usually true as well, though. The novelization of a movie is usually worse than the film. The media are different, and different things will fare better in one or the other.
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