What is it that makes a story great? Is it when you can’t put the book down? Is it when you cry reading it? (Or want to, I guess, if you’re a guy.) Is it when you have to read it again? Do you ever read a book again? Do you prefer to see a movie before you read a book or do you like to read the book first?
Recently I went to a live broadcast of the play War Horse by the National Theatre of Britain. I had seen the movie but hadn’t read the book. Since I cried through both the movie and the play, I thought probably I would be safe reading the book (I already knew what was coming, right?), so I bought it. Yah. You guessed it. . . I cried through the book too.
Looking to compare and decide if there was one format I liked better than another, I watched the movie again last night. It was so well done. The acting was superb and the filming was also excellent. If you haven’t seen it or know what it’s about, the story is centered on a boy and his horse. An old theme, to be sure, but with a new twist. This horse was born a thoroughbred and had spent his formative years running free in a paddock with it’s mama. The boy’s father is supposed to buy a plow horse to work the farm but gets goaded into paying everything he has for the thoroughbred. The farmer’s son, Albert, has watched the foal grow and tried to befriend it, so the training falls to him. The final crunch is that if the horse can’t learn to plow, he’s gone. Desperate, Albert does teach Joey to pull the plow but the whole crop is destroyed by a rainstorm and his father sells Joey to the army in order to hold onto his farm and Joey becomes a war horse.
Albert joins up when old enough and everywhere he goes in Europe’s 1st World War, he’s looking for Joey who is busy having adventures of his own. Being able to pull a plow saves his life more than once, a life that is pretty precarious most of the time and just when you think he’s done for, more things happen.
The written story is touching but it’s hard to say if it would have been as powerful if I had read it before seeing the movie or the play. The realism of the film with the war scenes and the way the horses were used has an incredible impact but the play, perhaps because of the sparseness of scenery and the closeness of the characters, was very intimate and draws its power from the relationship you develop with them and, of course, with Joey. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the fact of the horses in the play being puppets is only amazing in their realistic movements and the fact that you totally forget the puppeteers are there.
What is your preference? Do you like to read first and watch later? Or vice versa? Which is more powerful for you? Does it depend on the story? Is a play the ultimate experience? Is there another story you have read and seen that you can share with us? Please comment.
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