BOOKCHAP RIDES AGAIN: Seward, Reg Seward, on the conundrum of Book v Film, which is better?

Article published on February 5, 2016.

I recently posted an email regarding my fondness (wrong word I know, but the Thesaurus is in the other room), for anything relative to the WW2 German/Russian stalemate at Stalingrad c.1942. I explained as a form of excuse really, that for years now, anything regarding the debacle would normally interest me.

Maybe you, the reader, can share my interest as well, but let me inform you of a book, and also explain the other form of Historical Entertainment that can accompany the written word.

Some while back (2001), in the middle of my acquisition of Stalingrad material, there came a film that perhaps stirred the blood as only a decently made war film can? Enemy At The Gates was the film, starring Jude Law, Ed Harris and Joseph Fiennes amongst others. It told the story of a fictitious German sniper exchanging blows with a real name from the Russian side, Vasily Zaitsev, an ace sniper, promoted by the front line Russian press, until he eventually became a celebrity.

The film became a real he-man expose, young Rachel Weisz providing the normally expected glamour in this cinematic tale; she becomes a radical sniper/telephonist as the story pans out.

Now, before this film came out, back in 1999, a book was published which actually lends itself to the making of Enemy at the Gates. David Robbins wrote the book, a novel, and I have to say; it is so much better than the film. The book is entitled War Of The Rats, ISBN: 978-0553-5813-55. Although visually, the film has a certain “je ne sais quoi” to support it, the actual film duration only lasts some two hours or so, whereas, the book lasts as long as one takes to read it. Much more detail fills the pages and the plot is subsequently, far more involved. I have read this maybe two or three times since purchase and each time something new pops into the imagination and that is the crux of my argument. The film has all the visual and audio aids one could ask for, but that very fact means that it is already done for the viewer. The entire, personally imaginative spectrum is missing as a result. As one filmic scene morphs into the next, where is there any opportunity to utilize your own imagination?

I am not dismissing the film out of hand, it has its merits of course, but I am afraid that a book means far more to me than a film any day, because I simply enjoy using my noggin when reading; instead of just sitting there being spoon fed Technicolor misrepresentation of events just because it was easier.

Reg Seward

War Of The Rats by David Robbins
Orion pbk Oct 1999

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