Book Versus Movie: The Blind Side

by Kim on April 1, 2010 · 32 comments

Post image for Book Versus Movie: The Blind Side

I’m secretly a huge football fan. I think it comes from all the years I spent talking with my dad while strategized his picks for his fantasy football leagues. It was a way for us to be close, and through watching games and listening to his commentary I managed to pick up quite a bit about the sport. I’m no expert, but I can hold my own when football chat comes up.

I’m also a major fan of the inspirational sports movie — I could watch Remember the Titans or Miracle every day and still get excited when the Titans do their opening dance or Kurt Russell yells, “The legs feed the wolf, gentlemen. The legs feed the wolf.” So of course I went and saw The Blind Side in theaters, then grabbed a copy of the book to read when I was done.

The-Blind-Side-movie Comparing the two, it struck me how different they are despite the fact that they both use the same set of facts to tell a story. Yes, the details about Michael Oher — an abandoned black kid adopted by the wealthy, white, Tuohy family who develops an incredible talent for one of the most difficult positions in football — are similar, but what the two pieces are really about is quite different.

The movie is, like most inspirational sports movies, a movie not really about sports at all but something bigger than just a game. The book, however, is very much a sports book about sports and the technical development of the game of football. I liked both equally, but for very different reasons.

As any preview of the movie shows, The Blind Side, is about family, hope, and overcoming obstacles. It uses football and the story of Michael Oher as a device to argue that anyone can overcome something with a little help from the people who love them. I’ll admit that I cried at least three of four times while watching the movie because those are themes that get to me and are part of the reason I’m such a sucker for the inspirational sports movie.

Of course, the movie packs that punch in part because of the way it smooths out many of the edges of Oher’s story. For example, in order to be eligible to play college football, Oher needed to graduate with a 2.5 GPA. Coming into to high school, his GPA was somewhere around .04. In order to raise his grades, Oher worked hard with a tutor on his normal classes and enrolled in a number of short online courses that almost guaranteed him the A’s he needed to pull his GPA up. The movie doesn’t include the online classes, making it look like Oher just improved with the help of his tutor. It’s not major, but the movie makes a number of simplifying choices similar to this one that the book doesn’t do.

In fact, The Blind Side book, is actually quite complicated. And it’s a sports book that is very, very much about sports. Author Michael Lewis uses Oher’s story to look at a larger change in football — the development of the passing offense, the growing value of the quarterback, and the similar growth in importance for the left tackle position (the position Oher was built to play).

Currently, the second-highest paid player on most football teams is the left tackle, a member of the offensive line, who is charged with protecting the quarterback’s blind side (the side a quarterback can’t watch when trying to make a play). That seems a illogical, given how anonymous offensive linemen can be, but it makes sense to pay highly for someone that can protect your star at his most vulnerable. In the book Lewis explores why this is true and uses Oher as the narrative device to keep the book from being just a history of football or a lengthy list of statistics about the football passing game.

I really loved the book, especially the sort of statistical nerding-out that Lewis did trying to analyze the change in football strategy, but it’s something someone not into football wouldn’t enjoy. By cutting a lot of the sports out of the story, the movie is able to appeal to a much wider audience. If you’re at all a sports nerd, I recommend the book, but otherwise the movie is probably a better bet.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny April 1, 2010 at 8:38 am

Huh. I didn’t know that was where the title came from. I feel like a bad football fan now. :P

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Jenny: I didn’t know the movie was a book until I saw the “based on a true story” part and looked it up online. So if you’re a bad fan, I am too :)

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SuziQoregon April 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I knew that the book was more about football as well as being about Michael Oher’s story.

That’s why I’m saving it for later this spring or early summer. It’ll be perfect for when I’m needing a football fix during that long desolate time between the last of the bowl games and the opening of college football season.

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

SuziQoregon: This would be a good mid-summer football fix book. Michael Oher’s story keeps things moving along, and the football stats are interesting if that’s something you’re into. It’s stats heavy, but not hard to read.

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bermudaonion (Kathy) April 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I’ve wanted to read the book ever since I saw the movie, so I was really glad to see your review. I’m a football fan, too, so I’ll probably like the book!

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

bermudaonion: I think you will like the book. I definitely enjoyed it!

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Jess - A Book Hoarder April 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I have been curious about the book but I would have been disappointed if I picked it up because I am so not a football fan. I wish I could be but ever since high school I could never make myself care for more than the tight pants and the clickity clack sound the cleats made on the concrete when they team would go from the locker-room to the field. I blame it on the fact that both my high school and college teams were on constant losing streaks while I attended.

Anyway…thanks for the review, I can’t wait to watch the movie.

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Jess: The tight pants are one great reason to love football ;) I went to a small college that actually held the NCAA longest losing streak record, so I know what you mean. I hope you enjoy the movie!

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Lisa April 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I heard that the book was very different. But I’m like you, I love football so I think I’d like the book as well.

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Lisa: The book takes a much broader look at changed in football that the movie just sort of alludes to in the beginning montage. I liked all the background, but like I said, people not into football might not appreciate it as much.

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Nicole April 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Thanks for the side by side review. You have given me a great idea of what book I can pick up for a friend.

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Nicole: Awesome, I hope your friend likes it!

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Julie April 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm

I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but based on your review, I think I’ll stick with the movie. I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies when I don’t care all that much about sports! I did make many appearances at Badger football games in my day, but it was more about the atmosphere than the actual game. And I liked seeing Bucky! Thanks for the reviews.

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Julie: I’m a giant sucker for the inspirational sports movie — even for sports I don’t know anything about. I haven’t gotten to many Badger games, but the few I did go to were a lot of fun.

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Ali April 2, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Normally I like to read the book before seeing a movie, if I can, but in this case it sounds like the movie will do it for me. Thanks for the comparison!

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Ali: No problem, glad to me helpful!

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Ina April 3, 2010 at 2:48 am

Haven’t read the book or even seen it personally :)
Movie is awesome! this is one of my favorite movie after seeing it.

Sandra really deserves “Best Actress Award”

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Ina: I loved the movie too. Sandra was awesome, although I’m still torn about whether she deserved it over some of the other nominees. It was definitely a stacked field!

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Care April 3, 2010 at 5:16 am

Terrific review. I’m much more inclined to read the book now, actually. I love football. (I assume you have seen We are Marshall? talk about heartwrenching awesomeness.)

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Care: Yay, I’m glad it convinced someone to read the book :) I saw part of We Are Marshall on tv, but never saw the movie (for shame!).

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Rachel April 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I just watched the film and cried lots – I loved it – but the football side was lost on me as we don’t have the same rules here anyway. I love a good inspirational overcoming obstacles story and am a sucker for all such plots as well, but I am not a fan of sport unless it’s a big thing like a World Cup tournament and England are actually in with a chance, which is unlikely, most of the time! So I am a bit disappointed that the book is about football – I doubt I’ll be reading it!

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Kim April 3, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Rachel: I cried a bunch of times during the movie, it was sort of ridiculous! I’ve never been a big World Cup person, but I do love football and baseball and a few other sports.

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Julia Smith April 3, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I’m the type of person who prefers films to books, even though I’m writing novels. Go figure. Probably because I went to film school and think in film terms. Writing books is just cheaper. As you noted, the medium of film can’t tell a story in the same way that a book can. I think it’s one of the reasons book fans generally never like the film versions of stories. Readers become invested in their own personal version that existed for them as they read the book.

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Kim April 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Julia Smith: That’s a good point — readers to tend to invest in what a character looks and seems like from reading, and it’s hard to translate to film. I can understand why the movie made some of the simplifications that it did — the movie gets to focus on the emotions of the story in a way that book doesn’t really get to do.

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Jodie April 6, 2010 at 3:30 am

Despite not being an American football fan I think I’d like the book better than the film (as much as I like an inspirational sports film this seemed super preachy). Is it a good introduction to the sport do you think, or would I be best of starting somewhere else?

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Kim April 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Jodie: I didn’t feel like the movie was preachy, although like all inspirational sports movies it can be a little heavy-handed with some of the emotional emphasis.

I think the book is a good intro if you’re willing to read through some chapters that are pretty stats heavy. The bulk of the football stuff is about the change in the NFL from a run offense to a pass offense, and what that means for the players involved. There are a few chapters that go into great detail about passings stats and figures which were a bit much for me, but not so complicated that they’d not be understandable.

Another football book I love is Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger. That book is much more about football and culture than this one is, so maybe it would be a better starting point?

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kt September 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm

is the book exactly like the movie. i have to take a test and i hate reading. if it is different what is different?

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Kim September 20, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Hi kt, no, the book isn’t exactly like the movie, but I’m not going to tell you the differences. You should give the book a chance.

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monica October 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

this book is really good and i like it very well it was kind of different from the book as well i give it a thumbs up!!!!!

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