Hollywood often turns to adapting popular books as the basis for new movies. Occasionally this works out, but frequently the resulting films are pale shadows of their source material. For this week’s Roundtable, we look at movies that fail to capture the essence or particular brilliance of the books they were based on.
When the first two ‘Lord of the Rings‘ movies were released, I hadn’t read the books. Peter Jackson’s movies were my first introduction to the world of Middle-Earth. I loved the first two so much that I couldn’t possibly wait a full year to see how the story came to a close, so I finally took a crack at the books.
I started with ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and ultimately felt that the movie did the book justice – especially by omitting Tom Bombadil. Reading ‘The Two Towers’ was especially interesting because of the non-linear storytelling and how the events of the book don’t sync with those of the chronological film, but it was still pretty solid. Some pieces were wildly adapted, but it’s justifiable to make it work for the medium.
I read ‘The Return of the King’ approximately ten months before the film opened. I absolutely loved it. What a perfect way to end the story! Unfortunately, the movie took so many liberties that I walked out of the theater wanting more – and I’m not just talking about The Burning of the Shire. Upon reading the book, I knew there was no way that it would be included in the film. Another climax would serve no purpose in a tale that already concluded. The extended edition does better at capturing more of the book’s strengths, but it’s still too loose and not as tight as the previous two films.
For what it’s worth, being such a beautiful and worthy adaptation, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ is still my favorite of the three movies.
M. Enois Duarte
Granted, ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘ isn’t a book in the traditional sense of the word, but it nonetheless still counts as an adaptation of a published source. Five of Alan Moore’s graphic novels have been translated into film, and Stephen Norrington’s movie is by far the worst. After the failure of ‘From Hell’, which frankly wasn’t all that bad, Norrington capitalized on his success with ‘Blade’ with another beloved and popular comic book. Sadly, as wildly imaginative and visually eye-catching as the movie was, the plot felt like a rushed, jumbled mess trying to squeeze tons of exposition into too short a runtime. Even the likes of Sean Connery, whose performance as Safari adventurer Allan Quatermain is one of the few highlights, couldn’t save this poorly conceived production. Today, the movie has grown in cult status, but it only succeeds in proving the difficulty of properly adapting an Alan Moore comic.
In spite of its iconic nature and the pervasiveness of its star, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s‘ is an entirely unfaithful adaptation of the Truman Capote story. Compared to the dark turns of the novel, the film is sanitized. Capote’s work is literary gold and deserved better. The movie is a pop fluff-fest.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
There is no book I’ve owned more editions of than Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. It’s been a favorite of mine for decades now, and I found myself as eagerly anticipating its lavishly budgeted 2005 theatrical adaptation as just about any movie, ever. I was over the moon about the cast, it was a thrill to learn that Adams co-wrote the screenplay before he passed away, and the trailers hit all the marks I’d hoped to see.
Even knowing how Adams would reinvent his work every time it was brought to a different medium, I struggled to imagine how ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘ could be adapted into a feature-length motion picture. What I so deeply fell in love with in high school weren’t the beats of the plot so much as Adams’ entrancing writing. As the cliché goes, it wasn’t what he wrote but how he wrote it. That voice has all but vanished from the film adaptation. Too much of its sense of humor has been snuffed out, with wit gutted to make room for slapstick and sight gags. The most quotable lines from the books have been at best mangled and at worst excised altogether. The titular Guide is practically an afterthought. Zaphod having a proper second head probably would’ve been a budgetary and logistical nightmare, but just about anything would’ve been better than placing it in his neck. The film has a heavier emphasis on action and romance because, well, that’s how movies are supposed to work, I guess. The pacing and tone are all over the place. I think you ought to know that I’m feeling very depressed about how this adaptation came out.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go‘ is a nearly impossible novel to adapt into film. The author very slowly lays out the story in such a way that its true nature isn’t revealed until at least halfway through. What seems for a long time to be a period piece coming-of-age drama about a group of teens at an isolated boarding school eventually turns out to be something much different, stranger, and darker. How do you make a movie faithful to that? Even if you could, how would the studio promote it without giving away the whole show?
In addition to condensing portions of the story (which is to be expected), screenwriter Alex Garland and director Mark Romanek make major changes to its structure, the most important of which is to forego any mystery or suspense about its premise. The plot twist isn’t treated as a twist at all, but is acknowledged right up-front. Other details that the author left intentionally vague (such as the setting’s actual time period or place) are also made explicit.
When I first saw the movie, I had a really hard time getting over these changes. They took me out of the story and left me with a profound feeling of disappointment. Whether I would have felt that way had I seen the movie first without reading the book, I can’t say. Nevertheless, it didn’t work for me.
A second viewing later went over better, and I can understand why Garland and Romanek took the approach they did. Even so, I still can’t fully get behind the movie. Perhaps this is one story better left on the page?
Which books do you feel were butchered when made into movies? Tell us about them in the Comments.