While munching my bowl of noodles this evening, I put on a DVD to put some life in the living-room. I tried once more the film version of a novel that I really enjoy … The Russia House by John Le Carré. The DVD I have breaks up, so I had to give up again … but I think I would have given up anyway. I came to the conclusion that it must take my palme d’or for the worst film adaptation of a book that I know.
The script-writers have made what, for me, are totally incomprehensible changes: why for instance is the Russian scientist, who we know in the book as being nicknamed “Goethe”, in the film named “Dante”? Even allowing for the fact that film and books are different vehicles, that seems to me bizarre.
The dialogue is leaden to me, and the actors Sean Connery, James Fox, Michael Kitchen and others are so wooden … and they speak their lines as if they didn’t believe in them either. Michelle Pfeiffer is not quite as bad, but doesn’t shine … the only one who’s any good is whoever it is that plays Niki Landau, who only appears briefly in the introductory scenes.
Verdict from me … the worst film adaptation of a book that I can think of. Actually, come to think of it, the film of Pride and Prejudice which came out a couple of years ago runs it a pretty close race as far as I’m concerned, but the acting’s better.
Anyway, it made me wonder what all of you would say was your worst film adaptation.
I enjoy them as movies, but I was VERY disappointed in them as adaptations. The ents were a significant part in the novel White Tower but were nothing more than an out of place tack on in the movie. Also the “evil” portion had more focus in the film than in the novels.
Again, movies I enjoy, just one of the less appreciates film adaptations.
I recently saw a Jane Eyre movie (BBC/Masterpiece theater). Again good movie overall (I would watch it again) but not up to the novel. The characters were … hollow. Being non-UK folks here had difficulty following the dialog, but that is why we have the rrw button on the remote. Eventually I had the ingenious idea of enabling subtitles. While easier to follow audibly it was also easier to find issues thereby opening the floodgates of “it wasn’t like that in the book” from the offspring. This in turn enabled the “go to bed or be quiet” mode of the wife unit.
That Was Then, This Is Now. The first time I realised how crap Hollywood could be to books. I read the book when I was about 13 or 14, and it was a revelation to me at the time. It was the first book written in first person that I really liked (I used to hate first person; these days I’m a big Haruki Murakami fan, so go figure). And it was the first book I’d had that didn’t have a happy ending. I was left reeling for days (a feeling I still love after reading a book). The ending of the film - which I saw a year or two later, ecstatic to find it in my local video rental shop - was a complete betrayal of the spirit of the book. I was left reeling in a different way - wondering why anyone would go to the bother of turning such a great book into a film only to destroy it. (I have never re-read the book, incidentally, so I’ve no idea how I would find it now.)
Actually, I didn’t rate The Golden Compass, either. It looked magnificent; exactly as I had imagined it. But that was the trouble. I’d already imagined it all - the book is so evocative it comes to life without the necessity of CGI - and the film added nothing to the book. It was as though the film itself had undergone a curious intercision, in which the book’s spirit had been cut away from its materiality. Oh well.
Earthsea, a TV (Hallmark) adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, was nominated for a bunch of second-level awards, and actually won quite a few for special effects. And in fairness, it might, by the end of its hour and a half, have been a tolerable production. However, it had so little to do with the original – such liberties with the story line, such butchering of the prose – that I gave up on it about twenty minutes in.
Particularly annoying for me because, thirty years ago, I used the original to provoke dozens of junior-high students into reading.
My vote goes to The Prince of Tides… Yes, I know the movie won several awards, but it focussed almost exclusively on the romance/love story, which was only a small (and the least interesting) part of a great book.
Bonfire Of The Vanities is pretty much the gold standard for How Not To Adapt A Book Into A Film. I’ve rarely seen a movie that makes so many bad decisions at almost every point.
Ironically, it spawned the enormously entertaining “The Devil’s Candy” by Julie Salamon – one of the very best making-of books I’ve ever read.
As for good adaptations, I tend to agree with Pauline Kael that trashy novels are better material for films. She cites The Godfather as probably the supreme example, though I’d like to make a case for Jaws (if for no other reason than I’m not sure Puzo’s book is actually trashy).
@Vermonter: The Prince Of Tides is a horrible adaptation, I agree. Although I think the love story that movie focused on was Streisand’s undying devotion to her expensive manicure.
No good film has ever been made of a story or novel by William Faulkner.
Of the two recent “top” Hollywood films, There Will Be Blood radically alters Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, not always for the better, while No Country for Old Men is a brilliant adaptation by the Coen brothers of the Cormac McCarthy novel.
I want to come back to Jaysen. I’m a great LotR fan …
I agree basically about having enjoyed them as movies, although for some reason I find I don’t really want to watch them again, which says something. But as adaptations, with them, although there are points where I wonder “Why on earth did they do that?”, e.g. change the character of Faramir, and most particularly adding the totally unnecessary scene of Frodo hanging off the cliff in the cracks of doom … apart from a few points like that, I don’t have the same sense of totally futile changes like I do in The Russia House. And there isn’t the utterly, unbelievably wooden acting and diction of the latter film.
If you write out a quick index where
1 = bad movie
2 = good movie
a = bad adaptation
b = good adaptation
I would consider LOTR 2a where I think your The Russia House might qualify as a 1a. I think a 2b would approach nirvana for many of us, but 99% of the time we are willing to go for a 2a over a 1b because of the shear pain of enduring a 1. Evidence
Most of my favorite movies that are adaptations fall squarely into the 2a realm. Take The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One of my all time favorite books/series. The movie was great as long as you were willing to throw out entire sections of the book. Heck, entire sub plots were MISSING from the film.
As I think about this a little, I wonder if it is really possible to make a “good” adaptation. My personal take on LOTR would certainly influence any adaptation I created. While i may see this particular adaptation as perfect you may see it as awful. i would hold the Cruise Vanilla Sky movie up as an example of this. There was an earlier version (name escapes me) from Spain (or was it Mexico but set in Spain) that was much better. Both were derived from the same novel (whose title ALSO escapes me) and neither was really true to original story. While I would not waste 5 more minutes of my life endure VS (very clearly a 1a) many folks I know seemed to think VS was a 2b. They insisted that they were neither high nor drunk so they must just be idiots, or they interpreted the book/movie different than I did.
Of course the fact that the all thought Cruise was a decent actor proves that they were simultaneously drunk and high.
Just my $US0.02 which in today’s economy is of even less value than ever before.
On the other hand, you have those rare ocassions where the movie far surpasses the book. For example, The Godfather… a mediocre novel made into one of the all time great films. Shawshank Redemption might be another example. I’m sure you can come up with many others.
Oh God, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Nic Cage as a tall, skinny and dashing Italian? Penelope Cruz (Spanish) as the meek, voluptuous and beautiful Pelagia (Greek)? William Hurt as… Oh God. Please make it stop. I’ve never even watched it. Just the “my-a love-a knows-a a-no bounds-a” adverts had me crying into my lovely blue and beige paperback. Just please. Make. It. Stop. What is the point of Nicolas Cage anyway? Brilliant in Raising Arizona, Honeymoon in Vegas etc - i.e. comedy dumb-average man - but Leaving Las Vegas turned him into something he most definitely is not. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Bloody hell.
Ouch. Cage’s performance in “Moonstruck” came to mind, and segued into the twin concepts of miscasting and off-key directing. They’re the reason I wasn’t fond of Hurt in “Jane Eyre,” or Kevin Costner in “Robin Hood.”