Sunday, March 25, 2012

Worst Adaptation of a Novel

Thanks to David Cranmer for posting my new story, Eyes Open, on Beat to a Pulp.



Haven't seen THE HUNGER GAMES yet and the reviews are really varied.
There are so many bad adaptation, it is amazing when someone gets it right. Or in a few cases, improves on the original text.

The one I was most disappointed in recently was I AM LEGEND. The point of the story was actually subverted to give the audience the ending the studio thought they wanted. If the average movie goer in this case loved the story, why do they think the ending needs changing-and really the whole second half?

What's your favorite bad example?

42 comments:

Dan_Luft said...

About five years ago there was a movie made of Bukowski's FACTOTUM that was just awful. Also, a really neat novel by a guy named Marc Behm called THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER was made into a crappy movie with Ewan McGregor. It brought the novel back into print which I liked.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and NAKED LUNCH were probably bad adaptations because I hated the books and really liked the movies.

Deb said...

I used to hate what MGM did to GONE WITH THE WIND--turning it into a technicolor romantic slog. Although some of the lines and many of the characters are taken directly from the novel, the whole tone of the movie is wrong. As the years have gone by, my feelings toward the movie have softened (just as my understanding of the ingrained racism of the novel has deepened), but I still advise people to think of the movie and the novel as being united only by the title.

There are at least two movie versions of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE with drastically changed endings. It's like they coppd out at the last moment and didn't want to kill of the most photogenic of the actors.

Heath Lowrance said...

About I AM LEGEND-- there's an alternate ending on the DVD that falls more in line with the book. It's much, much better and actually makes some of the movie's earlier scenes make more sense.

Kate and I are seeing Hunger Games today. I'll let ya know the verdict.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I saw FACTOTUM and could make no sense of it at all.
Hated the book, loved the movie-another good topic.
I am afraid they run these movies past a bunch of nitwits to decide the ending.
Good book, keep the ending. Bad book, don't make it.
See, I never watch the extras on DVDs and probably miss a lot. Let me know.

David Cranmer said...

FACTOTUM and I AM LEGEND would rate pretty high on my list plus most the film adaptations of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley books.

F.T. Bradley said...

I saw THE HUNGER GAMES. It was in line with the book, though I think it's difficult to make you care about the extra characters over the span of a movie. The book did better in that regard--I think that's where us novelists have the advantage over the movies.

Bad adaptions... THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z. The Winslow novel has a lot of heart, and the movie utterly missed the point.

Anonymous said...

Deb hit a good one - the two hideously awful versions of AND THEN THEY WERE NONE/TEN LITTLE INDIANS. The first (1965) was given a "swingin' 60's" tone and starred Hugh O'Brian and Shirley (Goldfinger) Eaton, with Fabian as one of the victims. This was Oscar quality compared to the 1989 version, however. You know you're in trouble when the hero of your Agatha Christie movie is...wait for it... Frank Stallone! Really.

But that pales next to the one that has to be the worst movie adaptation I can think of (without doing more research): THE LADY VANISHES (1979), which wasted the talents of Angela Lansbury (as the title character) and others for the idiotic antics of "stars" Elliot Gould and Cybill Shepherd.

It was appalling.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES.

pattinase (abbott) said...

THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006)

Randy Johnson said...

I AM LEGEND has been badly done three times, possibly a fourth(that one seems to be in dispute; a blogger told me it wasn't really based on the book, although IMDb says otherwise).

Charles Gramlich said...

I am legend is a good example.

Kieran Shea said...

Garp.

I mean, George Roy Hill should have walked away from that Tesich screenplay like it was a bloated raccoon.

John said...

There is an awful "update" of THE WOMAN IN WHITE that was done for UK TV in 1997. Though still set in the Victorian era it might as well have been transplanted into contemporary times. The screenwriter added a drecky and tasteless incest subplot that has no place in Collin's book. Plus, Count Fosco is practically invisible and boring in that version. Compare it to the much more faithful and suspenseful version done in the 1980s. Night and day.

I also intensely dislike what Stanley Kubrick did to THE SHINING. For me most of the movie is a big yawn.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The movie, Garp will forever be a stain on my memory of the book.
Missed that one, John.

Jerry House said...

You'd have to look pretty hard to find a crappier adaptation than 1987's BURGLAR with Whoopi Goldberg. I mean, Bernice Rhodenbarr. Really? Sheez.

George said...

I have to agree with John: THE SHINING might be my least favorite Kubrick film. Completely missed the vibe of the novel. PAYBACK, the Mel Gibson movie based on a "Richard Stark" (Donald Westlake) novel, also plays fast-and-loose with the original source material.

Ed Gorman said...

Gotta be the versions of The Great Gatsby. And I'm sure the forthcoming attempt will be just as bad. We interviewed the late Dana Wynter about doing Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" on the 50's show "Playhouse 90." I believe this was John Frankenheimer directing live no less. In high school I read me my Fitzgerald over and over and was stunned by how well everybody iinvolved understood what Fitzgerald was doing. Dana was never more gorgeous; she thanked Frankenheimer and said that she considered this the pinnace of her career, though she would make thirty-some films and many TV appearances afterward. As I recall because it was live and because they had a limited budget they didn't get caught up in trying to recreate the 20s so much--they dwelt on the powerful and bleakly ironic story. Alan Ladd was wrong for the first version though he was better than showboat Robert Redford in the second (Redford has had a career long competition with B Streisand over who can get the most close-ups in a single picture). I'm still not a big fan of Mad Men (still think it's gutless) but they do balance the props well with the melodrama. The great Fitzgerald movie is yet to be made.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The entire casting of the Great Gatsby was wrong. Mia Farrow was so wan and wistful-you never believed anyone would build an empire to seduce her. RR can be good but not in movies like this one. When I think back to the fifties era actress like Dana Wynter, Lee Remick, even Jane Wyman et al. They had such a delicate womanly touch to their work.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have stayed away from Whoopie Goldberg movies although I have friends that claim JUMPING JACK FLASH is one of the best movies ever made. She is always Whoopy and that is not the same as always Cary.

Anonymous said...

Yes, GARP was bad but BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES was much, much worse. And I won't even get into BURGLAR.

I forgot, there was yet another version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, made in 1974 and set in the Iranian desert, starring Oliver Reed and Elke Sommer, which was also terrible. Don't ask why I kept watching these things.

Ever seen the 1980 version of William McGivern's NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER with James Brolin and Cliff Gorman? No. Lucky you.

Another turkey was WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM, with Bill Murray's take on Hunter Thompson, based on the latter's writings.

BEAR ISLAND, the Alastair MacLean book, was made into a lousy movie with Donald Sutherland and Vanessa Redgrave.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Patti, my sister and sister in law both love JUMPING JACK FLASH. I'm surprised to hear there are others who agree.

Jeff M.

Joe Barone said...

This comment will show how far behind I am. I'm trying to decide whether I want to read The Hunger Games in book form.

Chris said...

This is close enough to answering your question, Patti, I hope.

I'm a huge fan of the Jonah Hex comic series, the success of which at the time allowed the making of the movie. Which of course turned out to be NOTHING LIKE the comics and utterly horrible. And probably ultimately doomed the comic too. Unforgivable.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It does make one shudder when you hear they are making a movie from a favorite book. Luckily in some cases, like WINTER'S BONE and DRIVER, things go better.

Jim Winter said...

Interview With the Vampire is two and a half hours of my life I'll never get back.

Well, so was the book The Vampire Lestat, so maybe I should have known better.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I thought the Hunger Games adaptation was pretty bad. The casting is, for the most part, pretty good, but the directing and editing are just tasteless, and the script is too condensed.

Francois Truffaut made some of the worst adaptations I can think of -- Bride Wore Black, Confidentially Yours, and Shoot the Piano Player. His vision is so disrespectful to the original texts, as fans of Woolrich, Goodis, and Charles Williams, I don't like what he did to their work.

le0pard13 said...

Your would be mine, as well. One entire horrid adaptation that one was.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I am disappointed re: THE HUNGER GAMES. I saw those Truffaut movies before I ever knew the original texts so they didn't bother me as much as it might a fan.

Todd Mason said...

Alice, my housemate, has read Collins's novels, and found them quick, slightly clumsy reads; she and I both rather liked the film of THE HUNGER GAMES as far as it went (I haven't read the novel or anything else by Collins), but Alice liked it better than I did. I didn't find it profound or terribly convincing at all, but agree the performances were generally good (the shallowness of much of what was going on didn't force too many of the actors to do much that was too tough, but I did get a bit of a frisson in the reaction of the protagonist's sister to both being selected and then realizing that her sister was pushing her aside to die in her place.

There has been quite a pile of three-legged dogs here already (any list that includes THE BLACK DAHLIA is certainly on the right track), as well as praise of good work (I think that GARP the film actually improved slightly on the kutenessess of GARP the novel, which is most of why I never read THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE where I can only hope that utterly miserable film isn't a very good representation of the next Irving novel)(though GARP might be the weakest of George Roy Hill's films--or tied with BUTCH CASSIDY [popular opinion of mine, I'm sure]--much the way THE SHINING is the weakest of Kubrick's beyond what I've seen of the inept FEAR AND DESIRE...in neither case did the source novels help).

Among the worst adaptations to film and related a/v so far have included:

Both the films of Isaac Asimov's short story "Nightfall," which traduce the clever if overrated early story by IA into pretentious, inept piles.

The remakes of THE HAUNTING and PSYCHO, which manage to take the examples of brilliant novels and at least very impressive first adaptations and offer exercises in masturbation on the part of latter-day filmmakers, whom apparently are of the opinion, for example, that what was Really Missing was color cinematography...and contempt for the source novels.

The AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE (PBS) adaptation of John Varley's "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" is so aggressively inept that it's almost puzzling as to why it was made, particularly by the folks who managed rather better with their adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN (though the later theatrical film LATHE OF HEAVEN, with no article, is a strong candidate here too).

THE THIN RED LINE was stunningly shot and stunningly inept in every other way.

THE COLOR OF MONEY was almost singlehandedly sunk by Tom Cruise's stunningly inept performance, but everyone around him let him do it. Scorsese also deserves a dope-slap for CAPE FEAR, which manages to keep all that was wrong with the initial CAPE FEAR misadaptation of THE EXECUTIONERS and make it more ridiculous.

Even very bad novels, such as THE BETSY and CANDY, can be remarkably disimproved by their film adaptations, though John Astin does what he can to save the latter.

Todd Mason said...

Several more impressive examples: the extraordinarily bad recentish Disney telefilm of A WRINKLE IN TIME

...and WEIRD WOMAN, the first and very loose adaptation of Fritz Leiber's brilliant CONJURE WIFE to film.

What have been rereleased as DANGEROUS FEMALE and SATAN MET A LADY are very dire attempts to film THE MALTESE FALCON, and THE BLACK BIRD a similarly dismal attempt at parody.

Todd Mason said...

And I AM LEGEND was the third sorry misconstruction of the novel directly to film, leaving aside the influence on Romero films and others, after THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and THE OMEGA MAN.

Anders E said...

Two of the worst movies I've ever seen were both based on novels, and good ones at that; BLUE CITY (1986) and the 1990 remake of DESPERATE HOURS. Both movies are so dumb they need to be seen to be believed.

Cap'n Bob said...

The TV show Murphy's Law, based on the Trace/Digger novels by Warren Murphy, was awful. They took everything that was good about the books and changed them.

Nightmare Alley could have been a great movie, but they tacked on a warm fuzzy ending and ruined the impact the book created.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is amazing when they get it right. Boy, THE HUNGER GAME reviews are all over the place. But I wouldn't miss it.

Richard R. said...

Jeff mentions AND THEN THERE WERE NONE in two comments, but he still forgot the 1945 B&W version, which, though it has a slight ending change, I happen to like. As for bad adaptations, I'd say STARSHIP TROOPERS was about the worst I can think of.

Brian Busby said...

The Bonfire of the Vanities is an interesting case in that an excellent book led to a horrible film, which in turn led to an excellent book (The Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood ).

For me the hands down winner is The Cat in the Hat.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So glad I missed that one. It is infamous. Looks The Lorax isn't much better.

Todd Mason said...

Alice liked THE LORAX a lot...I didn't see it.

It does seem that Jennifer Lawrence is the go-to woman for roles in which squirrels are skinned.

Todd Mason said...

However, what little I've seen of the Jim Carrey GRINCH and the Mike Myers CAT would be difficult for THE LORAX to...bottom...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Glad to hear that since we will probably take Kevin to it.
HA! I have yet to eat squirrel and hope it doesn't come to it.

Mike Dennis said...

Patti, I would agree that BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES and THE BLACK DAHLIA are two of the worst movie adaptations of excellent novels.

To those I would add MILDRED PIERCE (1945), in which Joan Crawford spent all of her time mugging for an Oscar and the novel was torn to shreds.

You could also make a case for VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967), although that movie has actually gained a reputation as being a favorite guilty pleasure. The novel could've been better, too.

Anders E said...

I just saw COBRA (1986), and noticed that it was based on a novel. This movie is so bad it's good. Really, it is. It has the look and feel of a hair metal video from the era, but it makes even less sense. I'm pretty certain it was not intended as a parody. Astounding.