Some Novel Butchery


The Reason I Get Up in the Morning and I share a love of movies. Now our tastes in movies differ, sometimes significantly, but then that’s what girlfriends and man-dates are for, now isn’t it? Anyway, Summer ’09 is shaping up to be one of the best movie seasons in my recent memory. TRIGUITM and I had already seen Wolverine and Star Trek, and, last night, we caught  the 6:30 showing of Angels and Demons. So far we think Hollywood is three for three. I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the last three weeks’ opening offerings. Since two of these three blockbusters have their genesis in print, we rode home discussing some of the better novel adaptations (Angels and Demons was very gracious to the novel) and then turned to some of the travesties that have come out of SoCal over the years.

I thought the latter would make an interesting post and so, without further ado and for your eddification, here’s my list, in somewhat particular order, of the worst examples of butchering a novel to every grace the silver screen. Share your own thoughts about my accuracy, or lack thereof, in the comments!

The Prince of Tides (from the novel by Pat Conroy): Okay, the novel was one of my favorites, not least because it was by a fellow South Carolina boy with a personality that I find very much like mine. Truth be told, the movie was not horrible, but the movie wasn’t about the book. The book, I thought, was the story of a family. The movie was a love story. It’s hard to remain faithful to a novel when the movie pretty much leaves out the main character, in this case, Tom Wingo’s older brother, Luke.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (from the novel by Pierre Boulle and based on a true story): Well, I loved the movie and “Colonel Bogey’s March” that the British soldiers are whistling as they come into the POW camp gets in your head as only “It’s a Small World After All” usually can. Having said that, the movie, and the novel to a great extent, are a slap in the face of every brave POW who worked and died building the two real bridges in Burma over the Kwai River. Not only does it take liberties with the novel, but this movie also has the kind of historical value that The Patriot would make famous decades later. For the real story, get and watch a copy of The History Channel’s excellent documentary.

Starship Troopers (from the novel by Robert Heinlein): This pairing is one of those that’s about as bad as it gets. Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier admitted they only read the first chapter of Heinlein’s seminal science fiction novel. As a result, they made a typical Hollywood “shoot ’em up” set in space rather than delving into the political science and ideology that are really at the heart of Heinlein’s novel. Of all the books to movies I’m discussing here, if you haven’t read Heinlein’s novel, but you HAVE seen the movie (and it IS a fun movie) you owe it to yourself to read the book. You may not agree with Heinlein’s politics, but you will admit Hollywood lost something in translation.

The Secret of NIMH (from the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien): The 1972 Newbery Award winning children’s book was completely rewritten for this animated feature. The movie did start like the book did and they both have NIMH in the title and that’s pretty much it. The characters are the same, but their fates and motivations are not. I like to call this movie a “book report buster” because if a child makes the mistake of writing a book report (gods, what a horrible fate anyway) and bases it on the movie alone he or she is busted. Both are good works in their own rights, but the movie butchers the novel.

Eragon (from the novel by Christopher Paolini): I do not usually advocate violence, but directors who foist such grave damage onto such an incredible book should be shot, or at the very least be forced to read the book. I have read that Paolini was “quite happy” with the movie adaptation of his novel. All I can say is, if that’s the case, he doesn’t care much about what folks do with his work.  Or, maybe he just likes the idea of being rich. If the latter is the case, he should have followed the lead of J.K. Rowling, who, though not one of my favorite people in the world, managed to make sure that the movies that would add “filthy” onto the “rich” in front of her name were reasonably accurate depictions of what went on in her novels. I was stoked to see the movie when it came out. I have only been more disappointed in one other movie based on a novel and that movie was

The Golden Compass (based on the novel Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman): Oh the chances wasted. I don’t like Phillip Pullman, not because he is an atheist, but because he is an arrogant evangelical atheist. Arrogant evangelical anybodies get on my nerves. America is called land of the free for a reason. Having said all that, the man wrote a wonderful novel. I mean, talking BEARS that WEAR ARMOR and FIGHT?! What’s not to love? After listening to the excellent audio version of the book on my way to work, I was, once again, stoked to see the movie. Budge was even more hyped up than I was! She’d read all three novels in preparation for the movie. When we saw the previews, we just knew this was going to be an amazing movie — star studded cast, cutting edge CGI — we were ready. We also came unbelievably close to walking out halfway through the movie. It was that bad. The TALKING, ARMOR WEARING bears? Very, very important to the novel. Did I mention they WORE ARMOR, TALKED and FOUGHT? Extremely, unbelievably cool! Very little time on screen. The novel was the first of a trilogy, but the way the movie bombed, don’t hold your breath for a sequel.

And finally,

The Wizard of Oz (From the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum): Heresy! You think I should be burned at the stake for such a terrible suggestion? Well, actually, no. While the Wizard of Oz is one of my Budge’s favorite movies and is one of the most beloved films of all time, as well as one of the best, it showed very little faithfulness to Baum’s novel. The differences are multitudinous and the vast majority can be put down to the fact that Baum’s novel had political undertones that were outdated by 1939, still, changing silver slippers to ruby and a clear glass city to emerald green would have to be considered considerable poetic license with the original text. In this case, though, the movie has eclipsed the novel many times over. Had the studio waited a year to release the film, it probably would have wracked up at the Oscars. As it lay though, Oz lost out in almost all of its many, many nominations to another little film based on a novel. Perhaps you’ve heard of Gone with the Wind?

Hope you like the list! Now, scrub your necks and wash your feet, then tell me what y’all think!

Love y’all 🙂

5 responses »

  1. I know I’m late to the party on this one. (The end of the school year got my RSS Reader all backlogged.) How about Kenneth Brannaugh’s version of “Mary Shelley’s” Frankenstein? For goodness sake, the ending being changed completely destroyed the character that Mary Shelley worked to build.

    And in the line of trashy novels….Sliver. They changed the murderer in that one! I didn’t think you were allowed to do such a thing!

    Then there are the ones where I can’t imagine how a scriptwriter developed such a fantastic performance from deep within the depths of waterlogged books…The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, and Wicked, just to name a few.

    So I guess, for every bad apple, there’s another one where it’s worked out just fine. I just hope I keep finding the ripe ones and not the wormy ones!

  2. Great list! You are obviously an avid movie viewer. I wanted to add to your list.
    Being a middle school librarian, I am, of course, quite familiar with the book Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. I was interested to see how that would work as a movie, and it gets my nomination for the absolutely WORST book to movie creation ever! The acting was ridiculously bad, especially by the two main characters, and the special effects, such as when he’s running with Bella or when they’re climbing the tree were pathetically amateurish and phony looking. If I could do one thing, I wish I’d NEVER gone to see the movie. What a mistake. I now warn anyone who enjoys the book NOT to see the movie.

  3. Good job. What about good adaptations? I know they’re few and far between, but there are a few. Rosemary’s Baby comes to mind. L.A. Confidential. Almost everything by EM Forster. I never read The Godfather, but I’ll bet the movie is just as good if not better. I’m betting some of those movies based on Clancy books might be just as good as if not better than the books. Any others you can think of?

    • Actually, I was REALLY happy with the Lord of the Rings movies. Having survived the horrible animated version of the late Seventies, I watched the buildup to “Fellowship” with bated breath. I wasn’t disappointed, to say the least.

      Still, the best film adaptation to me has to be To Kill A Mockingbird. Be honest, when someone says “Atticus Finch” doesn’t he look like Gregory Peck in your mind’s eye? 🙂

  4. Great list! My guys have forbidden me to go to a movie that is a book adaptation, or truth be told, refuse to attend with me. They say I audibly naysay throughout the movie which is quite embarassing to them.


    Im mulling my response–I dont know if I can pick enough favorites novel that filmmakers have massacred.

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