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Worst literary adaptations

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What's the worst adaptation of a book to film you've ever seen?

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?

The Bonfire of the Vanities?

The Island of Dr. Moreau?

The Scarlett Letter?

Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I really couldn't stand Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula.

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Dracula? Really, opus? Huh. I know it's operatic and over the top, and I know it includes Keanu Reeves, but that's one of my all-time favorite "guilty pleasure" flicks. I just can't get enough of watching Gary Oldman in that role. And I love the campy special effects.

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Just about any Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, particularly the Roger Corman stuff from the '50s and '60s. Poe is difficult to adapt, for screen or stage, under the best of circumstances ... but in the hands of Corman he never had a chance.

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The French Lieutenant's Woman - pretty atrocious, though truthfully, an adaption was a bad idea to begin with. (The only thing I enjoyed: that some scenes were filmed in the exact places desribed by John Fowles - it was neat to see them.) Harold Pinter imposed a contemporary narrative (not in the book) featuring the "real" lives of the film's cast. That actually turned out to be more interesting than the adaption of the novel itself.

IMHO, making the film of TFLW include a contemporary narrative about filming the novel that parallels the narrative in the novel was exactly what made the movie AS GOOD, in its own way, as the novel. The film thus manages to reiterate the same theme(s) of past and present intersecting and influencing each other, without trying--and probably failing--to use the novel's device of a the equivalent of a voiceover narrator.

The film version of A.S. Byatt's Possession had a similar task and botched it, just settled for focusing on the torrid passion(s) and forgot about trying to deal with the really interesting narrative issues of the novel.

Almost any Disney version of anything. Children should not be allowed to see a Disney cartoon of these stories until they have read the originals, or heard them read aloud, IMNSHO:

The Jungle Book

Tarzan

Alice in Wonderland

The Sword in the Stone

Yes, I am cranky about this.

Edited by BethR

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Dracula? Really, opus? Huh. I know it's operatic and over the top, and I know it includes Keanu Reeves, but that's one of my all-time favorite "guilty pleasure" flicks. I just can't get enough of watching Gary Oldman in that role. And I love the campy special effects.

Perhaps it because I have a fair amount of respect for the original novel - I read it expecting something all cheesy and goth-y, and found it far better than I was expecting. And though I love campy movies as much as the next person (perhaps even moreso), it just felt so wrong with this movie. If I want a campy Dracula movie, I think I'll just stick with the old Hammer films.

I personally love the Corman Poe's...

I'm also a fan of these, and still have several on VHS that I picked up from the local Blockbuster for real cheap. I wrote a paper on Corman for my film history class in college, and his Poe films were a fairly major part of the paper, IIRC.

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Hate to say it, BethR, but I'm an animation buff and a Disney buff (I have all but 3 of the 44 "official" traditionally animated feature films, from 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to 2004's Home on the Range, plus many, many of their short cartoons as well), so I imagine my children will see a number of those films before they read the originals. Though I think I'll make a point of steering them well, well clear of The Black Cauldron until they've read Lloyd Alexander's 'Prydain Chronicles'.

Personally, I'd add The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to this list. Two nights ago, at a Bible study, a friend was reading a chapter from C.S. Lewis's book to a 7-year-old kid -- the chapter where the Witch meets Aslan and demands the life of Edmund, the chapter where the film's reversal of the personalities of the Witch and Aslan is most explicit -- and when my friend got to the part where the Witch picks up her skirts and runs, the boy said, "What happened was, the Witch sat down in her chair..." At that point, I had to pipe up and say, "No, the film changed that." "Oh," the boy said, but I wasn't sure he quite knew what I was saying.

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I personally love the Corman Poe's...

I'm also a fan of these, and still have several on VHS that I picked up from the local Blockbuster for real cheap. I wrote a paper on Corman for my film history class in college, and his Poe films were a fairly major part of the paper, IIRC.

I can see how one might enjoy these films on their own ... ahem ... merits (for lack of a better term), but the point is that they bear only tangential relationships to what Poe wrote.

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Hate to say it, BethR, but I'm an animation buff and a Disney buff (I have all but 3 of the 44 "official" traditionally animated feature films, from 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to 2004's Home on the Range, plus many, many of their short cartoons as well), so I imagine my children will see a number of those films before they read the originals. Though I think I'll make a point of steering them well, well clear of The Black Cauldron until they've read Lloyd Alexander's 'Prydain Chronicles'.

Personally, I'd add The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to this list. Two nights ago, at a Bible study, a friend was reading a chapter from C.S. Lewis's book to a 7-year-old kid -- the chapter where the Witch meets Aslan and demands the life of Edmund, the chapter where the film's reversal of the personalities of the Witch and Aslan is most explicit -- and when my friend got to the part where the Witch picks up her skirts and runs, the boy said, "What happened was, the Witch sat down in her chair..." At that point, I had to pipe up and say, "No, the film changed that." "Oh," the boy said, but I wasn't sure he quite knew what I was saying.

I knew that mentioning Disney would raise your hackles, Peter, but I think your reply only reinforces my point. Disney's Snow White, Dumbo, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, the original Fantasia, animated 101 Dalmatians--I didn't object to those.

But however delightful The Little Mermaid is as film and musical, it's a travesty of Hans Christian Andersen's story, and I suspect any child whose first exposure to the basic idea is that film may have trouble with the complex beauty of Anderson's original. Disney's Alice is good silly fun, but not a patch on Carroll's. Disney versions before the originals can be the equivalent of Turkish delight--they ruin children's appetite for the good stuff.

Before you get your knickers in twist, I said "can be," not "are." Probably in situations where parents are reading to children at the same time they let them watch the cartoons, not much damage is done. But informal polls in college classrooms indicate that about 80% of first-year students have seen Disney versions of Alice or Tarzan or The Sword in the Stone; about 2% have read one of those books.

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High Fidelity

One of those movies which, if it stood alone, would be a small gem. But standing next to Nick Hornby's novel, it wilts. I saw it before reading the book and liked it a lot. Now I'm on my second reading of the novel and can't stomach the film. Big mistake, IMO, to strip away the novel's British-ness and transplant it to Chicago; and in the course of adaptation, Stephen Frears diluted the pathos and raw emotion of the novel. Not to mention, Hornby is just a funny, funny writer - so real, so good. The film had plenty of laughs, but nowhere the level of genius in Hornby's source material.

And while John Cusack can be good in the right role, he is way too cool and good-looking to play Rob Fleming, who I have always pictured as a (slightly older) Dominic Monaghan type.

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BethR wrote:

: I knew that mentioning Disney would raise your hackles, Peter, but I think your reply only reinforces my

: point. Disney's Snow White, Dumbo, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, the original

: Fantasia, animated 101 Dalmatians--I didn't object to those.

Whew!

FWIW, I don't think my hackles were raised or my knickers twisted -- though I may have felt a tad defensive about the way I plan to raise my kids! :)

I'm actually not that big a fan of Disney's Alice in Wonderland, but not because of how it does or doesn't compare to Carroll's book, which I have not yet read; rather, because of how it doesn't compare to the ILLUSTRATIONS in Carroll's book! Plus it isn't quite my kind of story, period.

: But informal polls in college classrooms indicate that about 80% of first-year students have seen Disney

: versions of Alice or Tarzan or The Sword in the Stone; about 2% have read one of those books.

FWIW, I've seen 'em all, but of those three, I've read only Tarzan -- and I actually rather liked the fact that the movie kept an important scene from the book, a scene that also appears in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), a scene in which the boy Tarzan sees his reflection in the water and tries to cover his white face with mud, so that he will look more like his fellow apes.

But all those Phil Collins songs ... gah.

Hmmm, there are 44 "official" Disney feature films, from Snow White (1937) to Home on the Range (2004). I wonder how many of those are adaptations of existing books? FWIW, the only ones I have read are Pinocchio (2nd film, 1940), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (22nd film, 1977), The Black Cauldron (25th film, 1985), Hercules (if we count my reading of ancient Greek myths; 35th film, 1997) and Tarzan (37th film, 1999).

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Ken, have you seen the Dune miniseries? It's much more faithful to the book.

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Having just completed this book, and then viewing this thread, I decided on a whim to see if there had been any attempt in the past or the future to adapt the following novel. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it has been announced for a 2008 release. I know I shouldn't pre-judge a film 2 years before it's supossed completion and release, but just from the casting alone I do not hold out high hopes for this...

Atlas Shrugged

I guess Brad Pitt may be the answer to question, "Who is John Galt?"

BTW, my pick for worst adaptation would go to Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep... but this is a good thing. Thank God they just chucked the novel. I, for one, could not stand that book, but Blade Runner is by far my favorite movie.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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For me, The award for the Worst Literary Adaptation Ever goes to ...

Disney's Winnie the Pooh films

All of them. The animation is nothing like the illustrations in the book, it's abhorrently Americanized, about half of the best parts they didn't even bother with, and there's that stupid gopher. I hate them, hate them, HATE THEM!!!

(deep breath)

I have to agree with PTC; Narnia is near the bottom of the barrel. The problem is it LOOKS like it stays true to the book on the surface, but subtly distorts the story and characters. The letter is kept, but not the spirit. The entire mood is completely different. Actually, they didn't keep that true to the book anyway. They took out stuff, and added in stuff, and none of it was even slightly beneficial. The writers should have realized that Lewis knew his world far better than they did. Adamson tried to make the whole thing his own; it came out trying to be profound but failing miserably. Lewis, on the other hand, kept things simple, and some of the most profound spiritual truths can be found in the books.

On another level, what is a bad literary adaptation? One that doesn't stay true to the book, or one that makes a bad movie? Plenty are both, but some are only one or the other. For instance, Jurassic Park strayed quite far from the book, but made a great movie. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, on the other hand, stayed slavishly true to the book, but somehow fell flat. So what's the standard here?

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Yes. (I own it, actually.) Some of the production values are distracting (those blazing blue eyes) but it is much more satisfying. As a Herbert fanboy of sorts (adore the first book, pretend the rest don't exist) I can quibble with parts of the mini-series and be disatisfied with it in some ways, but I don't hold any animosity towards it.

I also liked the miniseries, as it enables people who aren't willing to work through the book to actually get the whole story. But I still think that, despite all of its shortcomings, Lynch's version does justice to Herbert's prose. That book is a work of art, and Lynch catches its tone in most of the film.

I guess Brad Pitt may be the answer to question, "Who is John Galt?"

He would be perfect.

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So, is this where I include my snarky comment about how a perfect adaptation of Atlast Shrugged would still be a piece of crap? ;) And speaking of Ayn Rand, has anyone else seen the version of The Fountainhead with Gary Cooper? Wow. What a crazy mess of a film.

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Darren wrote: So, is this where I include my snarky comment about how a perfect adaptation of Atlast Shrugged would still be a piece of crap? ;) And speaking of Ayn Rand, has anyone else seen the version of The Fountainhead with Gary Cooper? Wow. What a crazy mess of a film.

Not only have I seen it -- I freakin' love it. I would defend that picture against all comers -- it's the adaptation that not only delivers on the absurdities in the novel, but also winks at them in sly, enlarging ways. And that movie has more energy than ten crash and burn hollywood blockbusters of 2006.

Edited by goneganesh

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For me (no bricks, please) it was The Brothers Karamazov -- the old MGM one (which somehow, I'd always blamed on Disney until I looked it up today online). Maybe because the novel is so great... but the movie was, to me, a real stinker.

Runner up? Oddly enough, another F. D. novel, Crime and Punishment -- the movie was a late 80s or early 90s made for TV version, so maybe it isn't fair for me to torch it. But they ruined it, almost completely.

Maybe what I'm saying is that Dostoevsky isn't a guy you easily adapt?

Blessings,

jon

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goneganesh wrote:

: Not only have I seen it -- I freakin' love it. I would defend that picture against all comers -- it's the

: adaptation that not only delivers on the absurdities in the novel, but also winks at them in sly,

: enlarging ways. And that movie has more energy than ten crash and burn hollywood blockbusters

: of 2006.

I am very curious now to know whether you are one of those who praises Paul Verhoeven for foregrounding and implicitly critiquing the fascist elements of Starship Troopers, or one of those who despises Paul Verhoeven for completely missing the point(s) of Robert Heinlein's original novel.

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I am very curious now to know whether you are one of those who praises Paul Verhoeven for foregrounding and implicitly critiquing the fascist elements of Starship Troopers, or one of those who despises Paul Verhoeven for completely missing the point(s) of Robert Heinlein's original novel.

Neither, or both, probably...the co-opting of Heinlein's book strikes me as a cynical marketing move, since Verhoeven has no interest in exploring any of the "ideas" in the book. It really is a hatchet job from an adaptation point of view. That said, I am a Verhoeven fan and I do like the movie as is. And if you think that critique of the fascist elements is "implicit" rather than totally in your face -- then the pleasures of The Fountainhead will indeed be limited for you.

In the case of The Fountainhead -- Ayn wrote the script and had some kind of cosmic licensing approval over the film (maybe even Final Cut). She loved it too, but probably not for the same reasons I do.

Edited by goneganesh

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