Once upon a time, I used to be excited when I heard that a book I loved was being turned into a movie. Finally, some of my favorite characters would come to life! On the big screen!
Then I saw the movies.
Obviously there were some successes, but I’m not here to talk about those! No, today I want to talk about great books that were completely let down by their movie version. Keep in mind that I purposefully avoid terrible movies, so there may be some common bombs not on this list.
One Shot, aka Jack Reacher
So look, the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Childs are not great literature or anything, but they are incredibly competent and enjoyable hard-boiled crime novels. Reacher, the main character, is constantly referenced as being physically imposing — a big, meaty, aging ex-military type with giant fists and a cranky face. So the obvious choice to play him was… wait, Tom Cruise?! (Reacher also traditionally has a penchant for ladies in their 40s, but Hollywood conveniently skipped over that part too.)
The movie was bland and generic, and Cruise was just a bad choice. And now instead of just giving up the franchise so someone can do a better job with it, they’re making a sequel from a second book. SIGH.
Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of those bits of fiction that people either love or hate. I happen to be in the former group. The movie adaptation of the first book started out with superb, spot-on casting in the form of Daniel Craig as a sacrilegious explorer and Nicole Kidman as a glittery, monkey-loving enforcer of the status quo. However, the movie took a most curious approach to the source material and cut out almost all of the religious allegories, removing the story’s heart and brain in the process. What remained was a rather baffling and mediocre tale where the most interesting character was a CGI polar bear.
This one usually appears on every “bad book adaptation” list, and for good reasons. The rumor is that Sean Connery refused to have his character answer to a woman (gasp!) and commanded that no Connery impressions could be done on set, ever. The result is about as joyless as you can imagine. Poor Alan Moore.
Every Philip K. Dick Adaptation That Is Not Blade Runner And Possibly The Original Total Recall
I love Philip K. Dick‘s work. He is one of my favorite writers, and I own just about all of his novels and a great many of his short stories. Before Neuromancer or Snow Crash or Altered Carbon or any of the modern technological works of fiction, PKD was writing about the awkward and fragile truce between man and machine, and what can happen when that falls apart. I don’t blame Hollywood for wanting to adapt his stories, but friends, it causes me grievous pain every time I see another one of his works burned up in a dumbass adaptation. Screamers, Paycheck, Minority Report, freakin’ Next with freakin’ Nicolas Cage.. arrrrrgh.
Every time a crappy adaptation is made, it kills the chance for a great one for the next 5 – 10 years. Stop. Just stop.
This is my .5 entry because Don Coscarelli’s attempt at a film adaptation has the right idea and you can tell that he appreciated the source material, but man, that book is just unadaptable. It’s funny because David Wong’s writing style is extremely cinematic, but there really is no way to render his best scenes to the medium of film without Peter Jackson’s SFX studio and a budget of $18 billion dollars. I love this book so much (so much) that I feel quite warmly about the movie even though it’s a big fat mess, but it probably should not have been made.
Also, Coscarelli changed the dog’s name, which makes me unreasonably cranky.