Book to Film Adaptation Travesties
The transfer of book to film is a tricky business. The written word while so easy to turn into images within the mind’s eye is more often than not lacking when reproduced upon the filmic medium. This is especially disheartening for fans. When one has read the books and has become attached to the exacting portrayal of characters and events only to see the films and quickly notice that the film maker has skimmed over, omitted or completely changed the beloved book it is easy to see why the fan becomes outraged. Even worse is when the Derps and Derpina’s go out and see the film and can’t resist arguing how “awesome” the film travesty was.
This list is for every time I have completed a book, looked forward to the film in earnest only to be dismayed at over-Americanising, event softening or complete character alteration. In the future I may make a list celebrating the film makers who actually get it right but for now, after completing The Power of One and then watching the movie in indignation I will write in the negative. In no particular order:
The Power of One (Writer: Bryce Courtney)
The Power of One (Director: John G Avildsen, Screenplay: Robert Mark Kamen)
Bryce Courtney’s The Power of One, is as its’ title suggests the story of the struggle of one man, one race and one country to balance the power and find a sense of justice. This is told through the character of Peekay, an child of English blood born and raised during Africa’s Apartheid. He fights for justice and power, struggles through racism, poverty and becomes an unlikely world champion welterweight champion and idealistic Barrister, fighting for the rights of all the people of Africa. The book is a touching tale that paints the apartheid atrocities clearly yet poetically, balances coming of age and the responsibility of power discourses and explains some of the nuances of tribal custom and language as well as that of boxing. From the outside it would seem that a story like this is a nearly impossible fit but Bryce Courtney’s story telling is such that it makes total sense and stays with the reader for weeks after the book’s completion.
The film on the other hand is very confused. There is little or no real explanation for Peekay’s exaltation by the Afrikaner tribes, why he wanted to be a boxer and why the film was changed to be a love story between Maria (who the hell is this ginger?) and Peekay when really it should have been concerned with the power of one to make a difference in the world. The viewer was left with no emotional connection to Peekay or any of those who touched his life. One example of this is the death of Geel Piet. In the book, this man was supposed to have been one of the largest bricks in the building of Peekay’s resolve and his brutal and visceral murder. Instead while watching the film I was wondering why I should care that Geel Piet was dead, what he had to do with boxing and why he would be so keen to wait upon Peekay and Doc. At about 1:35:00 the film started making a little bit of sense, it seems that Kamen and Avildsen intended to focus upon how knowledge is the larger part of power, placing Peekay as the forward thinker in educating Black Africans (banned from any real education during the apartheid). Read the book, avoid the film.
Film Rating: 6.9/10 IMDb
3/10 My rating
Stephen King’s IT (Writer: Stephen King)
Stephen King’s IT (Director: Tommy Lee Wallace, Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen)
Each time I read IT I jump at shadows, avoid showers and drain pipes and will cross the street to avoid clowns. The book and film narratives are very close, so there are no complaints here. Aired as a two part tele-movie, IT is about the inter-dimensional predatory lifeform that lives and has lived since almost the beginning of time beneath Derry, Maine. It goes by the name Pennywise, a wise cracking clown that feeds upon fear, and who is full of more fear than small children? The first part of the story is concerned with a group of outcast children who band together throughout the school holidays firstly through their “loser” status and secondly by a combined need to survive Pennywise. Tim Curry is a standout performer in both the first and second sections and overall the first part of this film is a success.
Which brings me to part two of the narrative: thirty years after the children have defeated Pennywise it seems that he is back to finish what he started but with the now grown ups who put him back underground. The book describes how the simpler fears of childhood are complicated by adulthood but how even as adults we fear what goes bump in the night. The group must band back together and link back to the past as a matter of significance: Although they are successful adults, as children they were losers, and losers they must become again (Bill begins stuttering again, Beverly has to confront how extensively she was abused as a child etc.). *SPOILER ALERT* it turns out that Pennywise only takes upon the form of a clown as a projection above ground. In fact, it is a gigantic alien spider with a gaze (deadlights) that can knock the sanity out of a person. In printed word, this is all very scary. In film, not so much. The first issue here is with casting, the adults actors were incredibly overdone, so much so it was laughable in parts (very special mention goes to Richard Thomas for his pony tail, st…st…stuttering and visible quaking in parts. How very kitsch!). From what should have been a psychological thriller/ horror, the view is left with a melodrama. The second, and I am sure fans would agree is on equal par is the extremely dated special effects of IT. The giant spider that in print left me with nightmares about deadlights actually produced a chuckle from me in film. It was the kind of special effect I would honestly expect from an Ed Wood film, not something that is supposed to be honouring the work of Stephen King.
Film rating: 6.8/10 IMDb
Part One 7/10, Part Two 4/10
Flowers in the Attic (Writer: Virginia Andrews)
(1987, Jeffery Bloom. 2014, Deborah Chow)
It is arguable that perhaps the filmmaker didn’t have the best material to work with, but the book did enjoy quite a lot of success after its 1979 release. The first attempt to make this book into a film was in 1987 and was poorly received by both critics and fans. The film did deviate from the novel in many ways, the controversial incest storyline between the elder brother and sister was omitted from the film in addition to the death of the mother character, Corinne, who survives until the third novel. The Lifetime network remade Flowers in the Attic in 2014 which while being more authentic to the novel included rather lacklustre acting from Heather Graham
Film Rating 5.5/10 IMDb
Quick Mentions for Other Culprits
The Golden Compass (2007)
No religious undertones and allegories in this film, which made this book so interesting, but instead there are a hodgepodge of senseless action sequences. Also I don’t know what happened to Nicole Kidman after The Others but she is still doing that breathy, whispering thing when she speaks. Is that meant to be sexy? I don’t know what is going on there at all.
The Scarlet Letter (1995)
Demi Moore, who forgot that you can act with your clothes on, forewent a speech coach (that is NOT an English accent gov’ner!) and really failed to explore the inner turmoil of Hester as a pariah.
Queen of the Damned (2002)
Anne Rice’s stance on this film on her Facebook page is that she is “hurt” that her film was “mutilated the way it was”. She repeatedly comments that the film is not something that she can understand or embrace. To say that this film is loosely based upon the novel is very much a stretch. The film lost the charm of allure of the class vampire. Completely modernised, the characters became two dimensional and lost that sense of the balance between being aged and ageless.
Great book and filmed into another mundane fantasy, CGI-fest.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief (2010)
See note about Eragon.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
As always, Tim Burton’s work is always visually breathtaking but Alice’s casting (Mia Wasikowska) gave a rather mediocre performance. Alice’s character is supposed to be the anti-Victorian era woman and is supposed to gain strength as she progresses through the narrative. Instead Alice seemed to float through the narrative events, almost unaware of what was going on. Also, while the film began well, it ended in the same predictable mega fight finale that almost all CGI based films use.
What do you think? Leave a comment.