Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Burning Question: Worst/Best literary adaptation

We've all seen them: movies based on books we love that are far less glorious than they could have been. Whether it be Bonfire of the Vanities, Johnny Mnemonic, The Time Machine or Battlefield Earth(Ok, there wasn't really that much good to work with anyway on this one), there have been a lot of movie makers that done a lot of damage.... and I was curious as to which movie adaptations you were just repelled by.

And by the same token, there are movies that just get it right when it comes to their subject matter. Even if they aren't word for word representations of the story they are attached to, they still manage to capture what was essential about work to complement it.

I am reminded of a moment in time where I actually burned myself. I was looking up the movie version of Ulysses again recently and there was a user review of it, and reading the title, I thought what idiot wrote that it was the best they could have done with the material. I was that idiot 7 years earlier. That is a unique moment. But I digress.

Now personally in my worst category I have to say that The Postman was perhaps the greatest cinematic disappointment I've seen... but Kevin Costner was involved, so I shouldn't have had high expectations. It wasn't David Brin's best book(I think Glory Season holds that title), but it was a good yarn and a well-thought out tale. It saddens me to think that David Brin claimed to be happy with the bloated, overly produced results. Total Recall is another movie adaptation that really missed the point of the simple Philip K. Dick tale "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".

On the flipside, I was impressed by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, even though it wasn't 100% accurate to the books, it did seem to really capture the spirit of Douglas Adams and his sense of whimsy and it is my hope that if they ever do make a Discworld novel into a movie, that they at least try to accomplish that. Gettysburg, an adaptation of Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels is also particularly noteworthy in my mind.

Now my burning question is: What are the best and worst literary adaptations you've seen?


SamuraiFrog said...

The reason Brin was happy with Kevin Costner's movie is that it retained his point. He said that there had been an earlier attempt to adapt The Postman, but that the screenwriter had reversed every one of his moral points, and that if the Costner adaptation had to happen the way it did, at least he kept the same morality and reasoning to it.

I think every Philip K. Dick adaptation misses the point, really. I can't speak for A Scanner Darkly, which I've yet to see, but I thought Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Paycheck, Imposter, and Minority Report all missed the point entirely. At least Blade Runner looked good and was well-acted, but they reversed the entire premise of the book (depopulation to overpopulation) and made it about nothing.

It's always science fiction movies that have this problem.

I think the best literary adaptation I've seen, just off the top of my head, is (predictably) The Lord of the Rings. I also think Gone with the Wind, Inherit the Wind, the 1968 Planet of the Apes, and a few different versions of Hamlet are tops.

As for the worst... Well, pick most of the science fiction films made in the last 8 years or so. I think the worst I've ever seen is that Will Smith abomination I, Robot. That was so bad I actually found it offensive.

Reel Fanatic said...

It's the end of a very long working day, so I'm a little too brain dead to think of a worst title, but two in particular strike me as my two favorites for best, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Snapper, the latter being a very funny Roddy Doyle movie that was seamlessly made into a movie by Stephen Frears

MC said...

Samuraifrog: Yeah, even in writing the story, science fiction seemed to dominate the films I mentioned.

reel fanatic: Roddy Doyle does seem to translate well yeah.

Lee said...

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in my opinion was an excellent adaptation.

I thought that the source material was consulted thoroughly and I read a story were Gilliam wanted to put an extra line in somewhere and sought Hunter's approval. I think it was in the diner scene but my memory is a little hazy this morning!

MC said...

Yes, that is a mark of a good adaptation...