Books at the Movies

As you may or may not know, a film version of the Douglas Adams classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is opening in theaters this weekend. I know this book remains a popular favorite among many, so I thought I’d ask what you think about it being adapted into film. Do you plan to see it? Why or why not? If you catch it this weekend, be sure to give us a short review.

But now, because I’m fond of changing the subject, I’m going to, uh, change the subject. Even though it’s often like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges, the subject of books on film is capable of spurring debate among devotees of each form. (No, really. It is.) But beyond that, I think we can all agree that there are some film adaptations that shouldn’t have happened, like, ever. (The Scarlet Letter, anyone?) We can all agree on this, yes?

So, what are some of your nominations for worst film adaptation of a book of all time? Why was it so bad? Did they leave out the good parts? Did they leave in so many good parts that the movie ended up long and boring? Lame script? Painfully bad acting? Something else entirely?

Do tell.

23 Responses

  1. Been a Long TimeI haven’t
    Been a Long Time

    I haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in a while — I think I first read it when I was about 13. My brother was a more avid reader than I was and had a pretty strong affinity for sci-fi and related themes. I should probably re-read before commenting, but I am interested in how fans and non-fans receive the movie version. Based on what I remember, I think it would be difficult to pack the unique details and sidenotes into a feature-length film.

    As far as film adaptations go, I’m not much of an expert — although I can say I didn’t make it through either the book or film version of Dune. I think the reason a lot of adaptations fall flat is because either Tom Hanks or Nicole Kidman ends up playing 75% of literary characters on film.

  2. Starship Troopers…by Robert
    Starship Troopers

    …by Robert A. Heinlein

    They took a novel that combined science fiction, youthful adventure, political science, and politics of relationships and turned it into a 14-year old’s titty and shoot-em-up adventure.

    Actually, I enjoyed the movie for what it was. But it wasn’t the book.

    On the other hand, there are movies that were better than the book. The Godfather comes to mind.

  3. I’m kind of amused by the
    I’m kind of amused by the Hanks-bashing of late, because I don’t understand it. Doesn’t mean you’re wrong; maybe it just means I don’t understand it.

    Dune was a very popular book when I was younger. However, I’m a science fiction fan, but I couldn’t finish it.

    Now Riverworld, there’s a series…

  4. Oh he’s just a scapegoat —
    Oh he’s just a scapegoat — plus I hear he likes to be provoked.

    Looking back, I think my main motivation for trying to read Dune was just to say I finished it. I do remember that it seemed so dense, it was hard for me to get to the point.

    I’m not familiar with Riverworld, but I’ll have to check it out — thanks. Good to see you, I was thinking about you and your past reading reviews when this was posted!

  5. Riverworld, by Philip Jose
    Riverworld, by Philip Jose Farmer…he wrote three or four of them.

    Richard Burton (the 19th century explorer and vagabond, not the actor), wakes up after dying in this human farm-type place, where folks are sitting in gel baths hooked up to life-sustaining machines…like that scene in Matrix, which I think was stolen from Riverworld.

    Then he wakes up again, naked, on the banks of a river. There are tons of other people waking up on this river. Here and there are metallic pillars that dispense food. The land slopes up from the river for a few miles, and then turns into high and sheer mountain faces. Impenetrable, like my Sunday School teacher. He is the only human that woke up in the life sustainment place. (the mystery…)

    Basically, every human who ever lived is resurrected on this planet with a river that winds around it. Of course, Richard Burton has to find the source, because us humans just gotta know, ya know? Along the way he falls in love with Alice from Wonderland, battles with a born-again Herman Goehring (sp?), builds a steamboat and travels upriver with Samuel Clemens, befriends a seven-foot cave man, and meets some other pretty cool cats.

    I won’t give away the ending, other than to say God didn’t make this wacky planet and resurrect all these guys. Oh yeah, you have to read the whole series to get the final answer, which might throw you off a bit. But it is pretty fast reading, if you’re so inclined.

  6. Speaking of Starship
    Speaking of Starship Troopers, I remember a debate in one of the science fiction fan magazines- can’t remember which one; like Outre or Cult Classics or something – there was a debate over whether or not Starship Troopers was a fascist movie. I thought this was silly because obviously it was about people who lived in a futuristic, somewhat fascist country, but it wasn’t promoting fascism. The young military students in the film were too absorbed in their hormones and hubris to care about it. Which is often true-to-life. And the boy & girl students showered together. I never read the book, but I love the movie!

  7. Slaves of New YorkNow, I’m
    Slaves of New York

    Now, I’m not saying for sure this is the “worst” adaptation of a book to movie, however, this is just “my” choice. I thought the book had sassy, interesting artsy characters, and it captured an 80s art scene really well. But in the movie, the film had snippets of scenes from the book, mixed in with, I guess, “made-up” pointless moments that almost made the movie have no plot. I’d recognize a character from the book and say, “oh, boy! Marley Mantello!” And then he’d say and do stuff that had nothing to do with the book and I’d get pissed. And then they’d try to be all artsy with the film by making scenes slide into each other or play obscure music. Ha! We still see you did not follow the book, my friend! Oh, well. That’s why I should never see the film version of any book. I’ll probably just pick it apart if it is not down to exact replica. On the other hand, I thought “Wonderboys” was a great adaptation (in film) from the Michael Chabon book. So, there.

  8. h2g2I’d like to take this

    I’d like to take this opportunity to plug the website:

    H2=hitch hikers
    G2=guide galaxy

    It’s an attempt to recreate the actual guide, online, similar to wikipedia. Membership is free, go and take a look. It’s a great online community as well as source of all knowledge.

    I recently discovered that I have been a member long enough to be considered an offical OAP veteran.

    It also means that I have had written work published by the BBC, which I feel pretty snobbish about. OK, its kind of bending the truth: they didn’t pay me and I don’t own the copyright, but still…

  9. Hi Ian –Are you planning to
    Hi Ian —

    Are you planning to see the movie? How do you feel about what you’ve seen/heard of the adaptation so far?

  10. Adaptations Just ThatFor
    Adaptations Just That

    For worst, Bonfire of the Vanities, but the film was OK to watch at home.

    The example above and those below are dated because, sadly, many current films aren’t in your correspondent’s age demographic now so haven’t been viewed. The following examples are better than the books the adaptations came from: Naked Lunch, Blade Runner, and Bright Lights, Big City. Having read Ransom, a McInerny novel published quickly after BLBC to hopefully piggy-back success portrays his style so one knows the metaphor at the end of the film. A loaf of bread is no way worth your correspondent’s Ray-Bans!

    The film adaptations of From Here to Eternity and Dog Soldiers–where Nolte’s character steals the show, just as Nicholson’s character did in The Last Detail–are as equally as strong as the novels, as is Sophie’s Choice.

    The beginning of the Andromeda Strain’s cinema version captures the devastation of the town better than any novel could and is an example of where the printed page fails.

    The film Legends Of The Fall works well–to be guilty of deconstruction, this seemed a metaphor for the War On Drugs–but your correspondent hasn’t read the novel.

    The film adaptation debate won’t go away but they are two completely different genres where clever film makers’ products, e.g. Cronenburg’s Naked Lunch and Altman’s Short Cuts, capture the spirit of the writer. If something like the two just mentioned was done for Coney Island of the Mind, it’d be a mindblastin’ WOW!

    What’s unfortunate in film adaptations of novels is best exemplified in a comment by pop star Sting where he speaks of the age before music videos, viz., his ideas in his head now gave way to the images he saw in the music videos, when he listened to other performers’ music. If your correspondent ever read the novel, Legends of the Fall, he’d be thinking of the film’s actors. Let the aesthetes tackle that one. One suggestion: make Cerebral Cyanide into a Hollywood blockbuster!

  11. Snow Falling on Cedarsby
    Snow Falling on Cedars

    by David Guterson. The book was poignant and beautiful. The movie totally sucked. Well, in my opinion.

    Another on my list was a book I loved to death and reread a couple times. It was The Summer of 42 by Herman Raucher. I was excited when the book was made into a movie… and wanted to cry when I saw the film version; I was so totally disappointed. The film got good reviews so I guess I was in a minority in disliking it. So much of the plot took place in the main character’s mind. They just were unable to properly depict what was happening in the character’s head while relating the events on the screen. It just lost the beauty and fun of the book completely. (I highly recommend this book and it can still be gotten from Amazon)

    That’s why I think really good books should NEVER be made into movies. Film versions are usually inferior and I frequently hate them.

    To quote from Kundera in Immortality.

    “The present era grabs everything that was ever written in order to transform it into films, TV programs or cartoons. What is essential in a novel is precisely what can only be expressed in a novel, and so every adaptation contains nothing but the nonessential. If a person is still crazy enough to write novels nowadays and wants to protect them, he has to write them in such a way that they cannot be adapted, in other words, in such a way that they canot be retold.”

  12. The book talks a lot about
    The book talks a lot about duty to country, and what being a citizen means…things like no right to vote without public service of some type. That is what the book is primarily about, whereas the movie is primarily about shooting aliens, and a bit of love stuff.

    Actually, Heinlein’s books, since about 1950, have a lot of relationship politics in it.

  13. I dug Doogie Howser dressed
    I dug Doogie Howser dressed up as Himmler.

    They tapped the fascist undertones a bit. Certainly as much as you can when, well, the highlight of the flick is the tit scene when the forgettable main character is devoured by a lady who is herself eaten the next day by bugs. And doesn’t she say something to the effect of ‘it’s ok that I’m being eaten since I fucked the forgettable main character last night.’

    And relationship politics. yum… all over Heinlein. I’ve read more than half a dozen of his books. Group marriage etc.

    I once read an article claiming ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ was, in actuality, a Crowleyist casting, a magical spell, that effected the cultural revolution of the sixties.

    I don’t completely buy that. But I agree at the power of ‘Stranger’ it’s the culmination of a lot of his earlier and some later work where he works with similar ideas and characters trying to figure it out for himself or explain it for the rest of us. ‘Stranger’ had an almost measurable effect on things. And I’d argue that any of the best writing (art in general) is arguably spellbinding. A spell. A song.

  14. Don’t Panic!I adored the
    Don’t Panic!

    I adored the hitchiker books and i thought, despite some sniping from the more purist readers, the film remained true to the original Douglas spirit and humour.

    Maybe its the casting that’ upset some fans. While Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as Arthur, there’s Sam Rockwell as Zaphod, which perhaps annoyed because of the overwhelming Californian accent. He’s too smug, too extravangant, and I always though of ZB as a bit dryer, more cynical. Mos Def as Ford Prefect seems quite inspired. Possibly not the Hitchiker fan’s first or even 5th choice, and again the American accent is a little jarring at first, but he reminded me again of the character’s eccentricities and his relationship with Arthur, which on film is very close to what I felt when I read the books.

    4 sperm whales out of five!

  15. The Kundera comment is true
    The Kundera comment is true but to be commercially viable less navel-gazing is what’s most important. One of my most favorite books is Camus’s The Fall and it’s never been made into a movie. It’s a monologue with mostly mental events.

    I couldn’t find anything about Summer of ’42 but I guess it is a love story, a staple of commuter-literature, as are page-turning thrillers but most would not call these literature neither.
    The examples I gave in my post are credible but most psychological novels usually fail on the screen. Soderbergh’s 1989 Sex, Lies, and Videotape was written by Soderbergh for the screen and if he had first written it as a novel is anyone’s guess about its verve or lack of it.

  16. I read the Hitchhiker books
    I read the Hitchhiker books about ten years ago. What I do remember from the book did make it into the movie, the two headed president, the demolition of earth, mice, 42, etc…
    I liked it.

    I loved the first Dune book. The others were just playing off its success, and it got all too tedious.

    Riverworld? Sounds like a good book! I was just reading Ian M Banks, ever heard of him? I don’t think I could sufficiently discribe what he’s writing about, it’s “far out…” but look into him. You guys might like him.

    Actually, come to think of it, did they make a mini-series of Riverworld on Sci-Fi? I might have caught the end of it…

  17. Yes, they did a mini-series.
    Yes, they did a mini-series. I watched 5 minutes and turned it off.

  18. Good choice … that was a
    Good choice … that was a really bad movie. The funny thing is it was made by Merchant and Ivory, who made some really great films like “Remains of the Day” and “Howard’s End”. I think this was their first film that didn’t take place a hundred years ago, and it turns out they’re better at films that take place a hundred years ago.

  19. AdaptationI, like an assumed

    I, like an assumed many of you, read the Hitchhikers books when I was very young, and like another assumed many of you, found them devastatingly hilarious. I still list them around the top of the funniest books I have ever read list (with Tristram Shandy). After telling someone this recently, they went out and read the fist book. After finishing it, he showed up at my apartment where I was lucky to avoid a trouncing. He not only disliked the book but abhorred it. That left me with the question of “Is it a kid’s book or does this guy just suck?” As to the movie, I find it hard to get excited about books I love being adapted. Luckily, all I remember about this one is 33, whales, and a random event generator (hilarious).

    One that I am excited about is Tristram Shandy. If there was ever a book that can’t be made into a movie, this is it. The one asset is has is the space for lots of artistic freedom, assuming the director is artistically inclined.

    And as for film adaptations with these actors in them: Sam Rockwell was amazing in a surprisingly amazing movie by George Clooney. I never read the book, but what an idea! Mos Def is usually good, and I am pessimistic but on my way to see (when it comes out) Confederacy of Dunces.

    I find I argue toward the point that good books usually fail at adaptation, but now I can only remember good books turning into good movies: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fear and Loathing, American Psycho, Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now. So I nominate this recent Cat in the Hat fiasco as an idea gone astray.

  20. I intend to; I just found out
    I intend to; I just found out that all my friends went without me while I was at work. For some reason they thought that I didn’t want to see it so I guess I’ll end up going with my sister or something.

    I’ll let you know my views when I see it. The adverts make me optimistic though.

  21. Battlefield EarthOnly L. Ron
    Battlefield Earth

    Only L. Ron Hubbard book I ever read when I was a teenager and my sci fi phase ran for about month. the book was great and the movie sucked ass, as they say.

  22. The Lords of DisciplineA few
    The Lords of Discipline

    A few decent movies have been made of Pat Conroy’s work: “The Prince of Tides”, “The Great Santini”, and “Conrack”(based on The Water is Wide). An exception of this is the putrid adaptation of “The Lords of Discipline”. The film turned a fairly solid novel into a glorified Hardy Boys mystery. The acting was juvenile and the score one of the most asinine ever. If you haven’t seen it, resist the urge.

  23. Yes, it’s strange that those
    Yes, it’s strange that those are the filmmakers who filmed that. Arthouse directors doing bad arthouse! I wanted to add to my above message that “hollywood license” will probably always work well with any movie except for those of us who have read the book beforehand.

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