Dusty’s off today, so I’m filling in. He’ll pick things up next week. In the meantime:
Like many of my writer friends, I absolutely love movies. Almost as much as I love books. And after years of watching movies, writing screenplays and, of course, reading and writing books, if there’s one bit of wisdom I’ve always lived by, it’s this:
Let’s face it. How many times have you read a truly wonderful book, only to see it destroyed by Hollywood? Sometimes they get it right (Mystic River, Godfather, Gone Baby Gone), and sometimes they do it better (ha, you thought I was going to tell you the titles and insult some poor novelist? Think again.)
But most of the time, Hollywood screws it up. Badly.
People who read my books often say to me, "Oh, this would make a wonderful movie." Now, I agree that it would nice to see my books turned into movies, partially because of the financial rewards, but also because it would be exciting to see the books in a form I so love. But chances are fairly good that my books would wind up unrecognizable on the screen.
And who would get the blame? I’m guessing me. A bad movie version of your book can, I believe, kill books sales. Because, after all, if the movie stinks, the book must, too, right?
In fact, I was told recently that one very well-known author’s career was severely damaged by the god-awful excuse for a movie they made of her book. I have no verification of this bit of gossip, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
What follows are a few book to movie translations that I think completely missed the mark. I had a lot more, but for the sake of space, I pared it down to what I think are three of Hollywood’s most egregious sins. And I might as well start big.
Yes, you read that right. This is one of Stephen King’s most popular books and there have been two versions of it made for the screen. But I’m not talking about the mini-series version. I haven’t seen it. What I’m talking about is Kubrick’s completely f’d up interpretation of the book.
I love Kubrick. Paths of Glory is one of my favorite war movies. Barry Lyndon another favorite. A Clockwork Orange changed my life. I even loved Eyes Wide Shut. And I know there are people out there who absolutely love Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
But I just hated it. What was supposed to be a suspensful, nerve-shattering horror story turned out to be a complete and utter bore. Except for a nice reveal ("All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"), and the last fifteen or so minutes when wife and son are being chased through the maze by crazy dad, this movie completely fails to deliver.
Nicholson chews the hell out of the scenery and half the time Kubrick seems to be snoozing behind the camera. If you’re gonna do King, please, please, please give Rob Reiner, William Goldman or Frank Darabount a call.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. James Ellroy wrote the book. Considered a masterpiece by many. And when I heard Brian DePalma was doing the movie adaptation, I thought, hmmm, this might actually work. DePalma is known for doing over-the-top set pieces, but it’s usually over-the-top in a good way.
But Black Dahlia? Brian, Brian, Brian — what the hell were you thinking? This movie wasn’t just bad, it made no sense whatsoever. Disjointed scenes. Weird changes of tone. Characters played as if they were all in different eras. Scarlet Johanssen delivered her lines as if she were straight out of a really bad forties noir film, while Josh Hartnet seemed to be a fugitive from CSI Miami, minus the red hair. And I don’t put blame on the actors. They’re both normally very good. But they were betrayed by De Palma and an unworkable screenplay. (Sorry, Brian — I love you, but…)
The Black Dahlia is a mess from beginning to end. When it was over, my wife and daughter and I turned to one another and said, "WTF was that?"
We still haven’t gotten an answer. I don’t know how Ellroy felt about it, but I would’ve been crying.
This one is my biggest book to movie pet peeve of all.
I absolutely love Gregory McDonald’s dialog heavy mystery/thriller Fletch. It moves quickly, is a real page turner, and the plot is as clever as it is hip. Fletch Is a tall, tanned, smart-ass beach bum reporter who gets tangled up in a murder plot.
The first time I read it, back in the late seventies, I kept envisioning William Hurt or Jeff Bridges in the lead. Today I could see Pitt or possibly even Clooney doing it. But, of course, when Hollywood got hold of it, who got the role of Fletch?
Chevy Chase. Chevy f’ing Chase. And Chase played Fletch as if he were…well… I think you can figure it out. With Chase at the wheel, Fletch became a buffoon. Who wore outlandish disguises. And never said or did anything remotely clever.
The ONLY thing that saved the movie was that they stayed fairly true to the plot. And the sad thing about it? Whenever you mention the book Fletch, the first thing that pops into people’s mind is Chase. Ugh.
I firmly believe that anyone who loved the movie — and there are more than a few — has never read the book. Or, if they have, they read it AFTER they saw the movie.
Now I hear talk of a remake. Ahh, finally, Hollywood gets a chance to redeem itself on this one.
So who’s up for the role? Zach Braff. Zach Braff? I mean, sure it’s an improvement, but he isn’t the Fletch I know and love.
So that’s it. It was tough to pare it down to just those three — I could go on and on — and I’m sure a lot of you could, too.
So tell me what books you think have been destroyed by Hollywood. And while you’re at it, tell us the ones you think worked.
No, I haven’t forgotten about the solution to the Gerritsen/Browne video mystery. Due to technical difficulties, however, I’ll have to show it next time. But I can say that of the eight or so people who actually commented on the first part, one of them got the answer right. So we have a winner — to be revealed…