They’re (Not) Gonna Put Me In the Movies

By J.D. Rhoades

Over at the message board at Lee Child’s website, a topic
that springs up pretty much weekly is “which actor should play Jack Reacher?”
The answers, as you might imagine, range widely, and some of them, quite
frankly, make me scratch my head and go “huh?” So far, however, I’ve never seen
a suggestion quite right to play Lee’s quintessential bad-ass (although I must
say, the suggestion of this guy

22m_3intrigued me). So I began to wonder: is there
really an actor out there who’s capable of bringing a character like Reacher to
the screen? Consider that one of the things that most clearly defines Jack Reacher
is silence. How many times in the books do we read that Reacher doesn’t answer,
or doesn’t speak, in response to some dimwitted question,  some unnecessary verbiage on the part of the
bad guy, or just because words aren’t necessary? Much of what goes on the books
goes on internally, inside Reacher’s head. How do you bring something like that
to the screen?

Which then leads us to the question: are there some books
that simply can’t, or more properly, should not be filmed?

Now, don’t get me
wrong, I hope someday all the writers I know and love  get big fat movie contracts and rake  in  huge honkin’ piles of teen coin. There have
been some screen adaptations that have actually done justice to their source
material (The Maltese Falcon, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and some that have actually improved upon it (The
, Road to Perdition). I hope all my friends and acquaintances are as lucky.

But I also think back on how some of my favorite
books just didn’t make the jump to the silver screen. The Ice Harvest was a
huge disappointment to me, for example, despite having three of my favorite
actors (John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and Oliver Platt) in major roles. And
don’t get me started on the mess David Lynch made of Dune. The book is one of
the greatest SF novels of all time; the movie is a Foul Reek in the Nostrils of
God. The Dune TV miniseries wasn’t great, but it was only ridiculous, not horrifyingly
awful. It may just be that there is no way to bring Frank Herbert’s sprawling,
complex future society to life.

Of course, the same sort of thing was said about Middle-Earth. (Some are still saying it, but I’m not one of them).

So, today’s questions for discussion are:

(1) What favorite book or books do you not want to see on screen for fear they just wouldn’t translate well?

(2) Conversely, which screen adaptations do it right, in your opinion? And what makes the difference?

(3) What do you desperately want to see onscreen?

(4) And finally, is the Transformers movie  gonna kick ass, or what?


29 thoughts on “They’re (Not) Gonna Put Me In the Movies

  1. Mark Terry

    My answer to Q1 is Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones.” I think they’ll just screw it up.

    I actually think Peter Jackson improved on Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings,” but I may be in the minority. But an example is when Faramir rides out with his men on the orders of his father, and they are slaughtered. It’s a stunning, moving, brilliantly conceived piece of film. Go read that section in the book. It’s about one paragraph, goes something like: Faramir and his men rode into battle and were slaughtered.

    There’s nothing I desperately want to see on the screen (except possibly some of my own books), but I think they could do a good job on some of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston’s books–Riptide and Thunderhead, for instance–and with the right casting Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware books might work. There was one movie version starring Ted Danson of one of his earlier books, and actually Danson was pretty good casting.

    No opinion on Transformers, but it looks cool.

    Oh, and one of the intriguing possibilities I’d heard of for Reacher was Viggo Mortenson. I’m not so sure about that, but he’s a good actor, so maybe he’d pull it off.

  2. Gerald So

    In general, I think any book that relies on internal monologue (e.g. most P.I. books), is not easily filmed. You’re right that Reacher isn’t a talker. Neither was Hawk, and as well as Avery Brooks played him, the bulk of his talents was almost wasted.

    Which books have been done right at the movies? GET SHORTY. OUT OF SIGHT, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS. I think the key is knowing when to deviate from the source text for the sake of what plays better onscreen.

    I’d like to see Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole as a movie. I know Crais is against it, but he might lighten up if he decides to stop writing the series. I also think GONE, BABY, GONE will be good.

    Who would play a good Reacher? Dolph Lundgren. He’s got the build, the fight training, and his English is good.

  3. J.D. Rhoades

    Mark: I’m definitely with you on the Faramir scene in LOTR. The film version damn near reduced me to tears. But I’m hoping they save Mortenson to play Jack Keller ;-).

    Gerald: Ditto on the difficulties of doing PI fiction on film. Most times, they resort to voice-over narration to deal with the internal monologue, which has been done so many times it now just screams cheesy. I’d love to see Cole on film, but I think they’d screw up, say, L.A. REQUIEM due to all of the flashbacks and the fact that Joe Pike, like Jack Reacher, is a very closed, internalized character.

  4. Karen Olson

    I didn’t like Michael Connelly’s book trailer with the actors. I don’t want to “see” Harry Bosch. I like the image of him in my head.

    Best screen adaptation of a book, IMHO: JAWS. My god, it couldn’t be anything BUT an improvement over the book and it was so on the mark.

    I thought the DAVINCI CODE would be the same way, but sadly, no, it was worse than the book. Ridiculous. It had so much potential as a film and everything about it was wrong.

    I would love to see Swierczynski’s or Gischler’s books onscreen. Quentin Tarantino, for sure (but no women with guns for legs, it’s been done). I’d also like to see Sean Doolittle’s THE CLEANUP…

  5. pari

    I think J.T.’s debut would make a good film. But then, I think most of the works by the folks here at Murderati (past and present) could be adapted well.

    Best adaptation of a book? HOLES. Of course, Louis Sachaar wrote the screenplay.

    I’ve heard that movies are planned of Philip Pullman’s trilogy starting with the THE GOLDEN COMPASS — and that scares me. The books are so lush, the language so stunning, that I doubt these will translate well to screen.

    A bad adaptation? THE ORCHID THIEF (yeah, I might be in the minority here). The book was just wonderful and the movie was a study in self-indulgence and forced wit.

  6. Louise Ure

    Best adaptation? Ken Follett’s THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE.

    Sorry I can’t contribute to the other questions, JD. I see so few films that if I mentioned a book I’d like to see on screen — it probably already is.

  7. Steve Brewer

    Worst crime-novel adaptation of all time might be the film of Elmore Leonard’s “Be Cool,” the sequel to “Get Shorty.” Yeesh.

  8. Naomi

    I’m so curious what Anthony Minghella’s going to do with Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Not sure if it’s going to be a TV series or movie. Physically, I picture Precious Ramotswe as being played by someone like singer Cesaria Evora.

    It’s probably only a matter of time before Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs is on Masterpiece Theater’s Mystery! And Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache will most likely have his day on Canadian TV.

    And the Transformers? What nostalgia. I remember my brother getting hooked on Transformers during a family trip to Japan before they were officially launched in the U.S. Will be certain to draw the Gen-X/Y crowd in addition to the kids.

  9. JT Ellison

    Great question! Though it’s not in our genre, I’d wait in line to see Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER series made into movies, but only if the casting of Jamie Fraser was spot on. Which means they’d have to discover someone new. I think that’s the issue with Reacher too — there’s no one out there that will fit each reader’s mental picture of who he is, and the brooding, silent type of personality coupled with the physical size of the character is going to be difficult to pull off to perfection.

    In the massive failure category, I found a movie made from John Sandford’s PREY series on some terrible channel on TV. was an adaptation of MIND PREY and starred Eric La Salle, from ER, as Lucas Davenport. I still haven’t figured that one out. Davenport drove some sort of souped up 70’s muscle car rather than the Porsche too, which really ruined it for me : )

    Pari, thanks for the vote of confidence. I try to write with a very visual aspect, so maybe someone else will agree with you!

  10. pari

    Brett,Thanks for the trailer. I don’t know what I feel after seeing it, though. Still nervous, I guess.

    Boy, Naomi, Jacquelyn’s Maisie would make a great Mystery series. Good call there.

    J.T. — yes, you do write cinematically.

  11. simon

    I would like to see a movie version of THE LONG GOODBYE. I hate the Altman version. I think John Huston would have made a dandy Roger Wade…

  12. JLW

    (1) I did not think the Peter Jackson LOTR was anywhere near adequate, although I allow it could have been much worse. I was not and am not impressed by his expansion of the Faramir-departs-Minas-Tirith scene when Jackson left so much more important material out. I do not understand why Fangorn is made to look like a tree when the book states categorically that he does not look like a tree. I do not know why all that crap about Arwen is added in the second film when for some inexplicable reason Aragorn falls off a cliff. I resent the fact that Jackson changed the meaning of “The Two Towers”. I loathed all the arch CGI helicopter-style zoom shots. I thought that the birth of the Uruk-hai in slimy placentas was much more puerile Hollywood than mature Middle-earth. But especially I do not understand why Jackson made Frodo thirty years too young–it changes the relationship between him and Sam ia a rather compromising way. LOTR should never have been made into a motion picture in the first place, but the Jackson version clearly fails. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, and all you Orlando Bloom junkies out there can just lump it.

    But let’s face it, “Troy” was worse, almost infinitely worse, as an adaptation of the Iliad.

    In fact, except where the source was originally intended as drama, film adaptations of literature generally suck. Let’s face it: The Godfather and Road to Perdition are not exactly literature.

    (2) Funny that Dusty hated “The Ice Harvest”, because Scott Phillips loved it. Scott didn’t even mind them changing the ending.

    I think the Harry Potter movies are generally good adaptations, and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” was dead on.

    (3) There is nothing I desperately want to see on screen, but I would like to see another Aubrey/Maturin film besides the inaptly titled “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (as Jack is already a post Captain in the movie) because beyond all expectations it didn’t disappoint, even though I have to say I went to go see it with a very jaundiced eye.

    (4) Transformers, schmanceformers. You Gen Xers are pathetic.

  13. Alex Sokoloff

    Oh, a sore spot.

    Gerald is so right about: OUT OF SIGHT, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS.

    Excellent, excellent adaptations.

    Anything I say about LOTR will cause pain and havoc, but I love the movies – I think those films are a watershed in cinema. And Orlando Bloom… well, okay, never mind that.

    Best adaptations for my money? ROSEMARY’S BABY and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (very faithful) – and THE SHINING (not faithful, but completely true to King, nonetheless).

    Also, THE GREEN MILE and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (Frank Darabont GETS King like no one else, and I can’t wait to see the movie of THE MIST).

    Minghella’s COLD MOUNTAIN is an unfaithful but brilliant movie.

    Film adaptations I’d most like to see but am most afraid of? Any Barbara Kingsolver.

    Who to play Reacher? I’d be more happy with a Brit like Clive Owen or Robson Green, but Robson’s not big enough and Clive isn’t quite Child enough.

    Daniel Craig is who everyone in Hollywood would cast for Reacher right now but I don’t think Craig has Child’s – I mean Reacher’s – elegance and intelligence and facility with women.

  14. Rae

    Great post, Dusty…..

    Agree with you about the Faramir scene, it was one of my favorite moments. And although I did find a few headscratchers in LOTR – the “Aragorn falls off a cliff” thing was a bit bothersome – I thought the films were beautiful and that Jackson was true to the spirit of the book.

    Which, in my opinion, is the point of an adaptation – truth to the nature of the characters and the story. Film and books are two very different art forms, and what works brilliantly over the course of 400 pages may not translate perfectly to a 40 page film treatment (or whatever they call those things). In any film adaptation, I hope for a well-conceived, well-executed, cinematically interesting version of a great story….and for all crime fiction writers to make big bank off Hollywood.

    Regarding Our Hero, Jack Reacher: dedicated Reacher Creature that I am, I really don’t care which actor (or actress, for that matter) plays the part; no film will ever match the Reacher that acts out the stories on my mental stage when I read the books. And whatever happens on screen, the books will still be there.

    To answer the questions: I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t want to see on screen; my favorite recent adaption is “The Devil Wears Prada”; I’m really looking forward to Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Lovely Bones”; and I don’t know what Transformers are 😉

  15. Rae


    OK, OK, OK. If you’re going to back me into a corner, I’ll give you the two choices I always post on the Forum: William Shatner or Mel Torme.

    Heh 😉

    (If it has to be a real, like, actor, I vote for Viggo, especially since “A History of Violence”.)

  16. Mike MacLean

    Nathan Fillion is a solid choice for Reacher. For those who don’t know him, he played the lead in the incredibly underrated SERENITY—one of my favorite SF films of all time (spawned from the incredibly underrated TV show Firefly). I have no idea why this guy isn’t a big star (I said the same about Bruce Campbell years ago).

    Honestly, I don’t understand those who badmouth Peter Jackson’s LOTR. Tolkien had an incredible imagination and his contributions to the fantasy literature are immeasurable. But the books WERE NOT thrill rides. In fact, they were 90% walking. What an exciting time at the movies that would’ve been.

    I would love to see SNOW CRASH on the big screen, although it’s such a huge story, I’d worry they’d screw it up. Maybe Jackson could give it a shot.

    I secretly watched the Transformers in Jr. High. The entire plot makes absolutely no sense and I have no idea how they’ll pull it off.

  17. alternatefish

    First, I have great faith that any movie with Captain Mal (erm, Nathan Fillion) will be fantastic.

    honestly, I think the best book-to-movie translations are those where the moviemaker is not trying to recreate the book onscreen. They may not be the most literal representations of the book, but I look at movies as a different way to tell the same story, using different tools. (so I pretty much agree with Rae’s perspective.)

    “The Godfather,” for instance, is one of my least favorite books and favorite movies because Coppola took the story and made it his own. “A Clockwork Orange” is another example. Kubrick just ignored the ending of the book, which he didn’t like.

    One of the comments above sums up my view, basically: “not faithful, but completely true to King”

    That’s what makes or breaks an adaptation for me.

    and I’ll see y’all at the midnight opening showing of Transformers… 🙂

  18. Alex Sokoloff

    Rae, now you’re just messing with me.

    I sure wouldn’t want to be up against you in a fight to the death. I’d be psyched out in two minutes flat.

    To the rest of you – Fillion is a doll but no way does he have the numbers to get any kind of movie made, much less the Reacher franchise. You are dreaming.

    Oh, he’ll be a tentpole, no doubt 😉 but no one will take a chance on him until it’s already done.


  19. billie

    I’m so upset – just finished Firefly on DVD and now have Serenity here but I don’t want to watch it b/c there’s nothing after!!

    I cannot believe that TV show got cancelled.

    One novel turned movie I really loved was Cider House Rules. I adored that John Irving played the stationmaster.

  20. Mike MacLean


    Unfortunately you’re right about Fillion. The lack of star power is probably what did in SERENITY at the box office. But money aside (when is money ever aside) he’s a good choice.


    Did you ever give your picks? Who would you like to see play Keller?

  21. JDRhoades

    Book I want to see as a movie: Gun Monkeys

    Book I really think they’d screw up: To the Power of Three (sorry, Laura)

    Movie that gets it right: see original post

    Pick to play Keller: Viggo Mortenson or Matthew McConaughey (sp?)

    Will the T’formers kick ass? Oh yeah…

  22. toni mcgee causey

    Scott Frank, who adapted OUT OF SIGHT told a very funny story once: he was trying to adapt the trunk scene, and Leonard wanted him to just adapt it closely to the way it was written in the book (and Frank, probably exaggerating, said “which went on for more than 30 pages”)… and Frank couldn’t do that. Then when he did adapt it, he wanted Soderberg to film it the way he’d written it, and to appease him, Soderberg did… and in the editing room, they watched what turned out to be something like four or five minutes of total darkness. They had to improvise, and the irony was, Leonard was said to have loved it, and commented that it was “exactly like he imagined it” once it got to the screen.

    It’s not a mystery (to me, at least) that Scott was not only willing, but eagerly interested in working closely with Leonard to get it right.

    T-formers looks like mindless kick-ass fun, perfect for summer.

  23. Fran

    I generally think that movies are trailers for books.

    Decent adaptation? “The Princess Bride”. I loved the duel on the Cliffs of Insanity.

    Who can play Reacher? Who has “hands the size of turkeys”? AND talent? I’m with Rae on this one.

  24. Kristy

    Alex, REALLY?! I would be totally facile for Craig 😀

    And Dusty, um, if you EVER approve McConawhatever, I will cut off all communication with you, post haste. There is NO genuine sexuality in the man whatsoever. Despite his aura of casualness, I’ve never seen a man pose more in my life. NO, NO, NO. I LIKE Keller. I want a MAN.

    And the book club discussion I attended last night suggested him for Tate in CATCHING GENIUS. Arrrggghhhh!

    Besides, Keller needs some pain etched in his face, he needs some history, like a young Nick Nolte maybe, Viggo is a definite contender, ooooh, is Benecio too old?

    Happy to see you here…

  25. Gerald So

    Good to be among Browncoats. I don’t think Fillion is massive enough for Reacher, and it would be a shame to waste his way with words, but what about his Firefly crewmate Adam Baldwin?

    Or seriously, Dolph Lundgren.

  26. Robert Gregory Browne

    FLETCH is a movie that should never have been made. And it should especially never have been made with Chevy Chase of all people playing Fletch. Jeff Bridges maybe? William Hurt in his prime?

    I mean, come on, a Chevy Chase comedy?



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