5 Movies That Improved on the Book (According to the Author)
Uh-oh. They've made your favorite book into a movie. And, of course, they've changed everything: Bill Spacechek, the courageous Polish protagonist, is now Biff SpaceChest, Aryan super-soldier. That touching scene in the garden is now an exploding cruise ship.
Hollywood seems to love books, except for everything inside of them. But sometimes, when the stars align and the directors sync up just so ... sometimes they get it right. And some other times they get it so right that even the original author has to snap his or her fingers and go "Damn, that is way better than the crap I put down."
Warning: Massive spoilers ahead.
The Mist Completely Changes the Ending
Stephen King's 1980 novella The Mist was one of his more upbeat stories. Transdimensional monsters attack, and after a brief standoff, a man and his son flee, fearing society has fallen -- but then they turn on the radio and hear two words through the static: "Hartford" and "hope."
So leave it to Hollywood to take the one happy ending the guy gives us and just dump all over it. In Frank Darabont's film, the man and his son drive from the supermarket with three others, and it again appears that monsters have taken over the world. But there's no message of hope here: The world, for all intents and purposes, seems to be gone. Rather than wait to be killed by monsters, the main character uses his last four bullets on his son and the other passengers. He then uselessly turns the empty gun on himself before exiting the car to face his death. Within seconds, a tank approaches -- the military has the situation under control and has begun to clear the mist. Our hero just killed his friends and his family for nothing.
Jesus Christ. How do you get to that from "Hartford" and "hope"? Sure, Hartford is rough, but it's not "put a bullet in your son to spare him the horror" rough. Reviewers found the new ending " ghastly" and "nihilistic," or at least " out of character." And Stephen King isn't an automatic shill for his movies: He said he hated Stanley Kubrick's classic The Shining for its changes. King successfully sued when another film drifted too far from his short story. And though he loved his other collaborations with Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), he joked that the overly sentimental The Green Mile was "the first R-rated Hallmark Hall of Fame production."
So stuff was about to go down in horror town, right? Darabont was going to wake up dead with a faded red sweater wrapped around his throat.
Nope! King totally loved the changes and said he'd have used them himself if he had only thought of them first. When studios initially rejected Darabont's script, preferring the original story's " Pollyanna ending," King even personally intervened, explaining that horror fans actually like to be frightened and disturbed.
So tweak the death scene of a single Jack Nicholson, and make an enemy for life -- but have a father shoot his 8-year-old in the face, and you're invited over for drinks at the King estate. We probably shouldn't be surprised.
Fight Club Emphasizes the Romance Angle
Chuck Palahniuk keeps writing best-sellers, but only two of them have come to the screen so far. His stuff is just too oddball for conventional Hollywood. Take Fight Club, for example: The movie cleaves pretty close to the source for most of the run-time, but goes off the rails toward the end. In the book, Tyler Durden's demolition plan fails; the narrator shoots himself to escape the fictitious Tyler and ends up in an asylum, which he mistakes for heaven. Sinister suggestions reveal that Project Mayhem will continue, now out of his control. That's about as bleak as you can get short of poppin' caps into third graders, but overall it's quite fitting with the dark and twisted nature of the novel. But in the movie? We close on the sight of buildings collapsing as the now mentally sound narrator and his love interest, Marla, hold hands. They beat the system and fell in love! Aww.
It's the kind of cliched upbeat Hollywood tweak you'd expect a seriously twisted novelist like Palahniuk to despise, but he friggin' loved it! He thought the visual changes were magnificent. He lauded the way the movie streamlined the book's scattered plot into something coherent. In fact, Palahniuk was so impressed with the end results, he said he felt " sort of embarrassed of the book" compared to the movie.
And that ending? Palahniuk said he wanted to see the romance emphasized more the whole time. Not just because it would help sell tickets, but because of the book's true message: "The story is about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman." Apparently he was trying to write a romantic comedy the whole time and just accidentally tripped and fell down the uber-violent-demasculinization-uprising hole.
Interview With the Vampire Casts Tom Cruise as the Villain
Anne Rice wrote vampire sex fiction back before it was cool. Or, if you prefer, "Anne Rice wrote vampire sex fiction back when it was still cool." Or, if you insist, "Anne Rice wrote Gothic fiction and erotica before the genres collapsed into the mess we have today." It was all the way back in 1976 when Rice first adapted her book Interview With the Vampire into a screenplay and sold the rights. She spent the next two decades battling with terrible Hollywood rewrites. One version tried to turn two of the homoerotic male characters into women, because two guys kissing is "gross." The little girl, Claudia, was to be switched out for an adult, because little girls getting killed -- even if they're undead monsters -- is just too depressing. In short, Hollywood tried to cut everything dark and sexual about the dark and sexual vampire book that built an audience mostly on its dark sexuality.
By the time the 1994 film was in production, Rice had lost all faith in Hollywood. And then she found out about the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. Can you imagine? You write a strange underground horror novel and Hollywood takes your homoerotic undead sex-god and fills the role with Top Gun. Hope is dead, and the thing that lives in its place is a mockery that must be destroyed.
"It's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work," Rice said of the decision.
We imagine they filtered out the profanities and sobbing.
Rice began openly badmouthing the film before she'd even seen it. She alluded to " bullshit and foolishness" that she couldn't even talk about and refused to attend any of the screenings. She wouldn't even look at clips. One of the producers had to send her a copy on tape and insist that she watch it at home. She put it in her VCR and settled down to watch -- but only after locking all the sharp objects away and putting herself on suicide watch.
Then the movie started, and Rice exploded with fangirl joy. She loved it so much, she wrote an 8,000-word open letter to her readers describing it as "perfect," "impeccable," and "extraordinary." The cast was "marvelous," "magical," and "magnificent and flawless." Rice thought Cruise's Lestat, whom she had initially doubted to the point of bloodlust, would "be remembered the way Olivier's Hamlet is remembered." In fact, Rice was so overcome with love for the adaptation she had literally spent two decades despising that she personally paid for a two-page ad in several magazines to sing the film's praises.
Wow. That's not just reversing direction, that's turning around and burning everything in your original direction so that no human being may ever walk the path again.
Agatha Christie the Playwright Hated Agatha Christie the Novelist
Agatha Christie was both lucky and talented: She was talented enough to work across mediums, and lucky enough to keep control of her own properties in her adaptations. So clearly, she was in the best possible position to keep her work untouched. Nobody was going to be more faithful to her vision than herself, right?
But no: Apparently Christie thought her books kind of sucked, and it was rare for one to survive the adaptation process without substantial mauling at her own hands. Her slasher story And Then There Were None lived up to its title: Ten people on an island, and one starts killing the others. Who will be left at the end? The answer: None. What did you expect? But when Agatha Christie turned the story into a play, she figured killing off everyone was kind of dark. So the last two characters survived -- and got married.
If it was a Hollywood screenwriter suggesting that change, you can imagine any author with integrity tearing her hair out and sprinting out of LA forever, but not Christie. Another of her plays, Appointment With Death, changed the original book's murderer into the comic relief. Whoops, it turns out there wasn't a murder at all! The victim killed herself -- and made it look like murder to incriminate her family.
Holy crap -- picture going to see that play as a fan of the book. You expected Titus Andronicus and got Weekend at Bernie's, and you can't even get mad at folks disrespecting the author, because she's standing right there giving it a giant thumbs up and a knowing nod.
Further, in Appointment With Death (and several other of her plays), Christie went so far as to remove Hercule Poirot, her most well-known character. Turns out Christie didn't even like him: She thought he was a " detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep," so whenever she could, she yanked him out of her plays. Basically, if you bought a ticket to see one of Christie's clever murder mysteries full of your favorite classic characters, you'd be lucky if she didn't replace the cast with circus performers and put on an all-pantomime version of The Lion King.
Blade Runner Kills, Saves Philip K. Dick
Most of the authors on this list feared how their books' adaptations would turn out, but Phillip K. Dick is the only one who literally shat blood over it. Dick was in an emotional slump by the '80s. According to a letter he sent to producers, he had lost faith in the entire realm of science fiction. He now thought sci-fi was "inbred," "derivative," and "stale." The whole field had "settled into a monotonous death."
Blade Runner, an adaptation of Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, seemed set to continue the trend. After reading an early script, Dick thought the filmmakers had removed all nuance and meaning from his story, leaving it just a bunch of brainless fight scenes between robots and a bounty hunter. By the spring of 1981, he was popping painkillers and chugging glasses of scotch. On Memorial Day, he began hemorrhaging through his guts. Hollywood was spiritually murdering the man before his film was even released, which is weird, because they usually wait until the box office is in to call the gypsies.
And it turns out all of Dick's fears were justified. At the last minute, the studio forced a happy ending and tacked on an awful voice-over, which indeed sucked all subtlety from the film. Luckily, Dick never saw the finished product. He had only previewed early cuts, which were much closer to the incredible director's cut we have today. Dick was relieved that the world of the film was "so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing." In fact, he saw the film's effects as a new sort of visual expression altogether. Sure, sure -- but was it as good as the book?
Dick thought it went far beyond the book -- he couldn't imagine that anything he'd written could ever be "escalated into such stunning dimensions." This one film justified his entire career up until that point. Dick died soon after sharing his thoughts with the studio, which presumably saw an author ecstatic with an adaptation for once and thought, "Well, this just won't do."
Menezes broke down and got himself a Twitter page. His current whereabouts are unknown.