5 Classic Characters Nearly Every Adaptation Gets Wrong
Half the internet exists to tell you you've been wrong your entire life. It's not your fault that you are, though -- movies are in great part to blame, as they exist only to lie to you (just like the other half of the internet).
Sometimes it's entertaining lies -- aliens, monsters, flying people, justice-minded billionaires, and such stuff. Other times, however, movies lie to you about the very stories they purport to be telling -- even changing the characters beyond recognition. As today we're trying to be the better (and more annoying) part of the net, we'll show you what some of those characters are supposed to be.
Frankenstein's Monster Is A French-Speaking Genius
Picture Frankenstein's creature. Easy peasy, right? Now picture a Frankenstein's creature that doesn't look like Herman Munster. There isn't an awful lot to pick from -- maybe you thought of Robert De Niro in that movie where Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein gives life to his creation with all the raw wattage of his over-the-top shirtlessness, or Aaron Eckhart's bizarrely hot monster in I, Frankenstein.
Modern Hollywoodities aside, the square head and neck bolts from the 1930s version have become so iconic that they shamble into our minds on their own whenever we hear the name "Frankenstein." And this shuffling giant barely ever speaks -- sometimes for stupid reasons, like the time when studio execs thought that Bela Lugosi's accent was too funny and cut all his lines (accidentally creating the Frankenstein walk in the process). Like the creature itself, its image in the collective imagination is made of bits and pieces of pop culture sewn together -- and the resulting picture is a brute, mute galoot.
Yes, of course we're using The Young Frankenstein. You just don't not use The Young Frankenstein when given the chance. The Big F does say a few words in the 1935 scene Gene Hackman is joyfully helping send up here, but he speaks as someone who just learned what words even are. Now take a look at how Frankie meeting the blind man plays out in Mary Shelley's novel:
As it turns out, Rory Kinnear's long-winded, melodramatic speeches in Penny Dreadful are how the character was always supposed to be played. But if you're wondering who this French family is who taught the big guy to ramble like some lecturer at the Sorbonne University, wonder no more: It was the blind man's own family. In a plot development very convenient for the instruction of self-loathing abominations born out of scientific hubris, a Turkish girl comes to live with the old guy and his children. Large Frank squats in their shed for months, peeking into the cottage as they teach the girl to read and speak in French, and then completes his homeschooling with some books he finds by pure chance. He betters himself on his own, all the while secretly working hard to help this poor family in disgrace.
Now, this isn't acknowledged in so many words, but the monster is a goddamn genius. Just a few months after learning that speech is a thing, he's already speaking with verve and aplomb (and probably even using words like "verve" and "aplomb"). His first book wasn't a reading primer -- it was John Milton's freakin' Paradise Lost, and he understood it well enough to find Satan relatable. Who knows what he could have achieved had he applied himself to science like his creator, instead of moping around and wallowing in his own misery like an 8-foot-tall, undead emo. Instead of harassing Frankenstein for a girlfriend, he could have eventually built one himself. Of course, that'd have made him an even more pathetic creature -- an MGTOW (Monster Going Their Own Way).
Mr. Hyde Is Smaller And Younger Than Dr. Jekyll
Can you name a movie with a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of story? OK, we'll rephrase that -- can you name a movie with a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of story that doesn't involve deadly doses of nuclear radiation? (We believe Bruce Banner already had super powers that allowed him to survive that -- but we'll tell you about our totally sound, absolutely not boring fan theory some other time). There are a few around: Fight Club, and Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie, and also ... um ... Mrs. Doubtfire? And of course, we shouldn't overlook the definitive example -- The Nutty Professor.
What you didn't name (unless you're a film buff, and that's cheating) was any straight adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's book. The basic plot (which exists pretty much independently of the original novella at this point) has had more twists over the decades than the entire discography of Chubby Checker -- Hyde is a woman! No, he's Jack the Ripper! The story is told as seen by Jekyll's maid! Blaxploitation! Tweety! And yet, no one ever seems to bother with just filming the damn book, like it was embarrassingly derivative to remake a movie that had its last (somewhat) serious treatment back when Christopher Lee was young.
Even non-twisted productions don't pay the novella more than nominal attention. The book describes Hyde as subtly deformed, in a way that you can't really put your finger on -- but that doesn't carry well to the screen, so they just make him a literal monster. But even when that's not the case, Jekyll and Hyde are usually played by the same actor pulling a Christopher Reeve, ignoring the fact that they are supposed to be physically very different. As Jekyll's evil side, Hyde isn't just ugly -- he's also smaller, as Jekyll is mostly a decent fellow.
"Who is the real monster?" you often hear about this kind of Gothic horror tales. Well, the answer is easy: The real monster is Eddie Murphy's movie being the most faithful to the original in this one respect, even if it's for all the wrong reasons. Makes you think about the darkness in humanity's soul, doesn't it?
Captain Nemo Is A Freedom Fighter
There are a few things everyone knows about Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: It's a book for children; it predicts nuclear submarines; and Captain Nemo plays a pipe organ ominously in front of a mirror, like some deranged proto-Tiktoker.
Yes, these facts are all well known. But except for the organ playing, they're also wrong -- it's Disney's 1954 movie you're thinking about. In Verne's novel, the Nautilus isn't nuclear or anything like it -- it works with batteries fueled by sodium extracted from seawater. (Still, writing about a fully electric boat is pretty impressive for a time when the most advanced warships still had sails and burned coal). And as the "for children" part, show us a kid eager to read the unabridged version of a book that's pretty much a long list of fish, occasionally interrupted by people talking.
In addition to the submarine's power source, Disney also changes Captain Nemo, a.k.a. Prince Dakkar. Yup, most adaptations forget that Nemo is an Indian prince who rose against the British, and it was specifically to escape imperialistic rule that he built his sinkable-desinkable boat. In the movie, Nemo is just some (white) dude who got sick of humanity's general shittiness, so he listened to that singing crustacean's advice and moved under the sea.
Now, there are nuances here. (Ah, nuance -- the comedy writer's greatest enemy.) The captain's backstory isn't revealed until the sequel novel The Mysterious Island (Verne's original idea was to make him a Russia-hating Polish); and Disney's Nemo (the one who isn't an adorable fish, anyway) still froths at the mouth about an unnamed "hated nation" as he sinks their ships, the same as in the novel. But other than this personal vendetta, he's unconcerned about human issues. All he wants is to live peacefully under the waves, seeking no power or riches -- the deep contempt he shows for sunken treasure causes Kirk Douglas' chin dimple to tremble with consternation.
It's never made clear why the Nautilus doesn't just use sand or rocks as ballast, as ships have been doing for centuries. This Nemo apparently spurns riches so much that he bothers to pick them up from the ocean's bottom the better to scoff at them. Maybe he needs a bit of good goldsneering to fall asleep at night? Book Nemo, on the other hand, doesn't load his boat with gold just to piss on it -- he uses it to bankroll revolutions:
While Vernemo sides with the oppressed, Disnemo takes an "everyone sucks" approach to the world -- and yet, he's willing to share his cool toys if only everybody gets along. "When the world is ready for a new and better life," he predicts, "all this will someday come to pass -- in God's good time." That "God's good time" seems to be when the movie came out -- by then the Nautilus was already a real thing, and it belonged to the U.S. Navy, as God meant. The movie turned out to be as prophetic as Jules Verne's books -- as we all know, nations never used nuclear submarines to be shitty with one another.
Conan The Barbarian Is Very Talkative
In 2011, a Conan movie starring Jason Momoa was released. No one, not even Crom, will remember if it was good or bad (it was bad), why it was made, or why it bombed (because it was bad). No, all that matters is that two movies were made in the '80s, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the sinewy Cimmerian. That's what's important!
Crom willing, we might still get a third movie in this series. Schwarzenegger himself talked about the possibility as recently as February 2020. If it ends up getting made (and we might or might not be sacrificing to the serpent god Set right now to better the odds), King Conan will bring history full circle, as Conan was created a king. He had already dispatched the previous king of Aquilonia and taken his place in the first short story about him, written in the 1930s -- it was later stories that fleshed out his past as the wandering serial dismemberer we all love.
If you read those old stories, you might be shocked by how much the Cimmerian runs his mouth. While Arnold's Conan mostly speaks with his biceps and his frown (he reportedly only has 24 lines of dialogue in the first movie), OG Conan never shuts the hell up. And he doesn't speak like some illiterate rube, either -- he discusses sophisticated ideas using flowery language, and isn't ashamed to be moved to tears by poetry like it was of Toy Story 4:
But really, a cultured Conan shouldn't come as a huge surprise, even if you only know him from the movies. Don't you remember the part where he's getting an education? Well no, of course you don't remember -- in that exact minute a half-naked woman is brought in, and your priorities are the same as Conan's.
Now we know that Conan does have indeed the tongue to pray to Crom (and perhaps for other things we don't get to see in this scene). He still doesn't do that, though -- not because he lacks the right words, but because praying to Crom is a terrible idea:
"What else shall men ask of the gods?" Conan asks here. Well, for starters, getting to see Arnold punching and slashing monsters once more would be nice. Come on Hollywood jerks, stop sitting on Conan's rights and let that movie happen already. And if you do not listen, then the Hell with you!
Tarzan Pretty Much Has Superpowers (Because of Racism)
Everyone grew up with Tarzan. Barely a few weeks can go by without some Hollywood type going, "You know what the world needs? A new goddamn Tarzan movie," and everyone else in the room agreeing hard. That means that no matter your age, you learned from Tarzan that trees have natural ropes hanging from them -- too bad that it'd be very difficult to swing on those in real life, as liana vines are rooted to the ground. Maybe that's why in Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels, Tarzan doesn't do that. He swings from branch to branch instead, like treetops are a hardcore-level monkey bar -- and he's so good at it that nothing can stop him.
But vines or no vines, the name Tarzan means adventure. (Yes, technically it means "white skin" in the language of the talking apes that raised him, but "adventure" is a valid alternative.) The ape-man is always tangled in jungle-related exploits, such as fighting lions, going against poachers, finding dinosaurs, visiting a lost colony of Atlantis, or going inside the hollow Earth.
As it turns out, the story of the British scion who becomes a superman after being raised by cryptids who name him Pasty is not as grounded in realism as we tend to imagine. It's fitting that Tarzan was played by Connor MacLeod as well as Pennywise's brother, as he's almost supernatural himself. Burroughs believed that no human actor could ever be Tarzan-like enough, and that only Disney-style animation could do his character justice. And yet, the Disney movie that eventually came out downplayed some of the most outrageous bits -- yes, Tarzan still swings through the jungle canopy like Spider-Man on speed, but he no longer has Wolverine's healing powers.
But Tarzan and Logan have more in common than being both fast healers (and subjects to the Crown of the United Kingdom) -- they also share their extremely sharp senses.
There's a reason for Tarzan to develop these superhuman abilities, while natives living in the jungle for many generations never did -- you see, Tarzan is racially superior. Like many (white) people of his time, Burroughs was a fan of eugenics -- one of his novels features a racially pure utopia that would be David Duke's wet dream, and the hero is completely cool with all the selective breeding and forced sterilization going on. That's why the lord of the jungle had to be an actual lord -- according to Burroughs, English aristocrats were the ultimate human beings, "a race strongly marked by hereditary characteristics of the finer and noble sort." (If he were alive today, he'd be most likely one of those jerks unhappy with Meghan Markle.) So if you took a high-born uberbaby and dropped him in the wilderness to fend by himself, those golden genes couldn't fail to result in a loincloth-wearing demigod. It was the 1910s equivalent of gamma bombs and radioactive spiders.
Burroughs was trying to make a point here -- even stripped from birth of every advantage, someone with the right heritage will rise to the top and become master of the land, because they're naturally better than everyone else. OK, perhaps departing from the source material isn't such a bad thing after all.
Top image: Universal Pictures