4 Movies That Got the Source Material's Point Exactly Wrong
The best part of adapting a pre-existing story into a movie is that you've already got a whole bunch of fans who are pretty much guaranteed to buy tickets (yay!). The worst part is that you have to stick to the ideas that already existed in the original story (boo!).
Ha! That's funny because I'm fucking lying to you. People who make movies don't care about staying consistent with some starving artist's vision -- they have cocaine fountains and whiskey pools to pay for. And to be clear, I don't necessarily think that this is a bad thing -- I mean, a cocaine fountain sounds like it'll cause problems, but most of the movies I'm about to talk about are actually pretty good. I just think it's funny that they (seemingly intentionally, in at least one case) are out to piss off the people who came up with the story in the first place.
The Men in Black Were Originally Fascists
Men in Black is the 1997 sci-fi action comedy platform that Will Smith stood upon when he shouted to the world, "People of Earth! Make me your celebrity God-King, and in exchange, I will rap out a pop-song explanation of the premise of every movie I ever appear in." We agreed, and his eventual betrayal of that promise is the greatest disappointment our people have ever faced.
Imagine what he could've done with Seven Pounds.
Anyway, Men in Black. Odds are you didn't even realize that it was a comic book, but now you do, because I just told you. So naturally you're assuming that the comic was the same kind of odd couple buddy-cop comedy the movie is, right? Probably not, because you also read the title.
In the Source Material ...
Yup, the comic and movie are pretty much identical -- as long as you cut out all the "I make this look good"s and "It just be rainin' black people in New York!"s and replace them with a whole bunch of murder.
"Now that's what I'm talkin' ab- oh, God."
The whole point of the comic is that the Men in Black -- like the modern urban folklore that they take their name from -- are the brutal enforcers of a secret fascist state that controls every detail of modern life. I seriously cannot impress upon you what massive dicks they are. Remember the "neurolyzer" device that Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) uses to convince a housewife that the alien she saw was swamp gas refracting off of Venus, and then Will Smith gets to be charming and convince her to hire an interior decorator because damn? In the comics, they still have neurolyzers, only K uses them to convince teenagers to kill themselves.
And suddenly the scene where Will Smith gets the job after shooting a little girl in the face makes sense.
The tagline of the movie -- "Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe" -- only applies to the Men in Black of the comics if you imagine that "scum of the universe" refers to "thinking, feeling human beings." And also you need to change "protecting" to "controlling." And then cut out "from" and replace it with a period, and the beginning of a whole new ... this isn't working. My point is that the Men in Black were originally meant to be significantly more horrifying than David Christopher Bell could ever imagine.
Also, that fucking hair.
Of course, it's not all cynical -- while the humans of the books are way more violent and Nazi-esque, the aliens (and demons, because there are also demons for some reason) are actually way nicer. One bit of dialogue the movie copies directly from the comic is this bit:
"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers."
"Your proposal is acceptable."
Except in the book, the aliens don't eat the dude and kick off a wacky story -- they just ... fly away. It turns out they're participating in an interstellar scavenger hunt in an attempt to escape slavery, and they need a primitive weapon to win their freedom. They took the guy's offer literally: They thought he was bequeathing them his possessions. Like, as a will. Maybe I'm weird, but I find that super endearing. Like I wanna have those aliens over and teach them how to play Settlers of Catan.
Star Trek Is Supposed to Be Optimistic
Since this is such a common complaint, I'm going to get one thing out of the way right off the bat: I don't care that the Star Trek series has been turned into mindless action movies. I don't feel betrayed or misled, because a) that's a stupid thing to feel and b) I'm not really a huge Star Trek guy anyway. I like the movies because I have a soft spot in my heart for films where things explode and pretty people punch things and space ... just spaces. Space doesn't actually need to do anything for me to enjoy it. I just really like it, so any time it's in a movie, I'm on board, man.
You had my curiosity, but now you have my throbbing nerd-erection.
But there's something of a problem in the latest one, Into Darkness, which pits Captain Kirk against the corruption and bureaucratic failings of Starfleet, personified by resurrected super soldier Benedict Kahnberbatch. Admiral Peter Weller wants to use him to start a war to fund his intergalactic meth ring or something, and Kirk is the only captain who's enough of a straight-shooter to stop him, which we learned right away with a shot of him blatantly disobeying an order and violating the Prime Directive. This is a problem becauuuuse ...
In the Source Material ...
The entire point of the original Star Trek series is that human society has achieved perfection: There's no more hate, greed, jealousy, money, farting, light beer, or vaguely worded text messages from your girlfriend -- just space adventures that took oh God so long to get going.
Three whole minutes just to launch a spaceship? I thought this was the future!
That doesn't make for great storytelling, but hey, that's because Gene Roddenberry's point wasn't "I'm going to systematically make a movie that will have a broad appeal"; it was "I want to depict a utopian future, and I am willing to compromise narrative convention to accomplish that." He wanted to give the kids watching his show an idea of a peaceful world to try to make happen one day.
But there's one thing Roddenberry never considered: Star Trek got super popular, and Roddenberry got super dead, so there was nothing stopping future writers from turning all the upper echelons of Starfleet into corrupt slug monsters. By the time Deep Space 9 rolled around, we had an episode where the hero lies, forges legal documents, indirectly murders a public official in order to trick an entire empire into going to war with his enemies, and then spends the entire episode justifying his actions to us, which is way better than watching Kirk punch lizard monsters, thinks no one in the world. Hell, we even learn about "Section 31" -- a secret part of Starfleet that spends its afternoons plotting genocides. By the time Into Darkness rolls around, the entire plot is about evil RoboCop waking Sauron up from hypersleep so he can fight Sylar while young Jack Ryan watches, masturbating.
My Fair Lady Ruins the Entire Point of Pygmalion
My Fair Lady is a ... movie about a linguistics professor named Henry Higgins who bets his friend that he can teach low-class Cockney girl Eliza Doolittle to speak in a fancy enough way to convince obnoxious British folk at a party that she's worth talking to (because British people are really judgmental about the way people talk, see). He treats her like shit the entire time while she becomes more and more empowered and capable, until finally ... they fall in love, Higgins resolves to continue treating her like shit forever, and they live happily ever after.
To be fair, women weren't people yet in 1964.
And alright, fine, it's a musical, but if I had told you that up front, you would've stopped reading. Anyway, if that ending seems weird and tacked on, that's because ...
In the Source Material ...
... the end of Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play that My Fair Lady is adapted from, ends with Doolittle leaving Higgins to stew in his own grumpy, cruel juices, because that is the entire goddamn point of the story. Shaw wrote Pygmalion in order to subvert the narrative trope that a male lead always gets the girl. The end of the play is Doolittle walking out the door, setting off as an independent woman to do whatever she balls well wants. It's an ambiguous ending, which is the point: What she actually does is less important than her decision to think and act for herself. It's a great ending, but we all know how well audiences handle that kind of ambiguity.
"BWHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT happens after that, though?"
My Fair Lady keeps all the cruelty, bullying, and selfishness, but then absent-mindedly throws the pair of them into a relationship in the last scene. And unlike Star Trek, where they at least waited until Roddenberry was dead to completely subvert the point of the universe he'd created, the actor playing Higgins, Herbert Tree, changed the ending before the end of its first run without consulting the Shaw. The result was a snarky conversation that, I swear to God, had better have actually happened, because it's awesome.
Tree: My ending makes money. You ought to thank me.
Shaw: Your ending is damnable. You ought to be shot.
That's a made-up story if I've ever heard one, but please, everyone, let's just pretend it's not.
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The Shining: Jack Is Supposed to Be Sympathetic
The secret that makes The Shining the scariest movie ever is the collision of atmosphere and actor. Director Stanley Kubrick revolutionized filmmaking to create a strange, surreal setting, drew you inside it, and then threw a live Jack Nicholson at you, screaming, "What you gonna do now, sucker, Jack Nicholson is all up in your shit!" From the very first scene, we know Jack is unhinged, and every moment he's on camera is another step toward ax-crazy madness.
While he brought the entire film crew with him.
But in the Source Material ...
In Stephen King's original novel, Jack is supposed to be a sympathetic character. The core conflict of the story is about how he's trying to be a good person and a good father and love his son but is failing in the face of alcoholism, career anxiety, and a not insignificant number of ghosts. The discomfort comes from King putting his characters in a place where the bonds of love and family aren't strong enough, and this is made worse by the fact that any male reader can see a lot of himself in Jack Torrance.
For comparison, any man who sees part of himself in Jack Nicholson probably already has a bathtub full of body parts in his shed.
And all these faces are from before he murders anyone.
In the movie, the only time Jack expresses any sort of love for his son is when he says "I would do anything for him. Any fuckin' thing. I love the little son of a bitch." Then he calls him a "little fucker" and gets angry at recalling the time he drunkenly dislocated his arm. It's not exactly convincing. He's not a guy we want to see redeemed; he's just fucking scary.
In the book, Jack's last act is to kill himself in order to buy his son and wife time to escape from the ghosts possessing his body:
But suddenly his daddy was there, looking at him in mortal agony, and a sorrow so great that Danny's heart flamed within his chest. The mouth drew down in a quivering bow.
"Doc," Jack Torrance said. "Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you."
It might sound like I'm criticizing Kubrick's movie, but holy hell, I'm not doing that at all. I watch that movie all the goddamn time. But as much as I love it, I can totally see why King hates it so goddamn much: He wrote Jack Torrance as an exploration of his own flaws (King wrote that story right when alcoholism was destroying his life and family, and the character represents the author to a certain degree), but Kubrick turned him into a monster -- years after the fact. That's like someone digging up your LiveJournal and making a coming-of-age teen comedy out of it.
Did Kubrick do this on purpose? I can't say for sure, but in the cacophony of madness that is the documentary Room 237, one theory in particular stuck out as legitimate: In the novel, the Torrances' VW Beetle is red, but in the movie Kubrick makes it yellow. Then, later -- and for seemingly no reason -- he shows us this:
A wrecked red VW Beetle. Take that, guy who wrote this book.
Be sure to check out other ways Hollywood can destroy our favorite movies in If 33 Famous Movies Were Made into Trilogies.