7 Awful Movie Versions Of Books That Deserve A Second Try
Making a movie based on a book is a tough gig. You have to realize that a decent percentage of the book's fans will wish death upon you and your children no matter how good of a job you do. And you also have to understand that, no matter how faithful you want to be to the source material, what works in a book doesn't always work in a movie. So many adaptations fail because what was thrilling on the page makes for cinematic Ambien on the screen.
There is still hope however. Hollywood is in an intense, sweaty relationship with the art of the remake, and just because a book-to-movie adaptation failed once doesn't mean that it shouldn't get another chance. There are definitely books that deserve second chances at redemption, even though their first shots could be considered hate crimes against film critics. Take for instance ...
You can hardly have a conversation about lousy film adaptations without Eragon coming up at some point. A rushed cash grab trying to horn in on the young-adult fantasy boom of the early 2000s, the film seems to consider its source material as a set of polite suggestions. Many people considered the books to be "Harry Potter with pouty dragons" and Hollywood apparently saw it the same way. Things like the dangers of the internet and drugs are often marked as reasons for why a current generation is awful, but if my son dragged me to see Eragon in 2006, all I'd be able to think is "THIS is what kids like these days? My son and all of his friends are so, so screwed."
Who could have ever guessed that this was the main character written by a homeschooled teenager?
If you want to be charitable, you could say that it provides a great example of how to completely squander both the rich plotting and characterization of the original novel and simultaneously turn your built-in fan base into an army of detractors. The Eragon books aren't perfect, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the author wrote them at an age when most people are grumbling about the prospect of a 500-word essay. But they deserved better than to be turned into the lamest things to ever involve dragons. It's really hard to make something dragon-related that isn't either insane or great, meaning that the people behind Eragon went out of their way to create a movie that played like the director's parents had once been eaten by dragons.
The movie did still manage to make money, though, so studios might be willing to take another crack at it eventually, with "eventually" being the key word here. Hollywood is coming off the tail end of pumping out movies about a special teenage person that does something special, so we'll probably have to wait a while for it. And we'll also have to wait for the right screenwriter to come along, because it's so easy to read Eragon and think "Oh, so I'll just do a Hunger Games thing, but with flying lizards. This should be simple. Bring me my laptop and fill up the kiddie pool with gold coins and champagne. Daddy's got 'writing' to do."
Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic inspired countless imitators but none more pale and weak than the adaptations which bear the name. The Syfy channel miniseries came close, but only because it felt more like Dune than, say, American Pie: Band Camp felt like Dune. But the film that people remember most is the 1984 David Lynch film, which the director took after turning down the Return Of The Jedi job. Lynch wanted something that reflected his vision, but as we saw in Dune, apparently his vision was "Let's make the viewer wonder where reality ends and this movie begins."
In the early 80s, Dune seemed to have everything going for it: auteur director, star-studded cast, designs by H.R. Giger, score by 80s sensation Toto, and the musician Sting? OK, Sting, I guess. In a Speedo. Well, maybe we'll just have to see how it all plays out, right? I mean, even the singer of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" in some sci-fi swimwear can be magical if the script is good. Right?
Any script that produces this image deserves an Oscar nomination.
Executive meddling tore into Lynch's script and edited the film so far, far down from its original run time that it felt less like a movie and more like an odd collection of scenes that someone had spilled on a haywire sewing machine. Lynch hated it so much that his director credit read Alan Smithee, the go-to for directors who don't want to be associated with a movie. Additionally, in the sickest burn since Pompeii, some versions of the film have changed his writing credit to Judas Booth, as in Judas "30 pieces of silver" Iscariot and John Wilkes Booth, because Lynch felt that the executives had betrayed him and assassinated his movie. That's a pretty elaborate way to tell someone to go fuck himself.
Of course it was Lynch's idea to throw in every character's inner monologue in every scene whispering what's happening in case the audience stopped paying attention. And having the guy who won't shut up during the movie inside the actual movie is never a good idea. However, studios are all looking for the next franchise with a built-in audience and you could do far worse.
Far, far worse.
I loved Dune as much as the next guy, as long as the next guy is a thirty-something nerd who still watches Cartoon Network during the day, but I admit that grasping the intricacies of Dune seems like it might be tough for general audiences. The paradox of perfectly accurate prophecy vs. free will, possession by the genetic memory of an ancestor and centuries-long eugenics programs gets a little complex. But people are willing to learn every six-syllable name on Game Of Thrones, so I think they'd be capable of watching a Dune series that doesn't cut corners. The only question is if they'd want to.
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Has any comic writer felt the sting of the poor adaptation more than Alan Moore? Yes, absolutely. I mean 70 percent of all Superman movies have been total crap, but Moore has seen many of his most beloved creations turned into mediocre films like Watchmen or V For Vendetta and none are likely to get redeemed by a more favorable remake any time soon. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, however, was a spectacular failure for a spectacularly good book.
Cracked has covered League before, but in case you do things like not read Cracked at all hours of the day, here's some info to fill you in: The original comic was basically a gritty, dark Justice League composed of characters like Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, and Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, all set in a steampunk Victorian England. The comic lived up to expectations in terms of action and drama with complex characters and exciting plot twists. The movie looked at all that and was like, "Naaaah."
But we did get to see the Wikipedia logo come to life, apparently.
The 2003 film commits pretty much every sin an adaptation can; cutting out story, changing characters' personalities, terribly bad CGI that only gets worse with age, and adding characters that didn't exist before like American agent Tom Sawyer. Even the Sawyer character could have been good if he hadn't sucked up so much of a delightfully indifferent Sean Connery's screen time. But it doesn't have to be that way. Another show has proven that it doesn't have to be that way.
Showtime's Penny Dreadful, which mixed Frankensteins, werewolves, and vampires with the gleeful abandon of HBO-lite boning, was serious enough for you to get involved, but self-aware enough to realize that the whole thing was pretty silly. And it told a whole story over three seasons, which is the amount of time that League would need in order to get anything done. No matter how knowledgeable an audience is of them, it's dumb to think that you can re-introduce a dozen classic literary characters and expect an audience to give anything more than the tiniest Victorian boot-scrape of a shit. Extend that by a few more hours, and it has a chance.
Queen Of The Damned
Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire sparked off a huge obsession with both vampire fiction and incredibly smutty vampire fiction. It's safe to say there would be no Twilight or Anita Blake novels without Rice's The Vampire Chronicles but we'll forgive her. While Interview's film adaptation was well-received, its follow-up, Queen Of The Damned, was a mess of turn-of-the-millennium nu-metal and long coats; an adaptation for bros who thought Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt just didn't have the Monster Energy Drink edge required to make for good vampires.
A good remake would probably do better for starters by sticking to the original time period and styling the vampire antihero Lestat as the Bowie-esque glam rocker he was meant to be. No offense to Korn, but if you're trying to rouse the still heart of a 3000-year-old vampire queen, maybe Lestat should choose a music style that's a little more, I don't know, audience friendly? The entire soundtrack was composed by Korn, and while Korn would be great for a movie about waking a vampire queen in time for her shift at Spencer's Gifts, it doesn't scream "ageless, epic vampire tale."
Half of these band members are currently applying to work at Spencer's Gifts.
It is the music that is the biggest stumbling block. Creating an original song for a film runs an incredibly huge risk of making your movie so awkwardly dated that it becomes hard to watch after a few years. A Queen Of The Damned adaptation would get a plus simply by not being a product of the worst trends of 2002. We can overlook old slang, even old clothes as long as it's something a person would actually wear, but old music that was supposed to sound like a hit for its time can turn into that awkward high school picture you never show anybody. That's what Queen Of The Damned has become. The one with the eyeliner and the highlights. You know the one.
This William Gibson joint deserved much better than it got. Of course, most William Gibson novels, the closest things you'll ever get to books written by a cyborg attempting to prove that it's a man, deserve much better.
But the standout in a long line of disappointing book-to-movie translations was Johnny Mnemonic, which dealt heavily with cybernetic brain implants and ticket buyer embarrassment. It wasn't just the bad effects and set design that did this one in. (Though, for a movie set in the crazy future, it sure did include a lot of sets that looked like the side area of a Wells Fargo bank.) It was the cast.
This is a movie with an epically bad cast. Keanu Reeves, Ice-T, and Dolph Lundgren are all terrible, and anyone defending Keanu in general needs to remember that this isn't awesome John Wick era Keanu. This is 1995 Keanu, and while he's an awesome guy, it was a chore in the mid-nineties to get him to look like he wasn't trying to adjust to his fresh, new human brain every time he spoke.
Pictured: Keanu ver. 1.8 (Three syllable words testing phase).
And on the same note, these aren't existential crisis clone Dolph Lundgren and Law & Order: SVU Ice-T. Somehow, Johnny Mnemonic managed to cast three people at the worst periods of their careers, acting-wise. That's less bad luck and more fate trying to get the karmic retribution of an entire theater audience out of the way in one swoop.
So barring that kind of cosmic bad acting alignment impossibly happening again, a Johnny Mnemonic reboot would be a pretty strong move. The themes of cyberpunk, oppressive government, hugely powerful corporations, and the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots don't look like they're going to become irrelevant anytime soon. There is no better time than any time in all of history to make a movie about how awful reckless people with tons of money can be.
Isaac Asimov's best known work, I, Robot, hasn't gotten much time on the big screen. The most recent attempt to adapt this story about robot consciousness with Will Smith left audiences feeling like the studio probably spent more time reading product placement contracts than they did reading the original story and that kind of selling out makes me sick to my stomach with nausea, heartburn, and indigestion. Good thing I've got Pepto-Bismol to relieve the discomfort of watching that mess. I'm not saying that the reason Wash died in Serenity was punishment for Alan Tudyk lending his voice to Sonny the Robot Messiah in this movie, but I'm not not saying it.
Like a lot of hard sci-fi, Asimov's work doesn't really lend itself to a big, action-packed summer blockbuster. It's a story about what it means to be human, alive, and intelligent and probably best suited to a nice, long drama or maybe an anthology. There are action-y points in it, but trying to turn this into an adventure film is like pulling your junk out at a family dinner to prove that you're ready for your first date. We sort of get what you're trying to do, but you've taken all of it too far.
Of course, there's no guarantee that studios won't try to force this square peg into the round buddy-cop hole, but if they try, I'm going to drive to LA in my new Honda Pilot and plant these comfortable yet rugged Doc Martens right up someone's ass, while the original I, Robot streams in the background on Amazon Prime. PlayStation.
No. Nope, I was wrong. Not everybody deserves a second chance, or a first chance. Let's all just try to forget this was a thing. Remember Queen Of The Damned? That was fun. This entry never existed.
For adaptations that actually managed to improve on the source material check out 6 Movie Adaptations That Wisely Cut Ridiculous Details and 6 Moments in Video Game Adaptations That Improved the Movie.
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