This week’s Weekly Geeks question is difficult to answer:
The recent release of Watchmen based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore got me thinking about what I thought were the worst movie adaptations of books. What book or books did a director or directors completely ruin in the adaptation(s) that you wish you could “unsee,” and why in your opinion, what made it or them so bad in contrast to the book or books?
It’s difficult because there are so many bad adaptations of great books. I’m not a slave to the faithful recreation of every detail but I do mind when movie makers seem to miss the point of the book entirely and you wonder if they’ve ever even read the thing. Like Sari I’ve been very disappointed by adaptations of some of my favourite Stephen King novels, especially The Shining because so much of the psychological nuance is left out and all that remains is blood-filled horror which is never what the books are solely about. And 2005’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy seemed to ignore entirely the subtle humour of Douglas Adams’ book to the point that I walked out of the screening I was at and only saw it all while held captive on a long flight to Europe.
And because this question asks specifically about film adaptation I won’t rant about what the BBC did to one of my favourite book series when it created the Inspector Lynley Mysteries based, loosely, on Elizabeth George’s series of novels. Instead I’ll talk about The Name of the Rose. The book was written by Umberto Eco in his native Italian in 1980 and translated into English in 1983 and it guides the reader on a journey through some of the most significant events in medieval times using the solving of a whodunit as the major plot device. It tells a fantastic story and is full of rich, historical detail. The film adaptation, released in 1986 starring Sean Connery and F Murray Abraham, may be a good movie (Connery won a British Academy of Film Award for his role) but it is a lousy adaptation of a book, seeming to go out of its way to depict the places and characters in a way that contradicted Eco’s creation. It doesn’t just gloss over key details it ignores them all together which changes the story completely and the characters are all extreme versions of the originals with none of the subtlety that made the book so interesting and thought provoking. The book uses the murder mystery as a device to enable the reader to ponder a broad range of theological and social issues but the film concentrates only on the mystery and doesn’t even to that very well because many of the motivations and reasons for events and actions are not included so the resolution seems quite inexplicable. In short it’s a film I wish had never been made.