6 Movies That Strayed Far, Far Away from the Book

Just because the poster says the film is “based on the novel by” doesn’t mean they are contractually obligated to faithfully represent the ideas, themes or even the plot of the book on which it is based. The authors have their checks. The actors and directors have a script to shoot with and even bigger checks in their bank accounts. The studio executives have a huge bundle of cash in their penthouse apartment that they use to line the floor of their equally massive hamster cages for their ultra rare Stolzmann’s fish-eating rats.

The only group that gets screwed is the audience. They faithfully plonk down $10.50 in change for a ticket to see their favorite novel brought to life, only to be more disappointed than the readers of “Weekend at Bernie’s: The Book”. It’s understandable that some small details or characters wouldn’t make it into the final product for the sake of continuity or screen time. Some, however, stray so far away from the source material that they really shouldn’t be allowed to use any of the words from the book’s title in lines of dialogue, let alone on a poster or a movie marquee.

1. “The Chocolate War”

This staple of junior high school summer reading lists is disappointing on two levels: (1) it contains the word “war” in the title in a purely figurative sense and (2) the ending helps children realize that sometimes the bad guys win and justice only exists in “Superman” comic books and dating reality shows.

The book version ends with the defiant hero, Jerry Renault, fighting the good fight against an underground club that secretly runs his private high school by ordering the students’ to sell chocolates. Renault refuses to participate despite being bullied, threatened and beaten but he stands his ground. Archie, the group’s cruel leader, organizes a fight between Renault and Emile, the group’s violent enforcer. Renault puts up a good fight but eventually relents in a bloody heap in the ring. This was too much of a downer ending for film audiences, so they changed it. He not only wins but he gets to beat the holy living hell out of Archie instead and gets the corny Hollywood “thumbs up” from every principal character in the film.

2. “The Shining”

Director Stanley Kubrick and author Stephen King had some very high profile differences of opinion over the film version of King’s sordid supernatural tale. The two quarreled over just about every aspect of the production from the plot twists and locations to even Kubrick’s casting choice of Jack Nicholson as the murderous Jack Torrance.

King’s book largely dealt with feelings of inadequacy brought on by alcoholism, something the film only touched on with references to Jack’s drinking that caused his son’s accident and the Prohibition Era flashbacks. Kubrick also ignored a major subplot about Jack’s obsession with the Overlook Hotel, neglecting to tell the audience that the book he was working on was about the hotel’s sordid past. Even the film’s iconic climax in the cold hedge maze where Jack meets his ultimate doom is entirely Kubrick’s creation. King’s story features a group of ghoulish hedge animals that come alive and eat people when they aren’t seen, something Kubrick claimed he couldn’t recreate for the film.

3. “Jaws”

Few films have left a bigger mark on the screen than Steven Spielberg’s classic tale about the infamous killer shark. The film, based on Peter Benchley’s book of the same name, left an equally horrifying taste in reader’s mouths and seemed tailor made for the big screen, but even Spielberg couldn’t help but tinker with an already awesome story.

Benchley’s novel actually features several subplots that differ greatly from the film. For instance, Chief Brody and oceanographer Matt Hooper are practically buddies by the end of the film after going through such a harrowing experience. In the novel, however, the two are at each other’s throats literally as Brody tries to strangle Hooper over suspicions that Hooper was having an affair with Brody’s wife, Ellen. The shark’s death also differs greatly from the film. In the book, the great shark dies suddenly just as the Orca sinks and Brody believes he is about to be killed. The shark keels over, presumably from a great loss of blood from the barrels shot into him by Quint and drowns in the same water he once ruled as an awesome force of nature. Spielberg simply being Spielberg wanted a big blockbuster bang of an ending for his film. And if you don’t know how the shark in the film died, you either didn’t see it or have a bladder the size of a golf ball that makes you miss 3/5ths of every movie you watch.

4. “I, Robot”

Hollywood’s attempt to turn any Isaac Asimov’s science fiction works into any kind of coherent film have been met with little to no success. His stories use robots as vehicles to drive the human condition and show that it takes more than flesh and bone to have heart. In other words, it’s everything movie audiences don’t want to see (as well as Robin Williams trying to act like human).

That’s probably why the makers of this Will Smith vehicle completely ignored the title of the book that they slapped on the cover of their movie and made their own story that pretty much ignores the entire book. Asimov’s “I, Robot” is actually a series of interconnected stories about (wait for it) robots. In fact, the big screen “adaptation” of “I, Robot” is more closely related to a famous episode of “The Outer Limits” about a robot accused of murdering his creator. The truly hilarious part is that even THAT episode has even less to do with Asimov’s “I, Robot”. The episode was actually based on a short story written by another science fiction writer, Eando Binder, for the 1939 magazine “Amazing Stories”. Clearly, the producers of “I, Robot” are either trying to pretend very hard that they didn’t read the book by ignoring it completely or the whole of human existence stopped reading books when nudie magazines were invented.

5. “The Lawnmower Man”

Poor Stephen King can’t seem to catch a break. Either his movie is a bona fide classic and he’s not satisfied with it or it’s utter schlock that he has no control to stop. It’s almost like he’s trapped in one of his own horror stories where supernatural forces prevent him from controlling his own legacy or destiny. I’m sure he’ll be able to write a treatment on a cocktail napkin about it that will earn him another $5 million and he’ll be able to go on his merry way.

The only similarity between the book and the movie is that they both feature a lawnmower and a man. It might be sneaky, but you’ve got to admire its simplicity. Earlier prints of the poster and the film for this Pierce Brosnan horror action flick may have referred to it as “Stephen King’s” film, but the short story that he wrote that shares its name is nothing like the film. In fact, King’s story is about a satyr who works for a Greek god posing as a lawn serviceman who conjures an autonomous lawnmower to do the job so he can eat the fresh grass blades. King was so incensed at his inclusion in the film that bore zero resemblance to his work that he sued to have his name removed from the film. The suit marked a historic milestone in literature as the first time that Stephen King asked that his name be taken off of something.

6. Almost every James Bond film ever made

Ian Fleming is one of the most prolific writers among authors whose works have been adapted from the page to the screen. His James Bond books and stories have spawned some of the most memorable movie characters, scenes and stunts in all of action movie history. The problem is that Mr. Fleming can’t take credit for most of the movie franchise’s place in cinema history since most of the movies recreated from his works were largely rewritten and fabricated, sometimes out of whole cloth. In fact, the changes from book to movie for the Bond films range from largely to entirely fabricated, all for the sake of continuity, action and even common sense and that’s saying a lot for a movie that tried to make people believe that painting someone could kill them.

Perhaps the most altered of the Bond films is Sean Connery’s “Diamonds Are Forever”. Both deal with diamond smuggling as a vehicle for the principal action but just about every other plot device in the entire book is absent from the film.

Some of the more egregious changes happened during Roger Moore’s tenure as the British super spy. For instance, “The Spy Who Loved Me” was only similar to Fleming’s book in name only because the book version was so widely panned that Fleming forbade it from ever being made into a Bond movie.

If “Moonraker” seemed like the only Bond story written strictly to become a film, you’re partially right. The characters from the novel of the same name are similar, but the plot is entirely different. In fact, the James Bond in Fleming’s novel never goes to outer space. It was a plot device added to the film to make it more exciting for people who get headaches from reading big words.

Even the most recent Bond films starring Daniel Craig as 007 have strayed from their source material. For the film version of Fleming’s first Bond book “Casino Royale,” the plot is mostly intact but most aspects of Bond’s behavior from his chain smoking to his drinking are changed from the book to the film to suit a more modern sophisticated audience. They also play Baccarat in the film instead of Texas Hold ‘Em since it was more popular during the Cold War.

“Quantum of Solace” is literally only connected to Fleming’s short story in name only. In fact, Bond isn’t the main character of the story. It features him attending a boring dinner party and hearing a heartbreaking story about a penniless and emotionally drained couple after Bond makes a flippant remark about how boring they truly are.

I’m assuming the producers are saving the last one for Bond’s first 3-D film (“See crumpets being served right at you!” “Watch out for the cream during the action packed tea scene!”)

Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, humorist, reporter and dirty book adaptor. He is a regular contributor to several blogs and web magazines including TruTV’s Dumbsaablog.com, and Playboy’s “The Smoking Jacket.” His humor writing has also appeared at Spike.com, Cracked.com, Mental_Floss and Aol. He can be found on the web at www.dannygallagher.net and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/thisisdannyg.

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