Reading Comprehension

Oh hey! It’s Eli’s wife, Denise. We haven’t seen her in… a couple of years? I almost considered her lost in the partial reboot a year ago, but let’s just assume she’s been in the Philippines studying at the finest culinary schools, learning how to prepare live baby ducks that you eat whole or soup made of blood and bile.

This is how my wife and I watch Game Of Thrones. I pause the TV every 15 seconds to ask her questions and she looks at me with this knowing glint in her eye like, “Oh shitbaskets you have NO IDEA what’s about to happen.” It’s like she’s a time traveler returned from one of many possible futures just observing and laughing as we (the past-folk) run around and play out the events of her history, seemingly devoid of free will. It’s an unsettling way to watch TV to say the least.

Couple this with the fact the Game Of Thrones doesn’t consistently rewrite, leave out or work around plot points from the book and the whole experience can be rather frustrating. What I mean is sometimes they’ll lump a few key events into an episode by having them all take place in the same area or at the same time and to one guy instead of the 8 guys on 9 different continents they happened to in the books. Other times they’ll just leave out extremely vital information, either assuming you know it already, having read the books, or you’re so confused by everything else that one more thing to be confused about isn’t going to make much difference. Still there are other times where they completely rewrite events, characters or entire plot lines from the books to make for a better TV show. This final stratagem is the one I prefer. I’d rather the show be a unique experience that neither requires or punishes having read the books.

COMMENTERS: What are your favorite/least favorite movie/TV translations from books? Do the most faithful translations make for the best adaptations or do you prefer the ones that take more liberty and consolidate the story for the new format? Have you ever been the “one who read the books?” Did you aid or ruin someone else’s movie/TV watching experience because of it?

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  1. The obvious comparison is, of course, Peter Jackson & the Tolkein books. I have to say, I was behind almost every decision they made during LOTR, as I understood them in the context of 'We're making a movie. It HAS to be cinematic, and certain things HAVE to be expounded on' (ie: Arwen, omitting Tom Bombadil, etc). Are they true to the books? Not exactly, but they were true to the SENTIMENT of the books.

    But The Hobbit? Oh lord, so much wrong with their decisions in that movie. I was (rather vocally) perturbed by SO MANY things in that movie. What happened?!? You did such a good job before! I guess I have to chalk it up to the lack of cohesion the whole project had, what with jumping director ship, etc.

    Right now, I've seen the first season of Downton, while I'm rewatching so the hubs can see what the whole thing is about. I keep pausing it going 'DID YOU CATCH THAT?? BECAUSE THAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT'. So, sort of 'I'VE SEEN THIS AND I'M NOT SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THE WEIGHT OF THIS SCENE' kinda situation. Let me tell you, he REALLY appreciates my help. Really.

    • I kind of think I love you right now. I feel the SAME way about the Hobbit- one of my FAVORITE books (I read it in 3rd grade and it launched me in to the geekdom I enjoy now), so to see it so randomly tossed together hurts my heart.

  2. I was under the impression that Joel, Josh and Eli all lived together. Especially with the recent coffee waffles comics. The reappearance of Denise throws this all out of whack for me.

    • To be fair, the book itself was not that great. I enjoyed it, but Heinlein is a bit overrated. I personally loved the movie. It was VERY different from the book, but still presented some of the same points. It's one case of the movie being different from the book that I completely approve of.

      • I gather that the script to Starship Troopers was written under a different name, and when someone pointed out the similarities with the book they bought the rights to it, rather than fight about it later.

    • I look at this book/movie pair as completely separate entities with the movie being written just for fun with only a passing resemblance to the book. In this way I can love them both.

      That being said, I am very much not looking forward to watching the 'Ender's Game' movie although it may be in the same vain. Some books just shouldn't be fucked with.

    • I read some commentary by Paul Verhoeven where he suggested that if he'd actually incorporate most of the book into the film, sci-fi filmmakers from the past 20-or-so years would claim he'd copied them….

    • I hear you. I've never read the books, and I'm reluctant to start now until the HBO series is finished. I will also have to wait a year longer than everyone else since my husband and I decided to cancel our DirectTV. We could no longer justify the monthly expense for only two shows (GoT and TrueBlood.)

      Maybe when the HBO management realizes how many people are pirating GoT due HBO's dickish policy of not releasing episodes for purchase through iTunes or whatever till a year after they've aired, they will change their tune.

      (Of course, if you've already read something well before the movie/mini-series/etc. was ever a glimmer in a producer's eye, you may be screwed anyway. :-D)

      • Here in Australia the episodes go up on iTunes within hours of them airing on cable, which airs about a day after it airs in the US on HBO.

  3. I am the only member of my immediate family to have read all 7 Harry Potter books.

    Every member of my immediate family has seen the Harry Potter movies.

    I was required to sit in the middle of the group so I could have 5 or 6 people just ask me what was going on.

    I think I just realized why I prefer to go to the movies alone….

    • I often wondered — huge box offices aside — how a viewer unfamiliar with the books could follow along with the HP films. Chamber was terrible for that; Ginny was pretty much a cameo extra until the end. Then you suddenly were required to know who she is and care. As the series became more complex… just… how?

      Azkaban is my favorite film.

  4. It was interesting reading some of the backlash against the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" movie. I read the books. I also listened to the BBC Radio adaptation and the LP adaptation, and watched the BBC TV version. I noticed early on that Douglas Adams freely changed things between versions (for instance, in the BBC Radio version, when they're escaping Hotblack Desiato's stuntship, only Ford and Arthur take the broken escape teleporter

    • (This had originally been part of the above)

      Then the movie came out – and the chorus arose: "That's not the way it happened in the book!"

      And I smiled and said, "No, it isn't."

      • Agreed, I thought the movie was excellent and it's important to note that most of the story changes for the movie were actually written by Adams who had been working on the screenplay for some time before his death.

    • Fun fact, Hitchhiker's actually started out as the radio program on BBC4 in 1978. The first book was released in '79.

    • I believe Addams actually said – several times in several different interviews – "I already wrote that once. Why would I want to write that again? Now I want to write something else."

      Or something along those lines.

    • Everyone always assumes it's the changes to the narrative that get me about the movie, and it's really not. It's the fact that the tone is so radically different, that it has this sort of whimsical attitude towards space that the books seemed to be a deliberate antithesis to.

      Though so long as we're on the subject of the exact text, the good jokes were cut beyond recognition and largely replaced with half-assed slapstick and dumb jokes. The scene on Vogsphere is the worst offender in this regard.

  5. My gf does this to me when we watch The Walking Dead? "So is that guy still alive in the comics?" and blah blah. Irritating, but it's nice to know things others don't.

  6. For best adaptation I'd submit The Princess Bride. In the book the author gets sick as a kid, the events of the movie happen, and as an adult he finds the book and finds out there's a bunch of dry boring stuff his grandfather skipped, so he sets out to abridge it into a "good parts" version. So there's a lot of meta-humor about the abridging process and difficulties, like cutting fifty pages about hats and having a Professor of Florinese Studies complain that that was the best part, or having the Morgenstern estate hate it and want Steven King to abridge the sequel.

    But that just doesn't translate into a movie, the same problem wrestled with for authors like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett where the snarky nararrator gets most of the jokes, or Dune which is jam-packed with important internal monologues. So they left out the satire and just made a movie of pure childhood story charm, played it straight.

    • Agreed. I only read The Princess Bride fairly recently and actually felt that the constant humourous interludes detracted from the story I loved. Although I would have loved it if they'd made the sequel that is posited at the end of the book.

      I did love the Pratchett adaptations, although I agree that they do lose something for not being able to have all the footnotes. I think the biggest problem they had was David Jason being bloody everywhere. I would not have chosen him for Rincewind!

  7. Usually I'm the one who has read the book/books, lately I've decided to watch tv series, unencumbered by book knowledge.

    I doubt I would of enjoyed season 3 of Walking Dead as much if I had read the comics first…just read up to book 8 a few days ago, not reading anymore til the end of next season. As for Game of Thrones, book 1 and season 1 were very close. Haven't read any more of the books but in this case maybe I should because there are so many characters and plot lines…sure there's a lot of detail that would be helpful.

    The Dexter tv series is better than the books, so is True Blood. In those cases I'm happy that the tv writers developed minor characters, created new characters and storylines that were not in the books….if they had stayed true to the books, the shows would of sucked.

    Poor Adaptations
    -I Robot and I am Legend both with Will Smith are pretty lame.
    -Sound of Thunder was based on a Ray Bradbury short story, it was awful, but the worst thing was it totally missed the point.
    – Riverworld series

    Great and faithful Adaptations
    – Metropolis (1927), but Fritz Lang was married to the author Thea Von Harbou, and she wrote the screenplay.
    -Fahrenheit 451
    The Dune Mini-series is a more faithful and better adaptation than the movie, but that's the inherent problem of converting a thick book into a 2 hour (or less) movie…things have to be cut.
    – Narnia movies; Lion, Witch & Wardrobe & Dawntreader are decent adaptations, Prince Caspian is awful (not the best book either) I still prefer the 80s-90s BBC adaptations (LWW, Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair) Tom Baker as Puddlegum!

    • The Seeker becomes very disjointed when you realize how randomly they seem to pull characters/events from the first 3 books. You also realize how well cast some of the characters are.

    • I was actually going to note both of these. Primarily because both started from the same general premise as the books, but diverged RADICALLY.

      The differences in Legend of the Seeker are hard to list and categorize. It's pretty close to, oh, the differences between Merlin and L'Morte d'Artur. It's a radical retelling of the same basic plot, using the same basic main characters, but with entirely different subplots and actual events. It's more "inspired by" than "based on".

    • Dresden Files is a bit different. This had two issues. First, the screenwriter recognized pretty quickly that many of the book elements wouldn't translate into good TV (the best example being Bob). Second, the original treatment was a made-for-TV movie, which then got optioned as a pilot, then as a series, then the series was cut, then maybe back to a movie, then back to a series. All executive produced by that wizard of quality projects, Nicolas Cage.

      As such, they made several decisions early on to very deliberately diverge from the books. I get the impression that Butcher saw this as a chance to play "what if" with some of the characters (most notably the relationship with Bianca). I was very sad to see the series die so soon, because I was fascinated by what they were doing with Justin Morningway.

      • Jim Butcher has apparently said he just considers it a version of Dresden from an alternate universe, and within that framework he likes it.

        The change that bothers me the most is the "tech breaks down around magic, the higher tech the quicker" thing being removed. A significant part of Dresden's character in the books is how much he has sacrificed to continue doing what he's doing, and that wasn't nearly as big in the show.

        • I think what bothered me most about the Dresden Files show was that they diverged so much from peoples' personas. Bob hardly seemed like a wisecracking sidekick and more like a wisened old man, Dresden himself was toted (at least in the beginning) like a stereotypical womanizer, and then Murphy was a hard-nosed Hispanic cop. The last of which is the smallest stretch but still.

          Of course, it didn't help that they didn't have nearly the budget they'd need to do the effects justice.

    • Legend of the Seeker was -massively- divergent.
      So much so that having loved the books, it's best to think of the show as "the lost chapters" than try to have anything line up.

      Having said that… The casting was brilliant (especially of Zed), and despite the "lets re-use Xena/Hercules props/scenes" feel, the show sells itself well.

      Unfortunately the depth of the Warrior philosophy which is so brilliantly captured in the books is too deep to translate onscreen or sell to casual audience, so the show just doesn't try.

      – –
      For Winner of category "WTF book to movie adaption":
      Anything by Disney.

    • I was going to post the same. The 2 sequels only relate to the books by virtue of the name. Everything else is changed. The first one has a couple of similarities, but they're passing at best.

      The TV mini-series of the Bourne Identity (… ) with Richard Chamberlain is _much_ closer to the book. It's also very obviously a 1980s TV movie. 😉

  8. I started reading the books after watching the first series and have enjoyed all of them hugely. I now find I'm only watching the TV show for the performances, thankfully my favourite characters are brilliantly cast (Tyrion, Bronn, Arya).

    I've noticed a trend in my reading habits over the past few years; I often read about a movie or series in production that's based on a book and then go and read the book. I guess my thought process is that if a book is worth turning into a movie then it's probably going to be even better to read.

    • Great approach!

      I used to read a lot of Stephen King books. Every single movie I've seen based on one of his books sucked–it seemed to miss the essence of evil that usually pervades his books. So I either read his books and avoid the movies, or avoid the book and think the movie that's based on the book is pretty good.

  9. Some PK Dick stories have been turned into great films (Bladerunner, Recall) whilst some….have not (Paycheck…does anyone even remember Paycheck?).

    Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley is one of the finest classic SF books ever written. Freejack did not do it justice.

  10. I'm mostly happy with it, but I can't help feeling somebody at HBO is calling us stupid every time I hear the name Yara. I think I'm just going to start calling her Notasha.

  11. We were actually talking about adaptations the other day on the Commentary Track Stars podcast. I think we came to the conclusion that no one should want direct faithful, word for word adaptations of books/comics/whatever. The source should really be used as a story starter, a movie adaptation should not give you the same experience as a book. Each medium should be used to it's full potetional.

    Look at the Harry Potter movies. While the book fans seem to prefer the movies that follow the books more faithfully, most movie fans and general audiences tend to like the ones that did their own thing with the story. A completely faithful adaptation of LotR would have been even longer and more boring.

    I say let books be books, and movies be movies. Movies can be "based on" books, but since they can't/shouldn't recreate the experience of reading a book, they should dare to do their own thing with the story.

  12. You people… come on!

    "I, Robot"

    One scene… ONE SCENE in the movie mirrored the book exactly. The rest was as if they post-it noted the plot(s) and threw them up into the air and filmed it as it landed.

    And… Will Smith. 'nuff said.

    • To be fair, they had the rights to "I, Robot" and a script with robots in it. They took 3 Laws Safe from "I", added it to their script, and gave the movie the name of the recognizable property. Makes cents to me. (pun intended)

    • Technically, "I, Robot" wasn't a *book* book – that is, a novel with a single narrative. It was a collection of Asimov's stories centering around Dr. Calvin of US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc (incidentally, the inspiration for the real-life electronics company US Robotics). That being said, the Dr. Susan Calvin of the movie shared only a name with Dr. Susan Calvin of the stories. (And I think Will Smith's character was supposed to have something to do with Det. Elijah Bailey, protagonist of "Caves of Steel" and "The Naked Sun", set a couple of centuries after the US Robots stories.)

    • The MOVIE "I, Robot" wasn't the BOOK at all.

      It was a short story entitled "Hardwired", rewritten to include a few scenes and characters from the book "I, Robot" so people would THINK it had something to do with Asimov's story. It was somewhat reminiscent of the story "Little Lost Robot", so people thought it might have something to do with it, but otherwise, the resemblance was superficial at best.

      The Asimov movie that was FAITHFUL was "Bicentennial Man". It was a LONG movie, but damn that thing made me cry. Robin Williams was phenomenal in it.

  13. Jurassic Park is actually my favorite adaption of a book into a movie.

    My reasoning is that the book and movie only share a premise, while the details and points made by each are incredibly different. As a result, each stands on its own as a completely unique work of art that can be enjoyed without knowledge of each other, but is enhanced by the insight ascertained from the differences in detail that create such different outcomes.

    • The worst part about having read the book of JP was that I read the book after the first movie but before they made 2 and 3, which means that the book was amazing, but then you have the beach scene and compys attacking in 2 that were ripped off from the first book, and the spinosaurus in the third one did the chase-down-the-river scene from the book (in the book it was the T-Rex)

      So at this rate, when they make JP4 the plot will be needing to gas a nest of raptors.

  14. I did the "I've read the book" thing for Hunger Games. I loved the movie. My wife didn't get it. That's when I realized how much of the book takes place inside Katniss' head, and how hard that was to translate to the screen.

    I loved the adaptation work of Watchmen. It was a tough job, but done well. There's only one (super spoiler-y) scene at the end that pissed me off.

    • I think I know what scene you mean, although I actually preferred the film version of Watchmen as slightly more realistic. I know it wasn't true to the story and DID mean that the perceived threat was less external than it should have been, but it just had that slightly stronger feeling of realism about it.

      What I loved about Watchmen was the fact that they recreated exactly many of the panels from the book and made such an effort to get everything visually right. And Rorschach. Every single scene with Rorschach.

      • Oddly, no. I was fine with that change. Both because it was easier to tell in ~2 hours, and because it fit better with today's zeitgeist.

        ***SPOILER ALERT***
        I was pissed off that Dan witnessed Rorschach's death. It was needless. It undermined the simplicity of the scene. It undermined the end of Dan's character arc. It added nothing to the story, and subtracted so much.
        ***SPOILER ALERT***

  15. All my rant being said, the most tenuous "adaptation" I've ever seen is SyFy's "Haven", """""based on""""" Stephen King's "The Colorado Kid".

    "The Colorado Kid" is about a newspaper intern investigating an unsolved body that appeared on a Maine island one day. SPOILER: they never figure out how the person got from Colorado to Maine in such a short amount of time or why he died. The WHOLE POINT of the story is that some things are unsolvable.

    "Haven" is about a cop investigating strange things in a Maine town. It turns out to be supernatural, which she solves, then stays to solve more weird happenings.

    • I don't understand how they're connected. The island in "Kid" isn't even called Haven. The only character from both is the newspaper editor, and he has a minor role in the show. There are no other connections. I don't understand why you would "base" the show on that story in particular. Why not just call it "Stephen King's Haven", so the King tie-in is more obvious, but don't tell me it's a show about solving crimes when the whole point of the story is that some things can't be solved.

  16. When it comes to the Harry Potter movies, I go against the crowd. Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite because it wasn't line-by-line faithful, but rather it captured the feelings of uncanniness, of camaraderie, of triumph, that I recalled from the book. Over-faithfulness to source material doesn't usually make for good adaptations, because different media have different requirements.

    I still haven't forgiven the world for the miserable adaptation of The Golden Compass. I freaking love those books, and the movie was almost deliberately heartless and terrible.

    • I actually saw the Golden Compass movie FIRST, then found and read the trilogy. I was intrigued enough by the concepts shown in the movie to read further. And the visual impact of the whole "spirit animal" concept was way cool. And It can't be a bad movie with Sam Elliott in it, doing his cowboy schtick! I'm just sorry they never made the entire trilogy. The books lagged in places, so some trimming was required.

      • I was also intrigued by the world building of the movie, despite not thinking it was that great of a film. You could sort of see how they might have botched the execution of the translation.

    • Even the American title of The Golden Compass is misleading, since the artefact is not very important in the first book compared to the later books. But turning an epic multi-universe story with strong anti-establishment and anti-theistic themes into a kiddie-adventure is certainly a first-degree crime!
      At the very least they could have explained a bit more about daemons. The bit about what happens to children who are severed from their daemons was important, but was obviously omitted because it was too dark for a kiddie-tale.

  17. Best "true to the book"-adaptation that comes to mind (and hasn't been mentioned yet), for me, is Sin City. I could *see* the panels on screen, the voice-overs and dialogue were straight from the books, and the casting… oh my sweet heavens, the casting was so perfect!

  18. My least favorite translation of a book into movie is "The Mouse that Roared". The book portrays this tiny little European country as being aware of modern technology and somewhat modern but due to their small size can't do much and the queen of that country as either a teenager or in her early twenties. The movie portrays the country as being stuck in the Middle Ages and changing the queen so Peter Seller's could play her.

  19. least favorite book to movie for me is a tie – Vanity Fair (Reese Witherspoon version) and Count of Monte Cristo (2002) and ALL versions of The Man in the Iron Mask

    just… those movies hurt. Way to completely miss the point of the books. All the damn points and then some!

    On favorites front – Hunger Games ( because Jennifer is amazing and the story really sucks less when you aren't hearing Katniss' every single thought) and Prisoner of Azkaban (pretty much the best HP movie)

  20. I've only read the first GoT book, but I found it enormously helpful in sorting out who the hell was who and how they were related. I had no idea, for example, that Sir Jorah was the son of the Commander of the Night's Watch until I read the book, and that suddenly cast a whole host of things in a different light.

    They just don't have time to explain all that stuff in the series. Which you could see as a massive failure of the medium, but that's neither here nor there.

  21. David Tennant plays a great Hamlet, so his version of that would have to be my favorite book/play to movie adaptation…least favorite? Not that I don't love the movie, but, in terms of keeping true to the book/graphic novel, V for Vendetta drives me crazy.

  22. For the worst and most frequent adaptation crimes against their "source", you have to look at the classics. The worst three being:

    #1: The Lost World
    #2: The Time Machine
    #3: Journey to the center of the Earth.

    SOOOOO many AWFUL "adaptations" of these out there. I mean fine, you want to make a crappy half arsed time-machine movie, fine, that's ok. But FOR GODS SAKE stop dragging H.G Wells name through the mud in the process. And I can not even count the number of "lost world" themed movies which always just have to throw Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's name under the bus for attention, NO this is not "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's the lost world", it has NOTHING to do with his books AT ALL. Stop performing literary necrophiliac rape on these authors works, and just make your cheesy sci-fi without dragging their names into it. PLEASE (I'm looking at you "sy-fy" )

      • One of my favorite derivations from The Time Machine was the move "Time After Time". It was a little schmaltzy, but it was entertaining. I love how H. G. Wells asks the girl of his dreams to go with him to "this little Scottish place" for lunch. McDonalds.

  23. Best adaptions is a "The Graduate" and "Midnight Cowboy". Both movies are quite faithful to the books they are based. After seeing "The Graduate" so many times I pretty much stopped reading the book because the movie was quite accurate.

  24. I thought it was pretty much universally accepted that the number one 'better than the book' example was Fight Club. But I haven't read the book and this statement is keeping me from doing so.
    When I was young I read the Running Man, by Stephen King. Thought it was pretty awesome and edgy. So when I found out they had made a movie, I rented it. This pretty much cured me from watching book adaptations before checking reviews. Talk about loose adaption.

    GoT is fun to talk about with friends, when discussing the series' events us bookreaders can exchange knowing glances and quietly mock the uninformed 🙂

  25. While there have been a lot of disappointing adaptations, "Timeline" by Michael Crichton was horrendous but only comes in at a close second to "I Am Legend." For those that have not read the book, it's LEAGUES different and instead of revolving around one man's last hope for mankind it focuses on mankind steadily becoming the dying race and what happens when they take a step down the food chain.

    I'll never understand the mentality of "Everyone loves this book! LET'S CHANGE IT COMPLETELY!"

    • I Am Legend has actually been made into three movies–each successively further from the original short novel. The first movie, “The Last Man On Earth” starring Vincent Price, is told largely as narration. Because of standards of the time, they really couldn’t show how the protagonist spent his days slaughtering vampires in their coffins. The second was “The Omega Man” with Charleyon Heston. Dumb dumb dumb, with a bleak ending that completely missed the point of the book. My biggest objection to the Will Smith version was that they had to tack that cheesy upbeat ending onto it.

  26. I can't believe no-one's mentioned it yet but one of the worst book adapations has to be the Dresden Files series. It was like they seriously didn't get the books!
    Dresden – a gawky, geeky, tall kind of gangly wise cracking hero. Lets make him smouldery eyed and gruff/macho! And ditch the wise cracking.
    Murphy – small, petite, blonde, girly girl who actually kicks arse – lets make her latin and make her permanently not-understand what's going on.
    Bob the skull – lets not make him a skull but a british ghost that only Harry can see. It's in his name!!! Bob. The. Skull!!!

    Worst adaption ever and probably killed any chance we'd have of getting a series of Dresden movies which is the genre it is much more suited to.

    • In the Dresden TV series, they committed what I thought a cardinal sin by combining the characters of Karin Murphy with Susan Rodriguez, making Murphy the latin one, but keeping her a cop. She didn't look at all like a "Murphy".

      What they did to Bob was a crime, but I guess they saved on the CGI budget that way. I suppose the faithless reproduction hurt their ratings enough that they never made more.

  27. If I had never ever read Hellblazer comic or knew who John Constantine was, then MAYBE Contantine passes for a mediocre movie. Otherwise it made me livid! The current hobbit is not really impressing me much either

  28. One of my favorite YA Books, TheDark is Rising, was made into an incredibly bad movie. I wanted to cry through most of the movie and immediately threw it away and started reading the book to my daughter.

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