Revisiting The Collective: Movies That are Completely Different Than the Books They’re Based On

(CS: I haven't done a repost of my old Collective Publishing articles in awhile and a few weeks ago on The Movie Breakdown we talked about how directors aren't obligated to follow the source material, so this seem like a relevant and quick an easy thing to post today.)

There has been a minor uproar on the internet over how the World War Z motion picture is almost completely different than the Max Brooks’ novel. (CS: This means I likely wrote this end of June or start of July of 2013.) The novel is a collection of accounts from people all over the world detailing their experiences during the zombie apocalypse. The film shows Brad Pitt running away from zombies in various locales around the world. Essentially, the film has zombies and the title in common with the popular novel. This isn’t the first time that a film studio bought the rights to a well-loved novel and then proceeded to make a totally different story. (CS: Internet backlash seems to have made completely unfaithful adaptations of popular work far less common now, I think.) 

The Scarlet Letter (1995): If you procrastinated until the night before your book report is due then watching this picture starring Demi Moore and Gary Oldman is just going to make things worse. Nathanial Hawthorne’s magnum opus about Hester Prynne conceiving a child outside of wedlock in 17th century Puritan Boston is a complex tale that looks at the dangers of legalism and dogma while also explores themes of guilt and love. The film just explored lots of sex without bothering with those annoying habits of including a message or depth to the story. The most jarring difference in the film is they took a tragic morality tale and forced in a ridiculous happy ending thus successfully negating the whole point of the story. (CS: My guess is they were just trying to capitalize on the sexy thriller trend at the time and Moore proved to be a huge hit in stuff like Ghost, Indecent Proposal and Disclosure, so they just wanted more of that; source material be damned.)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988): The classic animation mixed with live action family feature is inspired from Gary Wolf’s much grittier novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, which doesn’t contain the beloved Warner Brothers and Disney characters. It also doesn’t contain very much of Roger Rabbit who is murdered at the start of the novel. It does have the same lead in the hard-boiled detective, Eddie Valiant, but from there the story goes in a drastically different direction with the “toons” actually being comic strip characters instead, Jessica Rabbit is a heartless manipulator, and a completely different plot with no traces of Judge Doom, the Cloverleaf Corporation, or the development of the Los Angeles highway. The stories are so different that it appears Walt Disney purchased the film rights, because they just really needed to have the name of an unknown cartoon rabbit in the title of a box office hit. (CS: They could have used Oswald.)

My Sister’s Keeper (2009): Both the Jodi Picoult novel and Nick Cassavetes directed film tell the story of Anna Fitzgerald who was conceived for the sole purpose of being a blood and tissue donor to older sister Kate who is suffering from leukemia. Anna goes along with this until she is expected to give up her kidney, and both the novel and film follow her fight for medical emancipation. The film veers off into a different direction in the final act and thus totally changes the tone and theme of the story. I would say that they Hollywoodize things, but both end up with pretty sad endings, which makes the change of direction more confusing. You end up having tears but without the profound impact and message of the stronger novel. 

The Natural (1984): The picture is about a naturally gifted baseball player named Roy Hobbs and the numerous obstacles that come his way during his career just like Bernard Malamud’s novel. They may both be considered sports stories, but the actual message is the complete opposites. The novel is essentially a tragedy and is about the fall of the great Roy Hobbs. The film goes in the exact opposite direction and creates a hero who overcomes all the odds. The one is a dark and somber tale while the other is uplifting and feel-good. The film also seems to incorporate fantasy elements and tries to make Roy Hobbs into a larger than life legend, which puts him in a very different place than his novel’s fallen counterpart. (CS: I recently rewatched the movie and I really love it, and I enjoy the fantasy elements and the fact it is Arthurian legend for sports.)

There Will Be Blood (2007): The movie doesn’t even have the title in common with Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, but at least they’re both set in the early 1900s and are about drilling for oil. They also both have father and son protagonists, but the film focuses on the father while the novel follows the son. Oil! was written as a social and political satire that details a young man’s struggle to decide if he’ll go into business with his corrupt father. The movie takes on different characters, but this version of the father is still conniving and ruthless. The story is about how he sacrifices everything in his life, including his family, in order to rise to the top in the business world. Director Paul Thomas Anderson even admits he only tried adapting the first portion of the novel, and even then, it turns out to be a dramatically different story that just happens to have lots of oil. 

Running Man (1987): The novel was written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, and is about a poor man who signs up for a game show where if he loses he’ll die but the longer he can survive the more money his family will receive. It was set in a dystopian society and takes a critical look at media, capitalism, and the government. The Arnold Schwarzenegger starring action picture takes a look at what happens when you electrocute opera singing gladiators and battle a chainsaw wielding maniac. The novel was a thriller that also happened to be thought provoking and smartly written, while the motion picture was like every other ‘80s Schwarzenegger film but with more men in tights. (CS: The Running Man is still a great action movie even if it is nothing like a really great King novel that just happens to have the same name.)

What films based off a favourite novel disappointed or pleasantly surprised you by being a totally different story?