I’m taking an online course with Aaron Sorkin this summer (oh joy!), and for a change, I’m trying to wrap my head around films, as opposed to books, and what makes a great screenplay. (Hint: It’s not these).
How many times have you loved the book but hated the film? Some people swear books are always better than their celluloid counterparts. Others are on the fence, liking some films-to-books and hating others. But a little research reveals a handful of films that are widely acknowledged to be total stinkers. Here are five of them.
The Scarlet Letter – 1995
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 masterpiece The Scarlet Letter: A Romance was ‘freely adapted’ into a movie that more or less made the critics weep, it was so bad. It’s quite a feat to transform a literary classic into a box office bomb, and Demi Moore and Gary Oldman must rue the day they agreed to it.
The 1995 film The Scarlet Letter is widely cited as the worst film adaptation ever made, and enjoyed the dubious honor of a Razzie award for the most terrible movie of the year. The film’s makers even added a happy ending, which probably saw Hawthorne spinning in his grave. But there’s more. They changed the start, middle and essence of the film, transforming an exceptional book into something utterly nonsensical.
Watchmen – 2009
In the mid 1980s Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ ground-breaking graphic novel was celebrated as one of Time magazine’s top 100, a fantastic masterpiece blending noir, dystopian fiction and superhero culture. It was a huge commercial success and enjoyed widespread critical acclaim, lauded as one of the most significant works of 20th-century literature. Then came Zach Snyder’s 2009 adaptation. Even Author Moore has openly expressed his hatred for the film version, telling the LA Times he was ‘spitting venom all over it’, not having given his permission for the film adaptation in the first place. The critics agreed, and the movie flopped spectacularly.
The Great Gatsby – 2013
As anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s subtle, many-layered novel can imagine, it was never an easy task translating it into film. The Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version wasn’t bad, but Leo…I’m sorry to say the glittering 2013 adaptation made by Bax Luhrman missed by a mile. Performances were wooden, the “carelessness” of wealth was absent, and the poignancy woven into Fitzgerald’s classic with Gatsby’s awareness of what a failure he was just isn’t apparent. The result is a grand spectacle of a movie without any heart.
Fitzgerald would not be a happy man. As CNN’s critic Tom Charity said, “There are no two ways about it: The Great Gatsby is misconceived and misjudged, a crude burlesque on what’s probably American literature’s most precious jewel.”
The Time Traveller’s Wife – 2009
Maybe it’s because the book is so complicated and multi-layered; but the film of The Time Traveller’s Wife failed big time, missing out on the book’s powerful secondary characters and losing the plot on the hugely complex time travel side of things. The book is elegant, and without that elegance the plot seems illogical and the premise not credible. The fact that the film tries to cram too much action into the available time didn’t do the novel any favors at all.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – 2003
20th Century Fox had a big fail on their hands with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Alan Moore, who wrote the brilliant original comic strip, refuses to acknowledge it (again) because it’s so bad. Actor Sean Connery fled the acting world for good after the worst reviews of his career. And the unfortunate director, Stephen Norrington, never directed again.
The film grossed more than $175 million worldwide and was supposed to result in a lucrative film franchise, but it never happened. Even the Chicago Sun-Times gave it one out of four stars, saying that it, “plunges into … inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy.”
Which wins for you – The book or the film?
What do you think about the whole novel-movie thing? Have you ever seen a real stinker of a film version, or loved a brilliant film that made the original book look terrible?