Dear Ben Stiller: Why Use Title/Character "Walter Mitty" At All?

Dear Ben:

I just saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty the other night.

It isn’t terrible- it’s an ordinary, so-so, semi-enjoyable romantic comedy. I’ve seen so many so-so, semi-enjoyable romantic comedies in my day that normally I wouldn’t bother to comment on this one.

I just wonder… why did you bother using the title or character “Walter Mitty,” when you completely STOP portraying your character as a daydreamer about 25% of the way into the movie?

Walter Mitty’s very ESSENCE is that he’s a daydreamer. Fantasizing about exciting adventures he’ll never really have is who he is! Sherlock Holmes solves mysteries, Indiana Jones hunts for relics, the Lone Ranger rides after bandits, and Walter Mitty daydreams. Would you make a Sherlock Holmes movie in which he stops solving mysteries before the midway point, and spends the rest of the movie romancing Irene Adler?

I mean, it’s NOT as if modern kids even remember who James Thurber or Danny Kaye or Walter Mitty is! The name isn’t going to draw anyone to the theater. So, why call your character “Walter Mitty” if he’s going to HAVE adventures and GET the girl instead of just fantasizing about adventures?

Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. The origional story is about 2,000 words. You can’t make it a full length movie without killing it with new plot, and the best way to do that it by adding [del]a love triangle with a new female elf[/del] a romatic plot tumor.

They may have done better to follow Thurber’s style and connect a bunch of his short stories into one movie. Or they could have done The 13 Clocks.

I haven’t seen the movie, since the reviews have been mostly bad. The best thing I’ve heard about it is that it looks beautiful.

But from what I’ve read, the intent wasn’t to make a romantic comedy. The intent was to make a Walter Mitty movie, but they’ve been trying to make a Walter Mitty movie for so long, I’m guessing the story changed over the years into the movie that was finally made. According to Wikipedia, the producer has been trying to get this movie made since 1994, originally wanting Jim Carrey to be the star. It seems to me that often when a producer or company is trying to get an adaptation of something made into a movie and it takes years and years to do it, it’s going to change significantly from the original idea, and it’s not going to be great.

I never gave a crap about the Walter Mitty story, so I didn’t care if the movie was true to it, but that said, I really liked this movie. It’s the only Ben Stiller-centric movie I’ve ever watched that I liked.
It was sweet, engaging and funny without being cruel. I enjoyed it a lot and so did my wife.

Why did Verhoeven use the name of a Heinlein novel to make a parody of WW2 propaganda movies? Why did Will Smith star in a movie about killer robots named after a book in which robots were benign?

I take your point, but among sci-fi fans, the names Heinlein and Asimov still have some pull.

SOMETIMES, I can see why a producer would like to use the name of a beloved author or a famous character or the title of a famous story, even if he intends to change everything around. The name or title may draw fans and may put butts in theater seats.

But as I say, VERY few people today remember James Thurber or Waler Mitty. The name itself is not a draw.

So, if Ben Stiller just wanted to make a romantic comedy about a shy, nerdy guy who learns to be more adventurous, swell. But why call him Walter Mitty?

Incidentally, I don’t really disagree with RikWriter. I more or less enjoyed the movie (I give it a tepid thumbs up) and my wife loved it. My note to Ben Stiller didn’t say “This movie sucked,” after all. It just asked, “Why call it Walter Mitty when the whole daydreaming angle vanishes pretty early on?” I’m NOT saying the character or the story are sacrosanct and mustn’t be changed- merely that there was little or no reason to call this a Walter Mitty movie at all.

Huh, so he’s a daydreamer? I saw the trailer for this Saturday night before The Hobbit. To me, it looked like he was a superhero with amnesia.

It used to be required reading way back when. The full title is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and yes, he’s a daydreamer and a mouse of a man.

And the original Thurber story ends with him daydreaming himself before a firing squad.

So how do we make a movie about what the story really means?

I should add, to address astorian’s point in the OP, I think the reason the stakes are so small - he’s only chasing a photo neg - is because that is what the story is about, how small and petty life often is.

I haven’t seen it yet, but is he not married in this movie? His unsatisfying interactions with his wife are an important part of the short story.

You mention the Danny Kaye version, but that had the same issue of adaptation as Stiller’s movie. The daydreaming Mitty ends up having real adventures, because a trip to the mall punctuated by imaginary adventures would feel unfulfilling for a full-length feature.

I was excited to hear about this film, then disappointed to find it was yet another Ben Stiller Plays Ben Stiller crapfest <goes all intense> like, you know what I mean, right? </>

Because people think not getting the girl = loser.

No one wants to see two hours in the life of a loser. That hits too close to home.

…and as astorian composed his panning review, his keyboard clattered with an angry *tapokita tapokita tapokita *…

Like Pamela Travers and Mary Poppins, and Ian Fleming and Dr No, Thurber did not care for the 1947 version of Walter Mitty at all.

Heh… that’s in my file for “if I become a crazy multibillionaire” – produce a series of utterly faithful film adaptations of various works of literature, with at least competent if not A-list directors/actors/writers. See which ones hit and which ones bomb. …

I was only familiar with the Walter Mitty story at the one sentence level (“he was a guy who fantasized a lot”). So I didn’t have a lot of preconceptions about what the story “should” be.

Both my spouse and I liked this movie a lot! It was engaging and sweet and just outrageous enough to satisfy the Walter Mitty trope. I thought it was an excellent role for Ben Stiller. He had enough sad sack, hang dog feelings, yet also enough courage and self-awareness to fight against it.


But it’s NOT. That’s one of the things I liked about it.

Because Will Smith did a movie about killer robots and someone decided I, Robot would be a great name. When someone informed the producers there was a science fiction book by that name and someone might sue if it was used, the producers bought the rights, changed a character’s name to “Susan Calvin,” and figured that was enough.

It the same as with Alan Nourse’s Blade Runner, where a completely different movie purchased the name.