Ghosts of Sort-of Adaptations

There are some movies that look as if they started out being an adaptation of something, but partway through they either realized that they couldn’t do a straight-up adaptation because it wasn’t cinematic enough or good enough or they couldn’t get permission, or something.

I’m not talking about things like Nosferatu, where they didn’t even TRY to get Stoker’s widow’s permission before essentially stealing the plot from Dracula (or the case of the 1958 film The Brain Eaters, which basically ripped off Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters), or cases of accidental similarity. When I first saw the ads for Honey, I Blew up the Kid I immediately thought of kit Reed’s short story “Attack of the Giant Baby”, which appeared in a collection with a very similar cover image. The Disney film was a sequel that was a variation of their Honey, I shrunk the Kids, and sort logically followed from it. I don’t think they drew from Reed’s story (although I understand they came to a financial settlement). Novertheless, if this thread lives, we’ll undot=btedly get suggestions of both sorts.

No, I’m thinking of something like event Horizon, whose history indicates it was to be a “haunted house in space” thing, but which includes scenes of a burning man that make me wonder if it was influenced by, or at some time was supposed to be an adaption of Alfred Bester’s The Stars my Destination(AKA Tyger, Tyger.
The Wachowski’s very odd and much-maligned Jupiter Ascending features a young person who 'owns the Earth", a space-spanning civilization, a drug that reverses the effects of aging, and a panoply of animal-people who seem to be regarded as less than human. Boy, that sounds like Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia. Could they have been trying to adapt that, then radically changed the script?

Nothing on Wikipedia or elsewhere suggests that these were in the minds of the filmmakers. But I have to wonder.

What about the wonderful but underappreciated the Hidden. doesn’t it look as if it owes more than a little to Hal Clement’s Needle?

Panic in Year Zero doesn’t really fit. the older editions of reference works say that it resembles Jay Simms’ stories “Lot” and “Lot’s Daughter”, but evidently Simms co-wrote the film, so that’s not surprising.

Any others?

It’s really hard to tell sometime. People claim the plot of Avatar is a ripoff of Ferngully. I can kind of see it but is it deliberate or accidental?
I personally feel Lion King is a ripoff of Kimba the White Lion. But another poster pointed out how both movies are a ripoff of Bambi and all three movies can trace their origins back to Hamlet.
I saw some cartoon which reminded me a bit of Frozen, but there weren’t any references to the movie, so maybe sometimes a plot about a guy with ice powers is just a plot.

David Gerrold claims he didn’t realize the similarities between his creatures and the Martian flat-cats in Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones until after he wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Both works might be traced back to Ellis Parker Butler’s short story “Pigs Is Pigs” (1905).

Yeah. People point out the similarities between Avatar and other “white-guy-goes-native” films like Dances with Wolves and the like, but it sure as heck seems much closer to Ferngully to me, too. I can’t believe Cameron wasn’t aware of this. I think he just didn’t care, thinking his majestic and impressive CGI universe wouldn’t seriously be compared to a 2D kid’s animated movie. It IS impressive and majestic, but its similarity to Ferngully hits me in the face, and is probably why I don’t like the film more.

Lion King feels so similar to Kimba the White Lion that it hurts. There have been web pages pointing out the similarities (right down to the name), and the creator of Kimba was himself convinced that the Disney folks were doing an homage, but they’ve denied it. I don’t see the similarity to Bambi, really. But the plot of Lion King is lifted no only from Hamlet, which a lot of people have pointed out, but also to Henry IV – if Timon and Pumbaa aren’t Prince Hal’s companions, what the hell are they? As far as I can recall, no one’s mentioned this. Again, though, I find it impossible to believe that the animation geeks at Disney were unaware of the close parallels to Kimba.

I don’t know what cartoon you’re likening to Frozen, but it’s based on the fairy tale the Snow Queen, so it wouldn’t surprise me if someone else used that as the basis for a film.

There’s a popular fan theory that’s been floating around for years that Event Horizon is a sort of prequel to the Warhammer 40K universe. As in Event Horizon, for you to travel faster than light you need to take shortcut through a hell dimension. The design of the ships is also Gothic inspired in both.

Idiocracy is clearly influenced by Cyril M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons” and “The Little Black Bag.” The explanation of how the society came about is pretty much lifted from Kornbluth.

If you watch the early films of Jean Rollin (French filmmaker who did a lot of lesbian vampire films), you will see a number of memes that would later show up in Anne Rice novels, and the films thereof.

David Peoples co-wrote the script for Blade Runner, and wrote the script for Soldier. He considers the two films to take place in the same universe.

The plot of Hrafninn flýgur (UK title When the Raven Flies, US title Revenge of the Barbarians) bears more than a passing resemblance to Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars.

As I’ve remarked before, although Paul Verhoeven’s film Total Recall is nominally base on the Philip K. Dick story we Can Remember it For You Wholesale, they actually exhaust the material from that short story in the first 15-20 minutes*. To fill the rest of the time, they have a cobbled-together story of Quaid’s actual adventures on Mars. Only it appears to me that it’s not so much cobbled together as lifted outright from Robert Sheckley’s 1960s novel The Status Civilization — the guy with a memory wipe on an alien planet 9inhabited only by Earth colonists), the mutants who can probe your mind and find what’s behind the block, the hero who actually is responsible for himself being there, and is his own worst enemy, the constant chasing and gunfighting. Oh, and they arguably lifted the ending – the Atmosphere Plant that makes breathable air for Mars, that the hero gets to just in time – from the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ john Carter novels.

Sheckley has to be one of the most ripped-off writers there is. His story The Prize of Peril has the same plot as Stephen King’s The Running Man , except that Sheckley’s story appeared decades earlier (and was even filmed for German TV). When Sheckley first saw The Running Man he reportedly had really long phone call with Harlan Ellison trying to figure out what he ought to do. (You could write a whiole book about where Stephen King gets his ideas. He certainly seems to come up with most of them on his own, and he always puts his own spin on them, but I very frequently have a “Hey! I’ve seen/read that before!” reaction to many of his works.)
reality Chuck wrote:

I had the same reaction, and would like to point out that Ed Neumeier and Michael MIner acknowledged their debt to the Kornbluth story “Marching Morons” by including its catchphrase – “Would you buy that for a quarter?” into the film in a slightly changed form – “I’d buy that for a dollar!”


*They also changed the hero from a Woody Allen-ish nebbish to the bulked-up Schwartzenegger, for which I can’t blame them. They also changed his name from “Quayle” to “Quaid” because of our esteemed Veep at the time. I find it amusing that, when the film was pretty pointlessly remade years later they retained the name “Quaid”

It’s not an adaptation of a previously existing work, but rather a supposed incident. It encapsulates exactly the kind of thing I’m shooting for in this thread.

The Kelly-Hopkinsville UFO Encounter involved a prolonged “siege” of a rural farmhouse by what they claimed were UFO occupants. Steven Spielberg had read about it and thought it would make for a good movie. He had several people working on it, including screenwriter and sometime director john Sayles, but Spielberg eventually turned away from a close adaptation to develop a completely original UFO encounter movie that in the end became E.T. – The Extra-terrestrial.

Sayles himself decided to make, as a result of working with the material, his own extraterrestrial movie, Brother from Another Planet.

According to some, the movie Critters was also inspired by the incident.

You thus have at least three movies that started out as adaptations of the same incident, but which turned away from direct reporting or close adaptation of the supposed facts, decided rather to use a completely revamped story in the interests of a tighter movie-type story and a more satisfying narrative.

While that phrase is used four times in Robocop, it appears zero times in Idiocracy.

I didn’t say it was. Mike Judge and Etan Cohen wrote Idiocracy, not Neumeier and Miner.

One where they DID, in fact, try: The Mysterious Doctor Satan.

What makes that one especially worth mention is that they rewrote it to feature a hero who doesn’t actually have any powers. Is the damsel in distress still a reporter named Lois? Of course. Does our hero, an orphan raised by a civic-minded nice guy, catch up to a speeding train and survive a point-blank gunshot in his secret identity: pretending to be hurt, before switching into costume? Well, sure; after all, the evil genius is still up to no good with that killer robot.

Even if you’re not looking for it, it’s hard to miss; but subtracting the powers from that story gives it a touch of “hey, wait; am I sure this is just a knockoff?”

Interesting – I’d heard of Doctor Satan, but never seen it, and was completely unaware of its history.

In 1939, A.E. van Vogt published a story named “Discord in Scarlet”. In it an alien is recovered from deep space and is brought aboard the ship. The alien becomes obsessed with reproducing and tries to implant parasitic eggs in their stomachs. The alien is eventually tricked by the crew into leaving the ship. The writers of the 1979 film Alien swear they never read the story, but Vogt sued them anyway. The case was settled out of court; the details of which were never disclosed.

Since you brought up Van Vogt, I’d mention his novel Empire of the Atom which was just Robert Graves’s I, Claudius set in space.

In 1992, a movie called* Doctor Mordrid* was released produced by Charles Band and had Jeffrey Combs playing the title role. Band had purchased the right to Marvel Comic’s Doctor Strange, but the rights ran out before Band could start production on the movie. So Band rewrote the script with original characters and made Doctor Mordrid.

Speaking of that, I believe The Forbidden Planet was just Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in space.

I’ve always wondered if they threw in a little bit of unofficial Batman adapting as well. Our hero’s name is Bob Wayne, he adopts a masked identity based on a scary animal (The Copperhead, in this case), and the event that spurs him into being a crime-fighter is the murder of his guardian/father figure by Dr. Satan.

Strange Brew has slap-you-in-the-face obvious Hamlet parallels and presumably puts Bob & Doug in the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern roles but then feels like no one actually owned a copy of the play and they were half-remembering it from high school. Whether that’s a mark of them not really caring or figuring that a full retelling didn’t work or what, I don’t know.

Let’s dive into the horror realm: many years ago, Dean Koontz wrote an aptly-titled horror/thriller novel called Intensity. In it, the lead female character accompanies a friend to her home for a holiday from school. That night, a psychopath breaks into the house and murders the entire family, but the lead character manages to hide, since she wasn’t a regular part of the family and wasn’t expected to be there. She sneaks down to the psycho’s vehicle and hides inside as he kidnaps her friend and hauls her away. More follows, including craziness at a gas station, until the gripping conclusion. The book was made into a TV movie in 1997.

In 2003, a French movie called High Tension was released. In it, the lead female character accompanies a friend to her home for a holiday from school. That night, a psychopath breaks into the house and murders the entire family, but the lead character manages to hide, since she wasn’t a regular part of the family and wasn’t expected to be there. She sneaks down to the psycho’s vehicle and hides inside as YES THIS IS EXACTLY THE SAME STORY UP TO THIS POINT. And there are more similarities, including the gas station deal, later on.

The Intensity - High Tension situation is seriously one of the most direct plot-lifts I’ve ever seen. People at the time were calling for Koontz to sue, since he wasn’t consulted or given story credit or anything. The French writer-director, Alexandre Aja (who went on to do stuff like The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors), said of the astounding coincidence: “Huh.” For some baffling reason, Koontz didn’t bother with what seemed to be a slam-dunk lawsuit.

One detail I remember from both stories: the lead female, hurrying to hide her presence, realizes that she’d washed her hands in the guest room sink, and she quickly dries it out and hangs the towel up, touching the towel to stop it from moving. In both stories.