Great Movies that Betrayed Their Source Material

I’m in the middle of an “Idris Elba as Bond” discussion elsewhere. I think a great movie about a British spy could be made starring Elba, but he shouldn’t play that one particular spy because when you drift too far from the source material, it stops being that character. I don’t hold James Bond up as great literature or anything, I think Bond is a great character by a terrible writer, like Tarzan or Conan the Barbarian. Still, making him black or gay or American (which has, I know, actually been done) is a betrayal of the source material.

Bur is that such a bad thing? Some really great movies have been betrayals of their source material and were actually better for it. A Clockcwork Orange and The Shining reportedly didn’t please the respective authors, I’m told. And Starship Troopers reduced some themes Heinlein took very seriously to punchlines, though I’m not very bothered by it. A literal adaptation of Frankenstein is likely impossible, but John Whale’s film is beautiful.

What are some other great films that took unforgivable liberties with their source novels?

Starship Troopers was not a great movie; it was an idiotic strawman attack upon its source material.

Bear in mind that the Starship Troopers film had a screenplay which had nothing whatsoever to do with the Heinlein novel, but then had the name, and some superficial aspects from the novel, bolted on. In addition, the director, Paul Verhoeven, didn’t even finish reading the novel, complaining that it made him “bored and depressed.”

I’m not sure why The Shining is considered such a classic. I really enjoyed the novel. I think it was far superior to the film.

I guess it would be very tricky to come up with a coherent and fair definition of “unforgivable” specific to this context.

One thing I’m “on the fence” about is when a movie “works” and is considered a good movie but to me doesn’t seem faithful to the intent of the text. To me, the Lord of the Rings movies fit that description. People obviously liked the movies enough to continue watching, but to me anyway they just didn’t tell the story. (A story, sure, but not Tolkien’s story.)

But calling a movie “Selected Action Scenes from The Lord of the Rings Plus Some Other Stuff” doesn’t please Marketing. :slight_smile:

Stephen King didn’t like the choice of Jack Nicholson for the lead. He said something like the casting of Nicholson essentially foreshadows that the character is going to go crazy. King wanted someone who seemed stable-- almost boring-- so when he goes off the wall, it’s a shock. His choice for the role was Michael Moriarty, the guy who played Ben Stone, the original ADA on Law & Order. I think that would have been great.
My nomination for a great movie that betrayed its source material is The Wizard of Oz, yes, the big MGM musical with Judy Garland. The reason is that the film has the tacked on moral “There’s no place like home,” and that whole speech Dorothy has about looking for happiness no further than her own back yard.

In the book, there’s a preface by Baum, where he states without qualification, that his intent was to write a book for children with no moralizing, no lesson, just something enjoyable. He thought there was enough didactics in children’s literature, and he wanted to write something that was just for fun. So sticking a moral on the story absolutely betrayed the source material.

I think that happens a lot with movies, things are changed from the source material. Carrie the Sissy Spacek movie was very different from the book. They made her much easier to feel sympathetic towards. (there was a later (tv?) version that stuck more to the book)

Many screenwriters and directors find their source material too boring and add in a love story that didn’t appear in the original. I would say all of those, regardless of their skill or success, have betrayed their source.

I’m OK with Bond being black, as long as it’s a British black. But I agree he should not be gay, as Bond’s extremely active heterosexuality is an integral part of the character.

Besides, Bond is an archetype. He is what every man secretly (or not so secretly) wants to be - comfortable in all settings, from the dockyards to the casinos at Monte Carlo, deadly in a fight with whatever weapons, extremely successful with the ladies (and apparently very well endowed to boot), and something of a maverick.

Nothing homophobic intended, but I don’t think every man secretly wants to be gay.

For the same reason, I don’t think Bond should be female, as has also been suggested.

As far as movies that betray their source material, I will offer most movies made from Tom Clancy novels.

The best example is Clear And Present Danger, where the story was only about 10% Clancy with the rest being made up by the screenwriters. But the worst part was the alteration of the characters, particularly that of John Clark. In Clancy’s writing, Clark is a long-time field operative of the CIA, specializing in dangerous missions such as infiltrating the Soviet Union to extract agents in danger. He is also an extremely patriotic American. In the movie he is made to be some kind of nation-less mercenary. I challenge anyone to explain to me how that makes the story better.

Dr. Strangelove was loosely based on the novel Red Alert, which was a serious thriller and not a satire.

Shawshank Redemption. The novella was marvelous, with a very ambiguous ending. The movie had a much different ending, and it was a masterpiece.

Especially when he’s creepy even in the early part of the movie.

I liked both the movie and the novel, which were excellent in their separate ways.

Bridge On The River Kwai “betrayed” the novel which had a far different ending. Still a terrific movie.

*if you’re going to criticize casting, a worse offense than having Nicholson playing a lead, was getting to play Shelley Duvall to star as his goofy childlike wife, which strained credulity from the start.

Fine, then let the writer write a screenplay about a black, lesbian British superspy; just don’t call her Bond. Hell, I’d watch it just for the curiosity factor.

Or are they afraid their writing won’t be up to snuff and needs the boost of an established franchise to be successful?

Same argument. If you don’t want to make a Starship Troopers that bears some resemblance to one of the most-read works of science-fiction ever, then go ahead and make your own movie – but call it Bug Hunt, or something.

‘Princess Bride’ is a wonderfully amusing film.

The book is pretty awful.

Logan’s Run
Neither the book nor the film is an Immortal Classic, but both are entertaining yarns. The movie has three scenes in which plot and dialog are copied near-verbatim from the book. Then they changed nearly everything else.

They had to change a lot. There is a lot of sex in the book, most of it involving characters who are below the age of consent in the 20th Century USA. More importantly, the book has an awful lot of narrated backstory. Being faithful to the book would have required a dozen Basil Exposition characters, and would have slowed the film to a crawl.

The best Steven King adaptations have usually strayed from his stories. He had near-complete Creative Control on Maximum Overdrive. The result is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.

Bond movies often take liberties with the sources, but sometimes it works out well. A number of Fleming’s short stories have ended up as subplots in larger movies. You remember the Scene in Octopussy, when Octopussy tells Bond about her father? That snippet of dialog neatly summarized the entire short story for which the move was named. “The Living Daylights” became a subplot of a subplot in the movie.

I’ll throw a punch at a well-regarded film.

Blade Runner, from Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”.

The book is more of a character study and examination of the isolation of a disconnected, technocratic society where people can dial in their emotions and the natural world is essential done with.

The movie is both a mystery and an exploration of the rights of man and what makes a man.

Both have their pluses, though I think the book isn’t a great read.

This was going to be my answer too. Later books make it clear that the Kansas that Dorothy came from was a pretty bleak and crappy place. What she really missed were Aunt Em and Uncle Henry; and when they were allowed to move to Oz, Dorothy was happy to live there too.

Other ways the movie betrayed its source material were were the “it was all a dream” ending (in the book, Oz is definitely a real place), and the “you could have gone home at any time; and I could have told you so but you wouldn’t have believed me” BS (in the book, the Good Witch of the North, whom Dorothy meets near the beginning, doesn’t know about the magical properties of the [del]ruby[/del] silver slippers).

Both The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables stage musicals are much better than the novels they are based on. To repeat in capital letters: STAGE MUSICALS.

Well, yeah, if you’re reading the original version by S. Morgenstern. William Golding’s abridgment is pretty good though.

(Can a movie that was written by the author of the book be a betrayal?)

The Quiet American (1958)

Based on Graham Greene’s 1952 novel which proved remarkably prescient about the soon-to-be disastrous U.S. involvement in Indochina - as well as later foreign policy misadventures - this film adaptation completely whitewashed the then-covert U.S. role, effectively reversing/raping the novel’s intent and message. Consequently, the film is not as good (or loyal to the book) as the 2002 remake, yet far more interesting owing to the historical context in which it was made.