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“Do Androids…” doesn’t completely leave out the ambiguity, I think- Deckard still feels compelled to test himself because, while the Replicants aren’t human, there’s still something damaging about what he does.

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I disagree with the inclusion of Princess Bride.

It’s in fact a near perfect adaptation of the book…

The book’s meta-structure/meta-joke is that Goldman’s grandfather would read him The Princess Bride when he was sick, but when he got older, he found his grandfather had left out a bunch of the story, and that he was presenting the book in the abridged format his Grandfather would give him.

The movie is of course a brilliant adaption of the abridged story..and hints at the meta structure with Falk & Savage.

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One movie that belongs on this list is Wag the Dog. The movie is entertaining in an excessively cynical way, but it doesn’t resemble its source material (a novel called, I think, American Hero) at all, and it’s a good thing, because the freaking thing is just about unreadable.

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I would argue FIGHT CLUB, mostly because *SPOILER* i think destroying everyone’s debt record would cause a lot more honest-to-God chaos than blowing up the Museum of Natural History. Also, the film ended when the story was finished – the book had that ho-hum open ending that really muted the impact of the climax.

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When I started reading your lists, I was hoping Who Framed Roger Rabbit was on there, and was so happy (and felt righteously justified) when I did see it at number 1, no less. I can’t express how disappointed I was in this book, and this was as a young reader in junior high at the time. IIRC, the book was very nearly out of print or otherwise somehow rare at the time, and I had to scour a number of used book stores in tracking down the inspiration for the film I loved. I also remember reading some articles featuring the author seemingly a bit miffed about the liberties they had to take with his original idea.

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Anticorium said on August 22nd, 2010 at 12:32 am

Starship Troopers isn’t a great movie, but my god, once you finish digging through all of the metafictional layers involved, you have to admit it’s a lot smarter than it deserves.

Also, on a personal-failing level, I’m a sucker for anything that makes the more Randroid breed of Heinlein fan hyperventilate that much.

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Surely Adaptation deserves mention, given that it’s an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, for an extremely loose definition of adaptation.

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I think you misjudge “Do Androids…”. Its questioning runs the other way: not “might the robots actually be compassionate”, but “might humans be no better”. The ongoing questioning/implication that the protagonist may actually BE an advanced android himself– despite what he seems to feel– is echoed in the final incident of the toad, whose mimicry is so complete that it no longer matters whether one is human or robot. Furthermore, the religion that the people in “Androids” follow, which, if I recall correctly (it’s been some time) consists in watching their savior be pelted by rocks, performs a critique of compassion itself, pointing to its inherent violence– both its sadistic voyeurism, and its masochism. The critique of compassion, as a stand-in for “humanity”, finally allows us to question whether it would be so bad if Deckhard really were another android– just as it doesn’t matter anymore, really, that his frog is not a frog.

You are selling Philip Dick’s rather complex novel very short here.

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Buh WHA? “The Princess Bride”, the movie, is almost identical to the book, except for some cuts. The main change is the tone–the book is darker, more intense and less funny, which I’ll admit does make a difference. But the plot is pretty much exactly the same, which seems to be the point that Seavey is focusing on. The fact that the movie trims the note of ambiguity (it’s hardly an “unhappy ending”) at the end of the book hardly makes it a radical change.

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Mary Warner said on August 22nd, 2010 at 2:14 am

What about The Day The Earth Stood Still? It was based on a short story ‘Farewell To The Master’, rather than a novel, but I think it still counts. It’s a totally different story after Klaatu was shot, so much so that one wonders why they even bothered to buy the rights to a story they didn’t really use.
Am I the only one who’s read The Rescuers? Only the characters of Bernard and Miss Bianca, and the fact that it tells of a rescue, are the same. The book tells of the two mice, plus a third mouse named Nils, rescuing a Norwegian Poet from a Turkish prison.

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This reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Granted, it’s not a book adaptation, but when I belatedly heard that the ending had been changed it was the first time I realized that changing the details of source material for film is not necessarily a bad thing.

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The title looks like a Cracked article, but needs more dick jokes. (Nah, this was great.)

@VoodooBen: That’s kind of a minor point in Fight Club, no? The tone and much of the voice-over is lifted directly from the book. The plot isn’t identical, but IIRC it’s pretty close.

I thought of Lord of the Rings – I’ve never read the books, but I have heard some bitching about how much was changed/left out.

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@#1. GODS. DAMNED. FUCKING. GENIE!

For total change-up adaption, “They Live”. The original short is barely two pages long and very ambigious in nature…

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I was going to defend “Androids,” but Lizberley has done that admirably. I’ll just add that “Blade Runner” asks us to believe you need an empathy test to detect an android that can punch through a concrete wall. In contrast, every page of “Androids” is saturated with the ambiguity between the artificial and the real.

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Jeff WIlson said on August 22nd, 2010 at 5:09 am

With the revelation that Ridley Scott intended for Deckard to be an android, Harrison Ford’s “sleepwalking” performance is more likely to be what the director actually wanted: replicants aren’t supposed to be convincingly expressive. They cheated with the lack of eye reflections, though.

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The Bourne movies are great examples of movies that improve upon the books they adapt. The Bourne Identity simplifies the twists and turns of the original novel considerably (for instance, it completely removes the novel’s primary villain) but is arguably much more coherent as a result. The second and third movies of the series bear almost no resemblance to the novels they are theoretically based on, but this is a good thing, because the second and third Bourne books declined dramatically in quality from the first one.

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I’m not sure I’d include Fight Club on the list. Fincher is a lot better at getting Palahniuk’s ideas across than Palahniuk himself is, but as SmR says, the plot points are largely the same.

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A few fairly obvious ones:

Adaptation
The Prestige (keeps the main story beats, but gets rid of the framing device and tightens the actual plot up enormously)
Doctor Strangelove (the book this was based on wasn’t a comedy, for a start…)
LA Confidential – plot nothing like that of the book, but gets the atmosphere *absolutely*
Any Bond film made between about 1965 and 2005.

As for Lord Of The Rings, the ‘bitching’ SmR has heard falls into two categories, I’m presuming:
1) Obsessive fans of the books who can’t cope with *anything* being left out of the 1700+ page book
2) People who understand that it’s possible to make changes and have it work, but don’t like the specific changes.

As a matter of fact, LotR was about as reasonable an adaptation as one could expect from a film with that budget. There’s a lot of Hollywoodisation, mostly the bad jokes, and very little of Tolkien’s dialogue remains intact, but if you read the books as a casual reader (rather than an obsessive fan) and then, a year or two later, watched the films, you’d come out of it thinking “Yeah, that’s more or less what I read”.

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See also in animated film-land:

The Iron Giant: I saw the Brad Bird film first, then tracked down the Ted Hughes book on which it’s based. Totally different settings, radically different tone. Personally, I found the book well-nigh unreadable, but whether or not you like the prose version, the two works are essentially Very Different Animals.

The Secret of NIMH: As overseen by Don Bluth, this is again an extremely free adaptation of the book, in this case Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. by Robert O’Brien. Like the much more recent Iron Giant, this too was widely praised at the time, and was one of the first animated features to seek out A-list actors (notably Derek Jacobi) to do the voice roles.

I’d also put the Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame in this category, if only for the out-of-the-park-brilliant music by Stephen Schwartz.

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Shawshank Redemption is one, for me. It’s basically the same story with little to no changes, but the actors, music, direction, etc just make it better through its different medium.

I’d have to see the movie a few more times, but Scott Pilgrim might be another. Music is almost impossible to properly translate in comic form. Since music is a big thing in the comics, it’s something that’s a bit awkward. But the movie doesn’t have to worry about that. Also, I kinda like the movie’s ending a bit more.

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The writer of Roger Rabbit was miffed at the changes? Didn’t he write a book “Who Plugged Roger Rabbit” that was a sequel to the movie instead of his own novel? Sellout.

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“Colossus: The Forbin Project” is much better than any of the novels in the trilogy. (Though why the last thing the last guy out does is turn *on* the lights is beyond me.)

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Reading some of the comments reminded me of “Watership Down.” The movie was mostly different from the book by being far more condensed, but in that condensation they left out some subplots as well as commentary and repeated narration which made the book unnecessarily wordy. They also gave some of the female rabbits larger roles. Meeting the criteria of the discussion, the movie was much better than the book, at least to my tastes.

A bit of trivia in re. “Bladerunner/Androids Dream.” In roughly the same period “Androids” came out there was a novel titled “Bladerunner” which was about a dystopian future society (there were a lot of stories on the topic at that time) in which the lower classes were denied medical care. The title character was a doctor providing illegal medical services to the poor. His scalpel was the blade of the title.

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Forrest Gump. What you said about Roger Rabbit (which I loved) goes triple for Gump. Avoid book like plague.

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I’d say that anyone who says that “The Princess Bride” is basically the same from movie to book because they keep the abridged plot and the framing device of grandfather reading to sick kid is, and I hate to say this because it’s what everyone says in Internet debates but it’s never been more true than here, missing the point. The point of the book is that he’s going back as an adult to the story he shared with his grandfather and finding that it’s nothing like the one he remembered. It’s about the way that adults shield kids from the unpleasant truths of life by turning things into stories, and about the way we find out when we’re older that life doesn’t work that way. The important parts of the book are the parts where Goldman talks about what was left out, whereas the important parts of the movie are the bond between the grandfather and grandson. They’re two entirely different stories that share a basic plot structure.

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Funny story – I worked in a bookstore for 5 years, and I can’t tell you how many people came in looking for the “unabridged” PRINCESS BRIDE that was actually written by S. Morgenstern. Broke their hearts when I finally convinced them it didn’t exist.

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what steam is said on August 22nd, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Two words, one an article:

The
Shining

King hated what it did to his book and tried to make a “faithful” version for TV. Its awfulness justified pretty much every change Kubrick made.

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John, as I mentioned, it is kind of astounding how much can be changed by altering the tone and a few details, like the framing device. I agree that the movie FEELS different from the book. But the plot is like 95% identical between the two versions, and if you’re going to call your article “5 great adaptations that are nothing like the book” I think it’s only fair to point this out.

For the record, I think the book blows the movie out of the water.

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I remember being devastated when I learned there was no original unabridged Princess Bride.

But not as devastated when I learned that Dinotopia was not based on a true story.

Put my vote in for the LOTR movies being more enjoyable than the books. I was in favor of almost all the omissions (let’s recruit some armies, let’s hang out with Tom Bombadil, snore) and liked how they added focus villains/generals like Gothmog and Lurtz.

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Speaking of paying for the rights to a book and then making a completely different movie: “I, Robot”

I wouldn’t dream of arguing that it should displace any of the above-mentioned top five, though.

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Andrew Hickey: “The Prestige (keeps the main story beats, but gets rid of the framing device and tightens the actual plot up enormously)”

But the change in the McGuffin changes the plot pretty radically, and loses most of the great creepiness of the book. I think that was the right call for a film, where you can’t get pleasure of two unreliable narrators duking it out, but I still prefer the book. It might be a first-encounter thing, though.

Stickmaker: “The movie was mostly different from the book by being far more condensed, but in that condensation they left out some subplots as well as commentary and repeated narration which made the book unnecessarily wordy.”

Most of the flavor went with it, in my opinion, although the movie is excellent for what it is, and it did regain a lot of rabbitude through the animation.

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I’m surprised no one has mentioned The Witches of Eastwick. The Updike book is 300 pages of depressed suburban navel-gazing.

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Snap Wilson said on August 22nd, 2010 at 6:19 pm

@Elwade: Completely disagree on Forrest Gump. The book is much smarter and funnier than the movie. The biggest area of difference is that Forrest is simply a dumbass redneck hick instead of mentally retarded, or whatever he was supposed to be in the film. His musings are crass, raunchy, definitely un-PC and absolutely hilarious. I think the book is more observant about human nature without being pedantic, saccharine and preachy like the movie. I think the film did some things better (Robin Wright’s character, and getting rid of the chimp–yes, there was a chimp… it’s still a good book) but almost everything else was presented better in the novel.

Avoid the sequel, though, I will freely admit that it sucked.

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Seconding Starship Troopers. I don’t understand why people don’t see how brilliant the movie is. It might be because I saw it with my father, who gave me Starship Troopers and The Forever War to read when I turned 15.

The one line when NPH yells out “It’s AFRAID” and the soldiers cheer wildly completely deconstructs the novel’s rah rah militarism.

How about The Thing?

Nobody wants to throw out any comic-related choices like American Splendor, or A History of Violence?

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The question is what defines the ‘nothing like’. Another movie that’s almost exactly the same but then veers at the very ending is ‘The Natural’. It manages to be an almost perfect homage to the book and then twists the ending around in such a way that it changes everything about the book.

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Starship Troopers as a movie has some brushes with brilliance but anyone who thinks the movie does a better job of deconstructing militarism hasn’t read the same book I did.

One has to remember when the book was written and what the global political situation was. In fact, it’s preferable that one lived through those times in order to understand the book.

You also have to remember that the characters in the book are not the same as the author of the book.

I’m also reminded of what the makers of the movie said in asked why they bought the rights if they didn’t want to make a more faithful movie — their intent all along was to make a good SF movie with giant spiders in it. They did that.

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Not a movie, but a TV series: Dexter is really well-done…and about a billion times better than the novels it’s based on. The novels are basically boilerplate supermarket thriller novel material, complete with two-dimensional supporting characters and an inexplicable supernatural twist in the third book. You might not throw the books against the wall, but you wouldn’t say that you were really enjoying reading them.

The series on Showtime, though, is very engaging. The writing is tighter, the supporting characters are better all the way around, and there are actual themes that get explored.

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Several of the novels mentioned had been on my intended reading list, so I’m glad I’ve avoided wasting my time.

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I had a horrible time with Starship Troopers, and I love Verhoeven’s film. Actually the film is more of an action pic than the book, which actually turns out to be a political dirge in sf drag.

http://abookadaytillicanstay.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/12-starship-troopers-by-robert-a-heinlein/

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Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is one of my favourite movies, and is, in my opinion, much better than the book on which it is only very loosely based.

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Betty Kane: “One has to remember when the book was written and what the global political situation was. In fact, it’s preferable that one lived through those times in order to understand the book.”

It may be impossible to read Starship Troopers in light of 20th Century history without deciding that it’s an outrageous dystopia that only the most ardent expansionist-militarist could fall for, but within the text it’s played 100% straight.

That you read it as a deconstruction instead of a Shrill Tract With Cool Weapons is more to your credit than to the author’s. The way he brings back the drill sergeant at the end, so that he can be even more awesome just seals it for me. Contrast it with Full Metal Jacket.

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Greg Morrow said on August 23rd, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I’m fairly certain the William Goldman, novelist, was reasonably satisfied with the adaptation that William Goldman, scriptwriter, did.

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Greg Morrow said on August 23rd, 2010 at 1:58 pm

of “The Princess Bride”, I mean.

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One could give a shout out to The Watchman, although that movie adaption did a pretty decent job of adhering to the original, right up until the end.

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I’m very tempted to mention Trainspotting here. As one of my favourite films, it’s without a shadow of a doubt a great movie adaptation, which changes hugely the book (which is also wonderful).

It’s hard to say which I prefer, but the film streamlines the novel’s many non-linear vignettes about junkies around and from Edinburgh into something approaching a cohesive story.

Possibly most interesting to the discussion as Irving Welsh’s sequel, Porno, is a sequel to both: it works off some changes in the plot made by the film, but includes characters not included in the adaptation.

Still, wouldn’t hesitate to recommend both to anyone with taste and a decent stomach.

(What always amazes me is my Dad, who hates swearing in films, and is thinking seriously of becoming a minister, loves it.)

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Austin Clark said on August 23rd, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I would argue that “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is an underrated story (arguably King’s best, though my favorite remains The Running Man) and better than the movie by a wide stretch. And it’s still a good movie.

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Jonathan Roth said on August 23rd, 2010 at 6:47 pm

The original children’s book “Shrek” is short and weird and fun. I’m not sure whether or not it could be made into a good movie if it was faithful, and I liked the movie that they made.

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@Betty, Starship Troopers started out as a young adult novel, I’m pretty sure it’s not a deconstruction of anything.

Also, if you believe that Paul Verhoevan, a guy who grew up under Nazi occupation, just wanted to make a movie about shooting giant spiders, well, go check your sources.

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derp de derp said on August 24th, 2010 at 1:42 am

Anyone who thinks that Starship Troopers (the book) is a deconstruction, rather than a glorification, of militarism, is clearly unfamiliar with the work of Robert Heinlein.

My biggest problem with the adaptation of The Princess Bride is that Goldman messed up one of Vizzini’s lines. It should be (and is, in the book):

Iocane comes from Australia, and, as everyone knows, Australia is entirely peopled with criminals.

(or something like that). In the film, this is changed to:

Iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals.

which makes far less sense.

And Prankster: I’m surprised that you find the book less funny than the movie.

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Scavenger said on August 24th, 2010 at 4:14 pm

John: I disagree on your interpretation of The Princess Bride. I will grant it’s been like 20 years since I read it, but I think you’re putting far too much weight on the commentary sections. I believe you’re effectively saying he wrote a 300 page novel to back up a 20 page premise.*

(*not having the book in front of me, I’m basically making up page amounts, and I could be misremembering just how much “commentary” there is.)

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I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Jurassic Park. The book, while containing some cool concepts and a lot of action, was written with tone-deaf prose, had an overly misanthropic, cynical tone, and never made me care one bit about the characters.

The movie just fucking ruled on every level. Tightened the plot, changed Malcolm from a wordy mouthpiece to a delightful, funny, and appealing mouthpiece, made Hammond a tragic hero instead of a one-dimensional villain, gave Grant and Satler an actual relationship, not just “oh… we’re colleagues,” and killed off the characters that made sense. Not to mention hearing a couple sentences about a dinosaur doesn’t compare to seeing one brought to life before your eyes.

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I’m late to the party but my favourite adaptation of this sort was “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

Patricia Highsmith’s book pulled you into the head of its psychopathic main character through icy logic. Ripley kills because he simply must and Highsmith makes you understand why and go along. Must’ve been horrifying to read that in the ’50s.

Anthony Minghella’s movie can’t be that cerebral — it needs visuals and more of a plot — so the movie takes the opposite tack. Ripley is suddenly younger, more sensitive. He kills because he has no choice and Minghella seduces the viewer into the film with pretty actors and gorgeous Italian scenery.

By the end, however, the effect is the same: the audience finds ourselves rooting for a serial killer, complicit in his murder spree. Not as creepy as the book’s impact back in the day but still an effective little thriller.

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