Sometimes, books just don't translate well onto the big screen. Want proof? Look no further than this week's release, "On the Road."
While you've got to give director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") credit for tackling such an ambitious project, his adaptation of Jack Kerouac's beloved classic just doesn't work. It's way too long, for one, clocking in over two hours.
But more importantly, it doesn't capture the essence of being on the road. Granted, that's a difficult thing to encapsulate on the big screen. It's certainly not easy to depict the moments of self-discovery that occur while gazing out of a car window deciding what to do with your life. That said, it seems as though the flick doesn't even try. Most of the travelling scenes are completely glossed over. Instead, we just see the characters jump from New York to San Francisco to Virginia and back again.
Naturally, there's a lot more to the book that just being on the road. The movie does try to capture the complex, life-changing relationships that Sal (Sam Riley) has, particularly with his best friend Dean (Garrett Hedlund) and Dean's free-lovin' girlfriend Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Even that feels a little superficial, though, and it's never entirely clear exactly why Sal puts up with all of the shit that he does.
All in all, the movie falls flat. It's a difficult novel to adapt, but then again, so is "Life of Pi," which Ang Lee managed to translate onto the big screen beautifully. On that note, it'd be fascinating to see what Lee would do with "On the Road." But I digress.
"On the Road" got me thinking about other disappointing adaptations that have hit the theaters over the years, so I've compiled a list of the five biggest misses in recent memory.
(Coincidentally, two of these stinkers ("The Time Traveler's Wife" and "The Other Boleyn Girl") star Eric Bana. We can't blame him, though. The books were good, so he had every reason to believe the movies had a solid foundation when he signed on.)
1. "Dreamcatcher". Not only is this a terrible adaptation of Stephen King's novel, it just may be one of the worst movies ever. It doesn't make any sense, and the aliens are funnier than they are terrifying. The only thing that makes this flick worth watching (aside from laughing at how ridiculous it is) is checking out a pre-"Homeland" Damian Lewis and a pre-"Justified" Timothy Olyphant.
2. "The Time Traveler's Wife". If I hadn't read Audrey Niffenegger's book before seeing the movie, I would have been completely lost. The movie zips through key plot points, and completely omits some of the book's finer points. Perhaps worst of all, it loses almost all of the book's nuanced tenderness in favor of over-the-top sappy romance.
3. "The Other Boleyn Girl." It's difficult to fathom how the filmmakers could take author Philippa Gregory's sexy, scandalous, backstabby material and turn it into such a snoozefest. Because really, a tale of two ruthless sisters who share a king (and an exciting king like Henry VIII, no less) shouldn't be this boring.
4. "The Scarlet Letter". If there was any question of whether Demi Moore could act or not before this adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel came out, this gave us a definitive answer: she cannot. In her other films like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Disclosure," she could skate by on her looks and her sultry voice. A complex role like Hester, though, deserved an actress who could do her justice. This adaptation may not have been such an epic fail with a more capable actress in the lead.
5. "Memoirs of a Geisha." Arthur Golden's book is so good, it's only natural that a movie adaptation would be somewhat disappointing. While Rob Marshall's movie certainly isn't terrible, it just doesn't capture geisha Chiyo's inner turmoil. In fact, the movie makes being a geisha look kind of glamorous.
"On the Road" opens in limited release on January 18, 2013.
This charming con man and murderer has led five separate films, adapted from only three of his five novels (‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ and ‘Ripley’s Game’ have been done twice), with prominent actors Matt Damon, Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Barry Pepper and John Malkovich in the role at different points since 1960. Although these films work okay on their own, it would be nice to see a straight run through the novels with a consistent actor playing Tom throughout.
Maybe this overly expositional and comically rich science fiction “trilogy” isn’t fit for the big screen. The effort by Disney in 2005, as entertaining as it is, might have suffered from an attempt to be too faithful to the fans (the result of being made by fans, perhaps?) while also needing to be stripped thin by the confines of a feature film. If anyone want to give the six book series (continued by Eoin Colfer after Adams’s death) a shot, we might suggest reworking a lot of it to stand alone more as a film franchise, rather than going for an impossible direct translation of the material.
Every now and then we hear of plans to bring Fletch back to the movies, following a two-installment run starring Chevy Chase in the 1980s. Kevin Smith was involved in a reboot for a while, which would adapt the second book, “Fletch Won” (which takes place before the first, “Fletch”) and star Jason Lee as the investigative journalist with a knack for disguises. The last we heard, Zach Braff was set to star, but Smith is now out. Eventually the character and his twelve books have to come back to the big screen, ultimately leading to a spin-off series, as the books did, for Fletch foil, Frances Xavier Flynn.
Maybe not anytime soon, but one day someone will have to help us forget about this year’s "John Carter" and properly and successfully bring the literary legend and all eleven of the Barsoom novels to life in cinemas.
Currently more popular in Germany than in the U.S., two recent film adaptations featuring the teen sleuthing trio were shot in South Africa yet star young American actors and have only been released in Europe. They’re supposedly not too great either. How about giving us American fans a well-made run with characters Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw? And with multiple other movies featuring portayals of Alfred Hitchcock lately, it’d be nice to see the real-life filmmaker brought back into the fold as a mentoring supporting character, if producers can renegotiate the matter with his estate.
Two separate adaptations of Dirk Pitt novels have been made in the past. The author was so unhappy with 1980’s "Raise the Titanic!" that he refused to let another film be made for decades. Then, through negotiations, "Sahara" was made into a movie in 2005 starring Matthew McConaughey. But Cussler wasn’t happy and years of legal battles have ensued. It’s hard to imagine the car-loving adventurer ever making another cinematic comeback, but we’ll see if one day Cussler needs the money or grows suddenly hopeful again.
Moore is notoriously unhappy with the way this series turned out as a movie, and tons of fan and non-fan moviegoers are in agreement. Adapting this ingenious property, which imagines a team of literary characters such as Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo and Dr. Jekyll as a Victorian-era Avengers-type assemblage, should have been rather simple. All of the awesomeness is right there in the graphic pages of the comic book series. But an original story with unfavorable changes was decided upon and it was all wrong. Next time, sticking to the source material would be preferred.
The little-remembered 1985 action movie "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" was an attempt at a franchise based on "Destroyer" novels, but unfortunately it wasn’t very good and so the adventure never continued. But the character, Remo Williams, a Newark cop turned government assassin, needs to begin again. He’s an old-fashioned kind of macho man, trained in the fictional martial art of Sinanju, and he fights for freedom by ignoring the U.S. Constitution. Sounds perfect for a post-9/11 world. There has actually been interest in another film adaptation in recent years, and hopefully it will happen.
Another property that has seen great interest from Hollywood for a proper reboot lately, this government agent character was previously portrayed by Dean Martin in a series of movies, beginning with 1966’s "The Silencers" which wasn’t very faithful in tone to the 27-book source material. Apparently the aim then was to compete with the James Bond films by taking a more comedic angle. Just as the 007 franchise has recently gone more serious and realistic than in the past, so shall a revitalized Helm franchise. A few years ago, Steven Spielberg was named as a potential director of Paramount’s much-desired return of Helm, but we haven’t heard anything more on the project in too long.
Nothing against the past films based on Pedley’s 1899 children’s book, which are classic hybrids of animation and live-action helmed by the great Yoram Gross, but it might be a good time to bring the story of a young Australian girl and her animal friends into the 21st century with modern technology. They could pay homage to the Gross versions, of course, just as Peter Jackson acknowledges his love for Ralph Bakshi’s animated "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films. Maybe have a real girl and real locations with computer-realized versions of Mother (the Kangaroo), Mr. Platypus and the rest of the creatures of the Outback. Australian filmmaker George Miller ("Babe"; "Happy Feet") would be perfect for such a project, at least as a producer.
We need more film franchises led by women, and there are plenty of literary sources to choose from, but this is one of the very few that were even previously tried. Kathleen Turner portrayed the female P.I. back in 1991 with "V.I. Warshawski," an adaptation of the second book, "Deadlock." Turner was expected to play the character in further films, but the first was a failure, again possibly due to a comical approach that strayed from the source. With Paretsky still going strong -- the fifteenth book, "Breakdown" was published earlier this year -- and an ever-growing interest in woman-driven action films, a serious version is long overdue.
Here’s another literary character that was adapted into a film series obviously comparable to the James Bond franchise. In fact, the first Harry Palmer movies were made by the producers of the 007 movies and intended to be complementary rather than a competitor with its more down-to-earth ex-criminal British secret agent. And in the two ‘90s sequels, which brought Michael Caine back as the character he’d played in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sean Connery’s son, Jason, has a prominent role. Again, as long as Bond can keep going successfully, so should his working-class cousin. A retake with a young Palmer should cast Caine in an elder part, possibly as the series’ M equivalent, Colonel Ross.
Previously adapted into three cheap and cheesy TV movies for the Disney Channel, this six-book series about a scientist and his android son could be great fodder for a really interesting film franchise that mixes the teen movie genre with sci-fi and action (perhaps something akin to the ‘Spider-Man’ series, only with a super-strong robot rather than a mutated young man).
Now that Disney has remade another of its ‘80s flops involving the talents of Tim Burton (albeit with disappointing results, financially), it’s time to finally resurrect their rights to the "Prydain" books, from which the infamous animated feature flop "The Black Cauldron" originated. The five-book fantasy series is so ripe for a live-action version that it’s silly there’s been no attempt. Maybe Disney’s bad luck with adaptations, as is evident from this list, is part of the reason the studio hasn’t bothered. So perhaps another studio could give it a try?
None of these popular fantasy novels should be disappointments if Hollywood takes them seriously as worthy film stories and not just cash-grabs based on their having a fanbase and their potential to be the next ‘LOTR’ or ‘Harry Potter.’ You’ve got the huge appeal of dragons, now you just need a great director, not some visual effects artist with no experience at the helm of any movie let alone a highly anticipated major holiday season blockbuster. It wasn’t even a box office flop, but it was one of the worst-reviewed films of 2006. Give it a couple more years and let’s circle back on this one.