Behind the Silver Screen

8 Completely Baffling Book-to-Film Adaptations

There is no denying that many awesome movies were books first. Jurassic Park, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Godfather, and literally everything in the Stanley Kubrick box set all have literary origins. It’s when we get to the “classics”, those timeless works that people feel very strongly about, that we start to tread some seriously dangerous water. “The book was way better,” says everyone ever at some point in their lives.

During one of my aimless jaunts through the interwebs, I discovered some real hidden gems in the land of book to film adaptations. Having seen 0% of these, I can merely speculate as to how amazingly bad they are. I don’t mean to be misleading – I totally intend on watching every single one of these movies, at the very least to convince myself that they actually exist. I found dozens of potential stinkers, but here are the 8 that are truly the most baffling.

1. The Three Musketeers  (1993)

starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Chris O’Donnell

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What do Barbie, Mickey Mouse, the Jonas Brothers all have in common with Charlie Sheen (other than sexual prowess)? The Three Musketeers, naturally. Of all the adaptations of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling tale, this 1993 version struck me the deepest. Who can say why, really. Perhaps it’s the unsettling casting choices. Maybe it’s the fact that this film features a chart-topping song by Sting, Rod Stewart AND Bryan Adams. Or perchance Tim Curry (as Cardinal Richelieu) wickedly saying “All for one…and more for me!” tipped the scales.

Dumas? More like dumbass, amiright?

2. Little Women (1978)

starring Susan Dey, Eve Plumb, and William Shatner

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This made-for-TV Little Women is a puzzler. Some diehard Alcott fans claim it to be the version that remains most faithful to the story. And it won an Emmy in 1979 for Outstanding Art Direction, so that must mean something…good, right?

But then I remember that its cast list looks like a who’s who of 1970s television: Susan Dey (aka Laurie Partridge), Eve Plumb (aka Jan Brady), and William Shatner, for whom parenthetical annotations are unnecessary. I know I am morbidly curious to see Eve Plumb’s (spoiler alert) dying Beth, and I really would like to see The Shat rock a German accent as Professor Bhaer.

3. Robinson Crusoe (1997)

starring Pierce Brosnan

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This Pierce Brosnan vehicle takes so many liberties with Defoe’s story, it’s a wonder they were allowed to keep the title as Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe is now Scottish (because why not?), and he starts the film off by killing his best friend in a dual over a lovely woman. Out of fear and guilt, he flees by sea, thus beginning his adventure. Sound familiar? It really shouldn’t.

I assume many shirtless Pierce Brosnan moments happen in the following 90 or so minutes, all leading up to the puzzling finale. Friday and Crusoe get captured by Friday’s OWN tribe, which forces the two to fight to the death after saying the winner will go free. Crusoe sacrifices himself for Friday, but before the death blow can be struck, a slave ship arrives and offs Friday and his entire village. Crusoe then returns to his lady love. HURRAY! Because if there was ONE thing missing from the novel, it was definitely a heaping dose of racism.

4. Crime and Punishment (1998)

starring Patrick Dempsey

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If Hallmark releases a version of Crime and Punishment, you can probably bet that it will be a glossified preachy one. Add in Patrick Dempsey portraying Raskolnikov, and you can take that bet to the bank.

One IMDB user review sums it up quite nicely:

I knew full well that there could not possibly be any “version” of “Crime and Punishment” that could be portrayed in two hours. Even if every word of dialogue were cut and the characters used sandwich boards–it still could not be done. I knew that, so I smirkingly “lowered my expectations.” What I should have done was gouge my eyes out, stick my fingers in my ears, and have run shrieking out into the night, because THAT would have at least made sense. More so than this movie.

5. MTV’s Wuthering Heights (2003)

starring Erika Christensen and Katherine Heigl

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I’m going to let the Rotten Tomatoes plot description do all the talking here (emphasis mine):

Leave it to MTV to cook up a musical version of Emily Brontë’s brooding 19th century British novel Wuthering Heights, updated to the 21st century and relocated to Southern California. This time around, the kindly Mr. Earnshaw, father of spoiled-rotten Cate and Hendrix (not Hindley) Earnshaw, lives in a reconverted lighthouse which he has christened Wuthering Heights. One day, Earnshaw brings home an abandoned child named Heath, whom he semi-adopts, much to the dismay of his natural son, Hendrix, but to the delight of the willful Cate. Upon reaching adulthood, Heath declares his love for Cate (Erika Christensen), but they are kept separated by the covetous Cate’s intention to opt for wealth by wedding preppy snob Edward (not Edgar) Linton. The spurned Heath decides to get even with Cate by spitefully entering into a marriage with Edward’s sister, Isabel (Katherine Heigl), who manages to entrap the sexy Heath (who has achieved a measure of fame as a rock singer) with the help of her bitchy best friend, Raquelle, a character with surprisingly no counterpart in the Brontë original. The original songs were penned by Jim Steinman, the man largely responsible for Meat Loaf’s classic album Bat out of Hell. Originally titled “Wuthering Heights, CA”, apparently out of concern that somewhere, someone might confuse this opus with the original novel, “Wuthering Heights”, first aired on September 14, 2003.

6. Macbeth (2006)

starring Sam Worthington

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Sam Worthington is the titular character in this version of Macbeth, which is set in the ganglands of Melbourne (?). I personally always felt that this particular tale should revolve around drugs, take place in Australia, and involve a LOT more nudity. So imagine my glee when I discovered that this film provides all this and more!

Here are Wikipedia’s “Departures From the Text”, all of which are particularly telling:

  • The title of “king” refers to that of gang leader.
  • “Riding” refers, not to horseback, but to dirt bikes.
  • The Weird Sisters are not bearded hags, but young school girls.
  • Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane by way of a log truck marked “Birnam Timber”.
  • Lady Macbeth’s grief and eventual insanity are influenced not only by Duncan’s murder, but also by the death of their only son, spurred on by a cocaine addiction, as well as guilt from the murder of Macduff’s son.
  • The air drawn dagger is not a hallucination, but a shadow on a wall, in the image of a dagger, created by sword grass.
  • The images created by the witches were replaced with tattoos on the witches’ nude bodies.

Sign. Me. Up.

7. Dracula 2000 (2000, obvi)

starring Gerard Butler

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It’s an industry secret that adding “2000″ to the end of a title automatically makes a movie edgy and awesome. Case in point: Dracula 2000. This particular take on Bram Stoker’s scare-fest releases The Count in modern day New Orleans. Chills and thrills ensue.

I for one am very curious to see how the neanderthal otherwise known as Gerard Butler personifies Dracula. Does he scream a lot? Does he lose all signs of chivalry to adapt to modern day douchery? Does he have sex a whole bunch? I’m assuming the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES!

Also, can we talk about how pop sensation Vitamin C has a supporting role?

Check out these choice quotes to get an idea of what this film has in store for you (and the whole family):

Dracula: I don’t drink…coffee.

Solina: [to Simon] You Brits like to sweet-talk and you Brits like to romance, and all I wanna do is suck.

Dracula: We are so much more complicated than our names, Lucy.
Lucy: I was named after the ‘Peanuts’ character.

Solina: [seductive] Simon…
Simon Sheppard: Better make it good.
Solina: You and I, we could…
Simon Sheppard: [cuts her head off] No!

8. The Picture of Dorian Gray (2005)

starring Josh Duhamel

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Just stop. Stop what you are doing and stare at this movie poster for at least 10 straight minutes. Josh Duhamel looks soOoOo Dorian Gray-ish! He’s handsome. He’s brooding. He bares his chest and has an ugly heart. Somebody give this casting director a raise!

Julia Pepperwood and I have already discussed the idea of forming a drinking game around this cinematic treat. Some ideas: Drink every time the camera focuses on Josh Duhamel’s face/body for more than 5 seconds. Drink every time Oscar Wilde weeps silently in his grave. Drink every time atomic bombs are mentioned (it happens more than you might think – appropriate historical chronology be damned!).

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