Adaptations are inevitable. If it weren’t a horrible thing to do to the English language one might say that bad adaptations are more inevitable. But since we try not to do horrible things to English around here, let’s just say that there’s many a good story executed — cough, excuse us — we mean ruined in execution. And these are the worst offenders for the Moose:
Most of the time, when it concerns adaptations, I don’t have majorly strong feelings. Changes don’t tend to upset me because, I always figure, no matter what, the original material that I love is still in existence. And, if the material is something I hold in high regard I simply avoid the adaptation. This is the reason why I have never seen (and never will see) the film adaptation of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
But, despite all of that, coming up with my most hated adaptation was actually quite easy. Because there is one adaptation that I do thoroughly despise. And that honor goes to Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
It is no exaggeration to say this film enrages me somewhat beyond the point of rationality.
It’s full of (mostly) good actors but the directing, and Branagh’s casting of himself in the main role, hamstrings one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies. I find it to be an overblown production, lacking any ounce of subtlety or levels of emotion the performances. It feels like everyone was simply directed to be bigger and louder and, as far as my viewing experience goes, the language and the words are lost as a result. The film is edited wholly in favor of Benedick’s scenes (huge surprise when the director is playing the character) and Dogberry, while played with full and admirable commitment by Michael Keaton, would be more at home in a Tim Burton film.
Quite simply: it does almost nothing I actually want to see out of an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing while doing everything I don’t want to see very loudly. It makes it quite easy for me to hate.
As someone who gets a lot of enjoyment out of garbage movies it’s really sometimes difficult for me to pick out something I really despise. Honestly the things I wind up hating the most as movies, and also adaptations, tend to be movies where it’s clear that everyone working on it didn’t care. For instance, I know any time I have the misfortune of watching a Transformers film that not only does Michael Bay not care about Transformers, he doesn’t even care to make a movie with robots in it. If Michael Bay had his way he’d be making a crappier version of Fast and the Furious with Shia LaBeouf. That being said there is one stand out among all bad adaptations, a movie so utterly revolting to me I’ve never watched it all the way through.
The Seeker is an adaptation of Susan Cooper’s novel The Dark is Rising and the people who made this movie were so fucking stupid they thought that The Seeker was a better title than The Dark is Rising. Full disclosure: this was pretty much my favorite book through the entirety of middle school, but that doesn’t change the fact that no one could be bothered to give two shits about this movie, and I despise them for it. The main character is changed from an 11 year old English boy to a 14 year old American because the writer “wanted him to be more of an outsider.” A character involved in a third of the plot of the novel is entirely deleted. Both Ian McShane and Christopher Eccleston were quoted as saying they didn’t read the book because it was too boring. It’s barely two-hundred pages and written for middle schoolers and they are both grown ass adults. McShane was also quoted in an interview as saying the best part of working on the film was “the paycheck” which I can’t really blame him for considering that the director, David L. Cunningham is mainly known for a hackneyed 9/11 docudrama and has never made a good movie in his life.
They couldn’t even be bothered to get the right kind of menacing birds to attack the main character. This costs nothing extra to do, you have to get birds anyways.
Maybe, just maybe once American Gods comes out I can finally stop being angry at Ian McShane at least.
I think when it comes to most adaptations, I just don’t care enough. This is probably one of the few arenas in which I’m not sure my opinions reach quite so deep as ‘hate.’
For example: I’m probably one of the only people you’ll ever meet that does NOT like The Godfather movie, and much prefers the book… but of that I mostly shrug. I could probably say the same thing about anything Stanley Kubrick adapted (and specifically King’s The Shining)… as well as the failures of basically any Crichton adaptation that isn’t Jurassic Park (what the hell did you bastards do to Sphere???) And then there is Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Christopher Priest’s The Prestige. The nice cinematography aside, and Bowie-as-Nikola-Tesla aside, I think Nolan severely fumbles that story, specifically in regards to the characters whose film personalities read like a bizarre inversion of what they are in the book. But hate? Eh. Shrug again.
However, I can name one disliked adaptation that stands above all others. And that would be Lana & Lilly Wachowski’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
Being fair, I do think some of the casting is great (Ben Whishaw as Frobisher?? Brilliant! James D’Arcy as Sixsmith, Doona Bae as Sonmi, Halle Berry as Luisa Rey. All excellent choices.) And on a level I understand what they were trying for with the repeating actors, but ultimately I don’t think that choice serves the theme as well as hoped for. Part of the problem is that the very nature of film as a medium strips out the myriad of complexities in play. If Mitchell’s story is truly an atlas of clouds, then for the visual necessity of film those clouds must — in some way — be pinned down. And pinning down the clouds undermines everything about a story which is, in essence, one of ephemerality.
Beyond that, it’s disappointing and frustrating that every character’s story is shoehorned foremost into an easy-to-recognize tale of a romantic relationship. This strikes me as especially egregious considering traditional romance is a sentiment that isn’t present (let alone foremost) in anyone’s stories. Adam Ewing? Nope. Frobisher? Close, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Luisa Rey? Not really. Cavendish? Not really. Sonmi? Hell fucking no there was no romance. And in Sloosha’s Crossing section Zachry and Meronym’s relationship is… not like that.
Don’t get me wrong — part of me is deeply, undeniably thrilled at doing something like making Frobisher and Sixsmith’s implied connection very very text… but at the same time there is so much about Frobisher’s character that is lost in the process. In fact, most of the characters don’t just feel right. Film Somni, for instance, loses her agency and purpose and bare anger — her story becomes about being in love with a character who was barely a footnote in her story. The movie pivots the theme to be more about romantic love which is about the most simplistic track you could possibly take, and does the story a major disservice as far as I’m concerned.
Admittedly, there are worse things in the world than striving for adaptations of David Mitchell… but if the adaptation requires stripping out all the minutia and complexities, then I don’t understand why would you even bother going through on a Mitchell book at all. Without his singular humanistic minutia, so much of the point is dulled, if not lost entirely. Without the tiny human details and contradictions, the story is effectively neutered.
(PS — for future reference, if you must do a Mitchell story, you might have a slightly easier time bringing The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet to cinema)
My problem is not in thinking of adaptations that bug me, but rather in choosing just one or two. Or several. Sigh. I rarely like adaptations. What can I say, in this area I am most curmudgeonly. But so as not to rant… Let’s talk about Guy Pearce.
I think it was when Iron Man 3 was coming out and I think it was husband who said that Guy Pearce was playing the villain. To which I responded “I hate Guy Pearce.” Which confused the hell out of husband. He asked why, and I couldn’t give him an answer. I couldn’t remember why I hated Guy Pearce, and yet I did. He’s a good actor. I liked Memento and later L.A. Confidential when Clarice finally sat me down to watch that. And I recognize that the many sins of Prometheus aren’t his fault. I can’t recall any harm of him. And yet, I did dislike the man and his face. So why?
The answer is The Count of Monte Cristo. I love The Count of Monte Cristo. In terms of my dream stories to adapt, this is tops. I’ve read and reread my enormous copy of this book over and over. I open it to random pages and read when I feel like it. And I always know what’s going on. I love it.
And Guy Pearce stars in the terrible adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m pretty sure that’s why I hate Guy Pearce. That’s how much I hate that movie. It gave me an irrational hatred of a good actor for years. Years! I try not to hate Guy Pearce now, but it’s still hard.
Stay tuned! Next week we discuss our favorite adaptations.