If there’s one thing fans are really good at it’s being more than a little picky about their books (I say this as someone who may have possibly belonged to a mailing list devoted to picking apart every nuance of the Harry Potter books [I’m still disappointed JKR never used Lethifolds in the books]). So when those books get turned into a movie, you can bet that the fans will, sometimes literally, list out all the differences.
This year we’ve had The Great Gatsby, Warm Bodies, Beautiful Creatures, and The Host, with World War Z, Catching Fire, Ender’s Game, and the second Hobbit movie still on the way. And those are just off the top of my head!
But what I’m covering today isn’t Tom Bombadil and The Rangers being cut for time, or making the Tribute Mutants into just mutated wolf/dogs because that’s kind of a hard concept to convey only visually, or downplaying the Klan aspects of Gone With the Wind because yeah. What I’m talking about are movies that are so different from their source material you kind of have to wonder why they bothered paying for the rights to it in the first place. These are movies that if you were to change the title you would never guess they were based on the book in question.
For my purposes, the rules are as follows: I must have both read the book and seen the movie. The changes must be quite significant. I’m excluding the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare, because that’s just too easy. And I’ll try to stick to titles that only have one movie version, as once released into the wild movie versions tend to feed off each other and create their own mythos (Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Three Musketeers for example). It doesn’t hurt if the movie is bad, because it’s easier to make fun of that way.
Oh, and totally major spoiler warnings for both versions.
4. The Prestige
- Written in three parts as found diaries (main characters’ grandchildren are the ones who find them), Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel tells the, mostly one sided, rivalry of magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden. The two meet when Borden proves Angier is a fraud at a seance, when a fight breaks out Angier’s wife is knocked to the ground causing a miscarriage. Borden doesn’t know about the miscarriage (I don’t think he ever finds out about it, someone correct me if I’m wrong), and goes along his career creating an act called The Transported Man. Angier however becomes fixated on Borden and this specific trick, while he suspects a twin after some investigating he dismisses the idea. Instead he meets Nikola Tesla who builds him a machine, and creates his own trick using science called In a Flash. Only it’s no trick, he literally transports himself to another location, the hitch being he leaves behind a physical inanimate copy that has to be disposed of. When Borden goes backstage during a performance to learn how it’s done, he ends up turning off the machine during the performance resulting in two living copies of Angier: One more corporeal, one more ghost-like, each having their own mind. While corporeal Angier becomes ill and goes to his family estate, ghostly Angier finds out Borden is a pair of twins living as one man and goes to murder one of them. What he finds is a sick man and is unable to go through with it. Corporeal Angier eventually dies, but ghostly Angier is still alive hiding in the family crypt with all the copies made during performances.
- In 2006 Christopher Nolan directed, and adapted along with his brother Jonathan, the film version starring Christian Bale as Borden and Hugh Jackman as Angier. In this one, Borden and Angier were stagehands to the same magician and Angier’s wife was that magician’s assistant. When an act goes wrong resulting in Angier’s wife drowning, he blames Borden for tying a tricky knot and that’s when the ever escalating rivalry starts. The diaries are used for the two men to convey information and misdirection to each other and the audience. While The Transported Man act still plays out with Angier meeting Tesla, in the movie the device works a little different. In Angier’s The Real Transported Man, he creates two living copies of himself. The end reveals that at the conclusion of every performance one copy is transported to somewhere in the theater while the other is dropped into a tank to drown to death. The copies are so exact that he’s not even sure if he’s the original or not, and he’s simultaneously committing suicide and murder every night. When Borden goes back stage he sees the copy that goes into the tank, and, thinking the act’s gone wrong, tries to save the copy. Instead he gets convicted of murder and is executed by hanging. Angier ends up taking Borden’s daughter as a ward under another name. Borden shows up at the warehouse Angier has stored his copies, he was twins all along, and Borden2 shoots Angier and burns down the warehouse. At the end Borden2 gets his daughter/niece.
Now I’m starting with this one as it’s the least offensive in the level of differences. In fact, this is the only one on this list that I actually prefer the movie to the book. And not just because it stars Hugh Jackman, honest. The biggest weakness to the book, in my opinion of course, is the modern day/grandchildren stuff. It’s like you’re all into what’s happening with Borden and Angier, and then oh we’re back to these people, like having commercials in your book. I prefer the movie’s use of the diaries as a story telling device. The themes of illusion and sacrifice, and that both also affect the people around them as collateral damage. And the just plain tighter feel of the movie. But wow are they ever different.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle
- Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 fantasy is about the ginger haired oldest of three sisters Sophie Hatter, who knows by the rules of fantasy stories that as the oldest she’ll live a boring life and die having never really had an adventure. Then the Witch of the Waste, mistaking Sophie for one of her sisters, turns her into a crone. Sophie ends up becoming the cleaning lady for a wizard named Howl, who’s famous for being ridiculously handsome and eating the hearts of pretty young girls, so she should be safe. She makes a deal with the fire demon who powers Howl’s moving castle, Calcifer, to break the contract that binds him to Howl. Turns out Howl started the rumor about the heart eating himself and is actually a lazy narcissist, and above all a coward, with his own curse from the Witch a of the Waste. Sophie is stubborn and no nonsense and spends a lot of the book not taking Howl’s crap. During the story, we meet Sophie’s two sisters (who have used magic to switch places), Howl’s assistant Michael (who’s in love with one of the sisters), and Prince Justin and the Wizard Suliman (who are both missing), along with several other characters. There’s a lot more curses and magic floating about and transdimensional travel. But it’s all about Sophie figuring out how to break the contract and her curse, and accepting herself and realizing that she has her own magic, the ability to speak life into things. It ends with the Witch tricking Sophie into a trap to trap Howl, in order to combine him with Justin and Suliman (who she kidnapped) to make the perfect man. This forces Howl to do the only courageous self sacrificing thing he’s ever done having fallen in love with Sophie (in his selfish Howl way) while she was still under her old age curse.
- In 2004 Hayao Miyazaki directed and wrote the film version, animated by Studio Ghibli. The now brunette Sophie is still a hatter, but doesn’t speak to her hats, taking out the she has her own magic storyline. The two sisters have been knocked down to one and even then is reduced to almost a nonentity. This time the Witch of the Waste sees Sophie with Howl and curses her out of a fit of jealousy. While Sophie still goes to Howl’s and becomes his cleaning lady and makes the deal with Calcifer, that’s about where the similarities stop. Howl’s assistant is Markl, a nine year old boy. Howl is not a womanizer or a coward. After putting the whammy on Sophie the Witch is stripped of her powers and mostly becomes a nonentity. Instead she’s replaced as a villain by Wizard Suliman, now a not missing woman revving the war machine because of missing prince Justin. Which leads to the biggest difference between the book and movie, there’s not a war storyline in the book while the movie is all about war. WAR WAR WAR. Howl turns into a scary raven thing to go fight. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT. The transdimensional travel gets changed completely and Howl is no longer from Wales. When Sophie breaks the contract, she breaks her curse, Howl breaks Turnip Head’s curse revealing it to have been Prince Justin all along, and Suliman just kinda stops… for some reason.
I love this book sooo much! It’s one of my all time favorites, and Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favorite authors, and so far from working through her backlist Howl’s comes in at a very close second to Deep Secret. But before the movie I had never heard of Dianne Wynne Jones (I lived such a sad life before 2004). So I saw the movie first and I thought it was only okay even then, and for someone who has been a Miyazaki fan for a long time that was a hard realization. But after having read and loved the book, it’s truly beautiful to look at but lacks all the heart of the book and completely misses the point or the comedy. Where the book is all about Sophie and poking fun at fairy tale tropes and clever humor, the movie is all Howl and sap. Keep in mind this is coming from someone who’s seen and enjoyed message heavy Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away – The movie’s war message is heavy handed and downright preachy. When you can tell a theme has been shoehorned in without having ever read the source material, it’s too much.
2. The Moon-Spinners
- Written in 1962 by Mary Stewart, The Moon-Spinners is a suspense thriller set in Crete. Main character Nicola Ferris, a twenty something secretary at the British Embassy, is on holiday and arrives a day early to the seaside town she is going to meet up with her aunt at. Since there’s no rush she decides to go have a picnic lunch up in the hills when she’s taken by a big threatening guy to a hut. Inside the hut is a young man who gets angry at the big tough one (his name’s Lambis, he’s a faithful guide) for scaring Nicola. The young one’s name is Mark Langley and he’s been shot and his younger brother, Colin, is possibly, probably, murdered. They accidentally witnessed a murder while on their own vacation, leaving Mark shot and left for dead and Colin missing by the time Lambis found him. Deciding to help Mark -against his wishes- Nicola patches him up and goes down to the village the next day fully intent on spying to see if she can find Colin, hopefully alive, or at least the men that attacked the group. So she goes to the little hotel and finds brother and sister owners Stratos and Sophia, and employee Tony Gamble (aka Little Lord Fauntleroy). When her Aunt Frances arrives the two juggle investigating with vacationing/their cover, to record the local flora – for Frances it’s a working vacation she’s an expert. What they find out is the initial murder was over jewels Stratos and Tony stole, Sophia made Stratos spare Colin’s life and he’s been kept hidden in a windmill, and the jewels are in some crab pots. Stratos tries to kill Nicola by hitting her with a boat, there’s a thrilling boat chase, and Tony tries to run off with the jewels only to get caught.
- Nikky Ferris (an eighteen year old Haley Mills) and her Aunt Frances come to Crete on holiday. Frances wanted to come to document some of the folk songs, it’s a working vacation she’s an expert. The owner of the hotel, Sophia, at first refuses to let them stay, but her son Alexis convinces her to let them. Then Sophia’s brother Stratos (Eli Wallach) tells them they should leave, but let’s them stay. Fellow tenant at the hotel, Mark Camford, is extremely shady, but Nikky takes a shine to him anyway and her and Frances eat dinner with him while Stratos stares suspiciously. Nikky and Mark make a date to go swimming in the morning, but she finds he’s checked out, and then finds him shot on the beach. Turns out Mark was accused of stealing some jewelry, and in his quest to clear his name has followed a lead to Stratos and if the bullet wound is any indication is on the right track. Stuff happens, Nicola ends up trapped in a windmill, then she clubs Lambis to death with a rifle, Haley Mills get her first screen kiss, and (I am not making this up) the line “No time make love!” is said by plucky kid Alexis in 1964, twenty years before Temple of Doom‘s release. Stratos tries to kill Mark with the boat, and it ends with Nicola on the yacht of Tony and Cynthia Gamble the buyers of said stolen jewels. They also have a cheetah, for some reason.
Divine bovines! Now I plan to give a proper review of The Moon-Spinners, probably sometime in the next year, so I won’t go into too much detail. If you’re wondering why this title is on the list I ask you read those two synopses again. That is two completely different stories. And the book is so good, and not one of its greater scenes made it into the movie (Nicola explaining the Naiads, or the tense conversation with Stratos where she finds Mark’s blood for instance). Not. A. One. Character name changes, function changes, and an entirely different plot. Why change the aunt’s specialty for crying out loud? The biggest crime is what’s done to poor Nicola. Much like Howl’s Moving Castle, they take a strong solid female character and make her an ineffective wishy washy rag. For the longest time this set the bar for most completely having nothing to do with the book. That is until a certain werewolf movie came along…
1. Blood and Chocolate
- Set in now times USA, Annette Curtis Klause’s 1997 young adult werewolf novel is about sixteen year old Vivian Gandillon. A “loup garoux”, her dead father was the leader of their pack and killed, along with others, when a pack member killed a human and the neighbors came with pitchforks and torches, so to speak. The pack having relocated, she now lives with her mother, Esme, has a group of best friends called The Five, and has trouble fitting in at her high school. When she reads a strangely accurate poem about werewolves in the school paper by a boy named Aiden, she decides to form a relationship with him despite him being human and her having to keep her werewolf self a secret. Well the rest of the pack is starting to lose it with no clear leaders and so take care of it the Old Way. The males brawl it out (in wolf form) until only one is left standing who will become the Alpha, and females brawl it out to the last to decide who will be his mate. Gabriel, a young man who both Esme and a woman named Astrid have been fighting over, is made Alpha, and in saving her mother’s life Vivian accidentally becomes his mate. She’s afraid and tries to avoid Gabriel, but he tells her he’ll wait as long as it takes and won’t give up on her. This drives her to try to become more human and get more serious with Aiden, but before they have sex she wants to show him her other form. He freaks, her feelings get hurt, and she wakes up at home covered in blood with an extra hand lying around. Thinking she’s become dangerous, she decides to kill herself for the good of the pack, but is stopped by Gabriel and some of her friends. To get revenge, Astrid and Rafe (one of The Five) murdered the guy, who was a friend of Aiden’s, and made it look like Vivian did it. Vivian goes to save Aiden from Astrid and Rafe and he brings a gun with silver bullets meant for Vivian, he ends up using it on Rafe and Vivian fights with Astrid. Gabriel shows up, pronounces judgement on Astrid for endangering the pack and kills her. Aiden freaks again shoots at Gabriel, but Vivian saves him by taking the bullet. Gabriel threatens Aiden into silence Vivian has the bullet taken out, but is stuck in a half human half wolf form for two weeks. Then, having accepted her wolf nature again, her and Gabriel kiss. She is able to transform and agrees to become his mate and the alpha female.
In the 2007 Katja von Garnier directed movie, nineteen year old American raised Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) has returned to Romania to live with her aunt, Astrid, after her family was killed by hunters. (Oh and she works at a chocolate shop. A chocolate shop, get it?) There’s this whole thing about how the pack leader, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez), takes a new mate every seven years, and it just so happens he wants Vivian next. Oh and Gabriel runs this night club that’s a front for passing judgement on human scum, like drug dealers or gangsters, the punishment being that on the full moon the pack hunt down the human giving them one chance: if they make it across the river they’re free – no one’s ever made it across the river. Vivian and Aiden (Hugh Dancy) meet at an old church when both go to look at werewolf themed art, Aiden’s an artist. When Rafe, Astrid and Gabriel’s son, sees Vivian with a human, he tattles to Gabriel and is given the go ahead to scare off Aiden. Aiden ends up killing Rafe with a silver medallion. The pack then pass judgement on Aiden, but he makes it across the river, Gabriel wants to kill him anyway, but Vivian steps in. Vivian and Aiden run to an abandoned film studio, where Astrid shows up with a gun. Vivian is all blah blah “I love him.” blah, and Astrid lets them go. Vivian ends up getting caught by Gabriel, some mor blah is said about a prophecy, Aiden shows up with a gun, gunplay ensues, Vivian kills Gabriel and his night club EXPLODES. Vivian becomes the pack alpha. Cue unknown future.
Buh?! Huh?! Excuse me, just reliving the movie gave me a headache.
This is the only title on this list that I’d read the book first, and I really liked the book with its themes of puberty and self acceptance and not changing to fit in. And dramatically I like everything from the suicide attempt through the end. The movie is not only a bad adaptation, but a just plain bad movie. I think the write ups put across pretty clearly how mind bogglingly dissimilar they are, it’s both laughable and insulting to the source. I also never want to watch Blood & Chocolate ever again for my second viewing, so that’s a big no to a review from your’s truly. So let’s talk about how terrible the movie is, ‘kay? I’m saying this as someone who likes werewolf movies, and even found silver linings around Cursed, Blood & Chocolate is S. Darko levels of bad. Horrible CGI wolf transformations, terrible acting, even worse directing, mediocre melodramatic editing, and just kind of silly. It’s so bad it’s not even amusing. Unfortunately I know more than a few people who swore they would never read the book after watching the movie. PLEASE DO NOT JUDGE BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE BY THE MOVIE. I’m not saying the book will be your cup of tea, but it is so different and way better than the movie.
And I think that’s a good place to close: Don’t judge books by their movies. They can be worse, most times they’re better, and sometimes they are so different it’s beyond explanation. Have any titles you’d suggest? Mention them in the Comments, I’ve got a running list and they could pop up in a future article.
Suggested MRFH articles: