Baffling Book Adaptations

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

The Book:


    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.

The Movie:


    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

The Book:


    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.

The Movie:


    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

The Book:


    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.

The Movie:


    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

The Book:


    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.

The Movie:


    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.

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  1. Do NOT get me started on Howl’s Moving Castle. I was unable to make it through the film due to the way that Miyazaki was deliberately butchering the storyline. But I should have known something was wrong whenHowl’s attempted sexual harrasment of Sophie near the beginning was transferred to two anonymous soldiers (only to have Howl gallantly rescue her).

    Another that should have been mentioned is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The only resemblance it has to the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is some character names and one line of dialogue. I can understand some changes, like the speech balloon thing (which would have been visually distracting). I can even understand having Eddie’s hatred of toons being the result of a tragic incident from his past (cheesy though it is) rather than just him being a garden variety bigot (though I think they wussed out on that). Still, I very much prefer the darker tone of the book, even if the climax was somewhat contrived. Then again, a more faithful adaptation would have had trouble breaking even.

  2. Update: I fixed all the wonky coding that was making the article look weird, I honestly don’t know where it came from.

    Anyway, I tell you, it just makes me scratch my head and think, “did no one tell you what you were buying before you bought it, movie people?”

  3. OK, I couldn’t read all of this because I haven’t read/seen ‘The Moonspinners’ yet, and just from the title alone I know I’d be interested in it. But otherwise, here are my comments:

    I’m honestly not surprised to learn that the original ‘Prestige’ had the whole making-a-copy thing as a major focus. I enjoyed the movie, but I felt that the final twist felt so very different from the rest of it that it must have either been shoehorned into an otherwise realism-based script for the sake of special effects razzle-dazzle, or have been an element of the original (if there was an original; I didn’t know at that point) that had been preserved despite the fact that the rest of the script had gone in a different direction. So, yeah, it all makes sense now.

    I kinda knew from the start that Miyazaki’s version of ‘Moving Castle’ was not going to be as good as the book. Like you, I’m quite a fan of Diana Wynne Jones – brief digression; have you read ‘Dark Lord of Derkholm’ or ‘Deep Secret’ yet? If not, I recommend both of them, although I’d suggest you also read ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ before the former, as the two kind of tie into each other.
    Anyway. I like Miyazaki, but I mainly like him for the stuff he HAS done rather than the stuff he IS doing, if you get my meaning. I respect his position that ‘not every film has to have a villain’, but I LIKE his old villains. He used to do old-school mustache-twirling bad guys that were PURE EVIL and huge amounts of fun to watch. Subsequently, his films have either had no bad guys at all or really weird/poorly-explored ones (with the occasional exception, of course; ‘Spirited Away’ had a great villain, even if she never really got a comeuppance). As a result, his films have just been melting into a great big pile of gentle, gorgeously-animated amiable blah for years now, with the most bite they have being when they address his pet issues – such as, in this case, ‘war is bad’. (Gosh, how original.) So yeah, really not the right guy to work on ‘Moving Castle’.

    Yeah, I remember ‘Blood and Chocolate’. I admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of it – I kind of felt that it ultimately just petered out; I would have liked to have had a bit more resolution than ‘you didn’t see NOTHIN’, you got it?’ – but it was certainly a respectable enough book. Doesn’t sound like I’d like the movie, though.

    Anyway, good article, Eunice! (And thank you for linking to one of mine – I had begun to think that nobody actually read that one.)

    • Deep Secret is so far my favorite that I’ve read of hers. I saw Tough Guide to Fantasyland in a used book store and was like “Dianna Wynne Jones? Auto buy!” One of the best purchases I’ve made. I have Dark Lord of Derkholm in the To Read books, but I’m saving it for when I have time to really enjoy it.

  4. I have an excellent book called “Science Fiction Classics: The Stories that Morphed into Movies,” compiled by Forrest J. Ackerman. It has 15 short stories that became fairly well-known movies (some more than others). It includes “This Island Earth,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “They Live,” and “Death Race 2000,” among others. The stories are very entertaining. It’s equally entertaining to realize what was done to them when they were put on the screen.

    This is from memory: I read a short story about two men who started a company in which they decontaminated planets. The story took place on a planet where your fears became reality. It wasn’t a horror/slasher story, it was cleverly done. The story was very entertaining. Unfortunately I don’t remember the title or the author. I thought the title was “Haunted Planet” or some such thing, but I’m not sure. Then several years ago I came across a terrible blood & gore movie about a team of astronauts on a planet where your fears become reality. I figured the movie must have taken its premise from the short story, but it had NOTHING to do with the story. The only similarities were the basic premise and the title. If you know of this movie (which is terrible), you might be able to track down the short story (which is very good). Sorry for all the vagueness, but I wanted to alert you to a fun and clever story that I believe was horribly butchered. The original story could be made into a good movie.

    • Huh – I had no idea that ‘Death Race 2000’ was based on a short story; I always thought it was an original. Nor, for that matter, was I aware of the other examples you gave being based on stories, although I’m not surprised – I read a Stephen King story called ‘The Ten O’Clock People’ that was roughly similar in concept to ‘They Live’, but that might have been published after it; I’m not sure.
      As for the ‘planet where your fears become reality’ story, the basic concept is quite a common one; I’ve run across it multiple times. I’d say it’s quite possible that the makers of the movie had never even read it, but were just doing their own take on a well-worn theme.

      • One of the biggest differences between the two versions of Death Race 2000 is that the original story was purely serious. It’s kind of hard to imagine the film version maintaining a cult status if it didn’t have any of the dark humor.

      • That’s interesting, actually, because I remember hearing about Roger Corman having stated that in his opinion the movie would have been better played straight. It’s generally held up as an example of his lack of a sense of humor, but it would seem that he actually had some slight basis for it, even if it had nothing to do with cinematic logic.

    • I found it! The story I was blathering on about is titled “Ghost V,” by Robert Sheckley. I found it in a book titled “The World Treasury of Science Fiction,” edited by David G. Hartwell. It’s a light-hearted and amusing story, an innovative take on what is usually given the horror/slasher treatment. I think Deneb is probably right, the writers of the horrible movie I saw probably never read this story.

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