Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Put the book back on the shelf: 13 book-to-film adaptations that the authors hated

Illustration for article titled Put the book back on the shelf: 13 book-to-film adaptations that the authors hated

1. Clive Cussler, Sahara (2005)
Though Clive Cussler has written 20 novels starring adventurer Dirk Pitt, neither Cussler nor Pitt has had much luck with movies. Raise The Titanic! became a notorious flop in 1980, which might explain the long break leading up to 2005’s Sahara, which starred Matthew McConaughey and looked like it might reverse Cussler’s fortunes. Cussler thought otherwise. Feeling shut out of a screenwriting process that eventually involved 10 different writers, Cussler badmouthed the movie and filed suit for breach of contract before filming even finished. It didn’t help when the film went on to lose humongous amounts of money. A countersuit followed, with producers claiming Cussler damaged the box office by disparaging the film, and that he misrepresented how popular his books actually were. It all devolved into a public, and still ongoing, game of “You suck!”/”No, you suck more!”, with both sides trading settlement money back and forth as embarrassing details—like a budget whose items include hundreds of thousands in bribes and “entourage travel”—came to light.

2. Brian Garfield, Death Wish (1974)
Brian Garfield’s novel Death Wish is a study of urban paranoia, grief, and impotent rage, so it’s no big surprise that Garfield wasn’t happy with the movie version. Paul, a middle-aged architect, is living the good life until a group of street punks assaults his wife and daughter. The wife is killed, and the daughter is raped, beaten, and left comatose. Distraught, the architect buys a gun and starts tracking down muggers, killing them to assuage his guilt. But in the novel, Paul doesn’t start killing ’til near the end, and his motives are far from pure; Garfield creates a portrait of a deeply conflicted man who commits murder to prove he’s still in control of his life. Contrast that with the movie, where Bronson seems destined to kick ass from the moment he steps onscreen. It’s a textbook example of getting the notes right but the tone wrong, and Garfield was deeply displeased with the finished project. The four sequels that followed (including a deliriously stupid third film that’s essential viewing for crappy-cinema fans) just served to salt the wound. In 2007, Garfield’s own sequel, Death Sentence, was eventually adapted into a Kevin Bacon vehicle that was even more ridiculous. Garfield probably isn’t returning Hollywood’s calls anymore.

3. Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1972, 2002)
Bad enough to have one adaptation miss the point; there’s a special kind of frustration that comes from seeing filmmakers screw things up twice. In defense of Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh, Stanislaw Lem’s science-fiction classic Solaris poses significant challenges for any filmmaker. It tells the story of an alien intelligence so vast that it’s classified as a planet. Scientists attempting to communicate or even study the intelligence meet with failure until the alien sends up avatars—people from the scientists’ past, including the protagonist’s wife, who committed suicide when he left her. Tarkovsky used this setup to explore the contrast between nature and the cold sterility of space exploration, while Soderbergh’s more intimate take focused on the fractured relationship between the two leads, treating the planet’s intervention as a kind of second chance to rectify past mistakes. Both movies are worth watching, but neither capture the mystery at the heart of Lem’s novel—the impossibility of trying to understand something that can’t even be exactly qualified as “life.” Lem’s objections (based, in the case of Soderbergh’s adaptation, entirely on reviews of the film—he never saw it for himself) boil down to the fact that both filmmakers, in trying to graft more obvious human concerns onto the story, miss the point entirely.

4. Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero (1987)
From the beginning, filmmakers have attempted to adapt Bret Easton Ellis’ nearly unadaptable dissections of the lives of the young, rich, and spiritually vacant. And from the beginning, Ellis hasn’t been shy about registering his opinions about how they turned out. Just recently, he spoke up with read-between-the-lines (or sometimes, just read-the-lines) ambivalence about The Informers, a critically reviled bomb that cut to 95 minutes a script he and Nicholas Jarecki had intended as a sprawling L.A. tapestry with the scope of Short Cuts or Magnolia. But Less Than Zero, his debut novel, was the work that put Ellis on the map, and the end result bore such a superficial relationship to the book that Ellis refused to see it for a while, claiming that only the title and the character names bore any resemblance to what he wrote. As the years passed, he’s softened on the film just a little: Though he still believes it’s “obviously bad” and woefully miscast, save for Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader, he claims to love it visually, saying it captured L.A. youth culture in the mid-to-late ’80s in a “stunningly beautiful way.”

5. Anne Rice, Interview With The Vampire (1994)
Putting Anne Rice on this list is a bit of a cheat, since after actually seeing the film based on her book, she praised it immoderately. At the same time, her vilification of the producers and directors before she saw the movie was so public and memorable that the list wouldn’t seem complete without her. Where authors are usually fairly circumspect about adaptations-in-progress—perhaps because contracts require them to be—Rice was at the time a celebrity in her own right, used to having her own way, and she threw a public temper tantrum, telling the L.A. Times, “I was particularly stunned by the casting of Cruise, who is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler.” For months, Rice campaigned against Cruise in the media, urging her followers to get him booted from the film, and bitching “The Tom Cruise casting is just so bizarre, it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work. I do think Tom Cruise is a fine actor, [but] you have to know what you can do and what you can’t do.” Once she saw the film, however, she embraced it (and Cruise) so thoroughly that conspiracy-minded fans lit up the Internet, accusing her of having been paid off in some way, or at least realizing she had everything to gain financially from helping make the movie a hit. She seemed sincere enough, though; in a public statement published by Variety, she gushed over the movie, criticizing it on just one ground: “There is one problem created by the compelling charm of Tom’s performance, obviously. Since he isn’t all that nasty, why does Louis hate Lestat? How can he?”

6. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms (1932)
While he was alive, Ernest Hemingway was said to have disliked every one of the dozen or so adaptations of his books, and had he lived to see Chris O’Donnell play him in the schmaltzy 1996 biopic In Love And War, it probably would have killed him. But Hemingway had a special hatred for Frank Borzage’s 1932 version of A Farewell To Arms, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. He thought it betrayed his original ending, and that it heavily favored the romantic elements of the story over his depiction of wartime brutality. (The film’s defenders tend to concede all these points and appreciate Borzage’s accomplishments anyway.) As a special show of contempt, Hemingway actively worked to keep the film from premièring in Piggott, Arkansas, the tiny town where he wrote much of the book. He was unsuccessful.


7. James Ellroy, Cop (1988)
James Ellroy has had a funny relationship with the movies. The hard-boiled author is happy to take the money for movie rights, knowing full well that 99 times out of a hundred, a movie version will never be made. He was critical of Cop, an adaptation of his Blood On The Moon, but he quickly learned that he’d do best by saying nothing at all if he had nothing good to say. To a publication called Groucho Reviews, he summed up his filmography this way: “Brown’s Requiem, no comment. Cop, no comment. L.A. Confidential, wonderful film. The Black Dahlia, wonderful film.” That last one may surprise people who a) watched Brian De Palma’s horrible film version, and b) read a later interview in which Ellroy refused to praise the film, but wouldn’t shoot it down, either. (“Look,” he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “you’re not going to get me to say anything negative about the movie, so you might as well give up.”) Ever the pragmatist, in language and in life, Ellroy summed up his relationship with the movies to Interview: ”I’m happy for the money. I’m happy for the exposure. Every once in a while there’s lightning in a bottle like with L.A. Confidential… Even bad movies create substantial readership for your books.”


8. Stephen King, The Shining (1980)
Perhaps the most famous example of an author being displeased with the film adaptation of his work is Stephen King’s reaction to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And that’s interesting, because while most film adaptations are considered letdowns, King wound up hating a film that almost everyone else, from critics to audiences, thought was a masterpiece. He was particularly upset with the lead casting of Jack Nicholson, whom he felt would telegraph his madness to the audience, and he felt Kubrick was too subtle in communicating Jack’s alcoholism and family issues. He also didn’t care for the ambiguous way Kubrick handled the book’s supernatural elements with kid gloves. (It further didn’t help that Kubrick pestered King at ungodly hours, calling him up with unanswerable philosophical queries.) King was so distraught over what he felt was a poor screen treatment of one of his best books that he oversaw a hokey 1997 TV-miniseries version of it, starring the terrifying Steven Weber. (He reportedly liked that one better.)

9. Gore Vidal, Myra Breckenridge (1970)
Gore Vidal is no stranger to movies; he worked as a screenwriter, and was the (uncredited) driving force behind the multiple-Oscar-winner Ben-Hur. He was reportedly excited when plans were made to film an adaptation of his audacious satire of American sexual mores, Myra Breckenridge, but when he read the finished screenplay, he declared it was “an awful joke” and disowned the project. He didn’t see the movie—a massive box-office flop instantly reviled as one of the worst films of all time—until decades later. (Though he recalled that its failure killed off sales of the book, as well.) After seeing, it he declared it “the second-worst movie I’ve ever seen” and cited the fact that it ruined the director’s career as proof of the existence of a just God. It wouldn’t be Vidal’s last such experience; Bob Guccione so hijacked his screenplay for the notorious Caligula that he sued to have his name removed from the credits.

10. Winston Groom, Forrest Gump (1994)
It seems like any writer should be happy with an adaptation like Forrest Gump received. It set massive box-office records, caused sales of the book to skyrocket, worked its way into global culture, won tons of awards, and made piles of money. Sure, it took a few liberties with the book, but Groom’s dismay over the movie version of his 1986 novel wasn’t because of the depoliticizing of his message, or the (fairly slight) alterations of the book’s narrative and tone. It was over money. Paramount and the film’s producers failed to pay him a single penny, even going so far as to make the absurd claim that the film lost money, so there was nothing to pay him—a claim belied by the fact that Tom Hanks contracted for points instead of a salary, and netted more than $20 million. To add insult to injury, no one even mentioned Groom’s name in any of the film’s six Oscar-winner speeches. Groom had to sue to get anything at all, and it took years and a small fortune in legal costs; small wonder that the first line of the book’s sequel, Gump And Co., begins “Don’t never let nobody make a movie of your life’s story.”

11. Robert Crumb, Fritz The Cat (1972)
Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb explained in Terry Zwigoff’s documentary Crumb that in spite of his work’s obvious leftist bent and coverage of the turbulence of the ’60s, he never exactly felt like part of the hippie culture. In other words, even at his boldest and brashest, Crumb is no one’s mascot, and he’s touchy about how his work gets interpreted. So he naturally availed himself of the privilege of killing off one of his own creations in the wake of Ralph Bakshi’s 1972 animated adventure Fritz The Cat. While the film makes an effort to ape Crumb’s tone and the feel of his art, it separates the title character from Crumb’s own cutting, loopy words. Crumb’s work walks a fine line between satire, sympathy, and exploitation, but Bakshi’s film quickly grows tawdry and tiresome.

12. Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation (2001)
Erik Skjoldbjærg’s mind-boggling adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir/mopefest Prozac Nation offers a scathing portrait of its subject as a deranged, self-absorbed monster who throws a hissy fit because she’s worried boyfriend Jason Biggs is paying more attention to a mentally challenged sibling than to her. The film version of Wurtzel is pathologically egotistical, so it’s no huge surprise that Wurtzel called the film “horrible.” The rest of the world agreed. Though filming was completed in 2000, it debuted on Starz! in 2005, then went on to a DVD release and a quick, merited trip to obscurity.

13. Alan Moore, everything (2001-present)
There have been several adaptations of Alan Moore’s comics, and there are likely to be a lot more. They vary in quality from the abysmal (League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen) to the acceptable (the “For The Man Who Has Everything” episode of the Justice League television show), but they have one thing in common: Moore has had nothing whatsoever to do with them. The man many consider to be the greatest living comics writer has always maintained that he wrote his stories specifically for the comics medium, and that any adaptation would be so different that he didn’t want to be a part of it; now, after four movie adaptations and a handful of lawsuits, he’s asked for his name to be taken off any property he doesn’t directly own, with the result that Watchmen—this year’s big-screen take on what may be the best superhero story in comics history—bore the name of only its artist, Dave Gibbons, in the credits. Given his extremely public, extremely negative, comments about the movie versions of V For Vendetta and League, it’s unlikely he’ll ever change his mind about Hollywood.