As someone who works with words for a living, I think of myself as a writer – although what I do is vastly different from what Stephen King or J.K. Rowling does.
Still, when reading a book, I find I don’t just enjoy the story as a reader anymore; I see the structure and plot and characters like a writer. And when I see a movie made from a novel I’ve read, I can’t help but compare and contrast the two.
I know, I know. Everyone always says that the book is better. It should be. The writer gets far more time to win you over than the film does. You get way more invested in the lives of the characters over the several hours that you read compared to the 100-120 minutes that you watch a movie.
That’s not always the case. Some movies are actually better than the source material.
I feel that way about every movie taken from a Philip K. Dick story.
In case you aren’t familiar with that name, here is a rundown of movies based on his writings: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, The Adjustment Bureau, Imposter, A Scanner Darkly and Next.
There are some really good movies on that list. I was so inspired that I sought out a large omnibus of Dick’s works so that I could read the stories that inspired the films I enjoyed.
Wow was I disappointed. Phil did a lot of drugs; he admitted that before he died. It certainly shows as one tries to follow the rambling plots and odd imagery within.
The weirdest movie of that list is “A Scanner Darkly,” and that is probably because it is too close to the source material.
Stephen King said he was disappointed with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie “The Shining,” based on his novel that came out three years earlier. He was especially upset with the choice of Jack Nicholson as the lead actor because Nicholson had previously done “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and King thought the role needed someone who seemed more normal at first such as Martin Sheen.
Anyone who has seen “The Shining” can attest that it is a really good horror film, and Nicholson is quite creepy and fun even if he is over the top at times. I was way more disappointed in the choice of Shelley Duvall as his wife. She’s the worst part of the movie to me.
Still, it’s rare for a Stephen King book to be made into a decent movie. Most are average if not downright awful.
A recent adaptation is this summer’s “The Dark Tower.”
Fans had a sense of foreshadowing because the movie had been in the works for a decade. That’s right, 10 years. Back in 2007, J.J. Abrams (of “Lost” and the “Star Trek” reboot) was involved. After two years, Abrams and his screenwriter gave up trying to adapt it.
Then Ron Howard and Brian Glazer were attached to the project for five years. Opie said at one point that he was considering making a feature film and then doing a six-episode miniseries for the rest of the seven-volume book series.
By 2015, Opie had given up on getting the project to film. More changes had been made to the script. So many delays had come up that many different actors had cycled through key roles, giving up and moving on to other movies. Among those attached at one time were Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, Viggo Mortensen and Naomie Harris.
After Howard decided not to direct the movie, the new director and a screenwriter rewrote the script and greatly condensed the content – and made up a whole lot of stuff that was never in the books. And I do mean a lot. The finished movie is so different from the book that it hardly seems right to give it the same name. It isn’t quite as bad as what happened to King’s novela “The Running Man,” but it’s close.
I don’t want to throw out a lot of spoilers, but hey, the movie came out over the summer and the DVD has been out for weeks, so people have had the chance to see the movie.
I understand that some changes have to take place. “Game of Thrones” has so many people in it that a script has to squeeze down the number of people lest we forget who everyone is. Even still, the cast is enormous for the TV show, and only HBO would be willing to work with a cast that size.
What I don’t get is changing a person’s motivation.
For example, in the Daredevil comics, young Matt Murdock runs out into the street and knocks an elderly man out of the path of a truck. The vehicle swerves, Matt gets a face full of toxic waste and goes blind. In the 2003 movie, the kid is running scared from something he can’t handle when he gets splashed by the toxic waste in an accident.
Boom! There goes the heroic deed that shows the potential of the child. One version has a kid risking his life to save an old man, and the other shows him as a coward who gets lucky to develop special abilities.
In “The Dark Tower” book, Roland is so focused on saving the Tower and carrying out his mission that he’d even leave a child to his doom in an underground tunnel.
In the movie, Roland is upset over his father being murdered and no longer cares about being a knight of his realm and protecting the Tower.
Come on! You can’t just destroy the main character’s motivations like that. He’s the last Gunslinger, the last descendant of the blood line of King Arthur. You can’t just decide that he’s going to mope for a while and then go on a mission of revenge instead of saving the universe.
There’s plenty of odd things in the movie (like Matthew McConaughey making like Yoda and flinging objects with his mind), but ruining Roland breaks the last straw.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.