Summer is a season of contradictions – a time for playing outside and, oddly, a time to stay in and watch the newest “summer blockbuster.” As we sit down in our seat, popcorn at the ready, we start to wonder what the plot will be this time. Will a building explode due to an alien attack, or will some psychopath stalk a new batch of victims?
Some of the best summer blockbusters of the past were screen translations of popular books and stories. So, which was better, the movie or the book?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011): According to many, this film was more faithful to the book than many of the others that preceded it. There were some major scenes added to the movie. The fight between Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall in the Great Hall was one of the biggest differences. In the book, the confrontation happens in a hallway, with Harry hidden under his invisibility cloak. The changed scene, however, works well in the movie. Few readers seemed to mind the extra drama.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007): Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series are very popular with readers. Several of the books made it to Hollywood, and there were plenty of inconsistencies over which readers and movie-watchers could quibble. In this particular book, the popular villain Carlos the Jackal is finally defeated and killed. However, the movie franchise put him in the grave in The Bourne Identity.
War of the Worlds (2005): The Spielberg film differs from H. G. Wells’ classic in important ways. Most of the characters from the book don’t even appear in the movie. It seems the filmmakers dropped the narrator’s wife and brother altogether, as well as several supporting characters. The alien attackers are much different, as well. In Wells’ book, the aliens appear as tentacled, Lovecraftian horrors, rather than humanoid-shaped invaders. And the movie completely omits the aliens’ fearsome weapon, the Black Smoke.
Minority Report (2002): This film, starring Tom Cruise, is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. The movie is rather different from the story in some significant ways. First, Cruise’s character is young and attractive, rather than the older, balding man of Dick’s sci-fi tale. Second, the precognitive trio in the story can see all sorts of crimes, not just murder. And third, the fate of Anderton in the story is far worse than that depicted in the movie: the character is exiled to an out-of-the-way space colony.
Jurassic Park (1993): Michael Crichton’s book-to-movie translation bothered quite a few readers. Though the film was big budget and the dinosaurs beautifully rendered, many of the book’s facts were changed. Notably, the character John Hammond was far more vicious in the book than on the silver screen. And many are still bothered by the book/movie’s central premise. Thus far, science has ruled out the possibility that dinosaur DNA could survive intact in amber, regardless of how old that amber might be.
Total Recall (1990): This Schwarzenegger-style masterpiece was large and in charge. The movie dazzled audiences with lots of intrigue, explosions, and plenty of weird aliens. Would the author of the movie’s inspiration, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, have approved? We’ll never know for sure, as Philip K. Dick died in 1982, but one thing is for certain: his deep, psychological themes received a lurid treatment in this case.
Jaws (1975): This film frightened audiences by forcing us to confront one of our most primal fears: that of being eaten alive. It was also the first recognized “summer blockbuster” and started the Hollywood trend. Peter Benchley’s novel went through several changes when it became a film. The town’s mob elements were exchanged for corporate interests, and the relationship between Brody and his wife, Ellen, is less complicated in the movie. The all-important death of the shark, however, wasn’t changed much for the film: an exploding air canister instead of a harpoon.
The blockbuster is a staple of summer moving-going. Inevitably, the debate will rage on: who did it better, the book or the movie?
What are some of your favorite book-to-film adaptations, and why?