Book vs Movie: Johnny Mnemonic – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix looks at a not-so-classic movie starring the indomitable John Wick  Neo  Keanu Reeves.

Woah, the 90s were, like, 25 years ago. So long ago that the movie is set 2 years from now.

And that is also how long it has been since I’ve read the short story and watched the movie. I barely remember the story – but it was the reason I’d had Neuromancer on my TBR list for decades – and only recall a handful of scenes from the movie (e.g. Dr Allcome).

Does that mean a nostalgia trip is in order? Around the time of Johnny Mnemonic, there were several cyber-themed movies that would be interesting to watch now in The Future™. Seeing Keanu or Sandra Bullock talk tech could be a lot of fun or as cringy as those 60s and 70s movies with futuristic reel-to-reel computers.

Maybe not.

One of the advantages of books is that descriptions spur imagination whereas visuals (movies) tell you what you should be imagining. As a result, they don’t tend to date as badly as the visual medium*. So it is probably time to dust off some more Gibson.

Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves’ second best character named John, may not be the high water mark of his career, but it’s a significant piece of sci-fi nonetheless. Cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson’s original short story about a data trafficker with a time bomb in his headset the stage for decades worth of movie tropes you know and love. So how does a Sci-Fi classic turn into a great piece of mid-90’s guilty pleasure cinema? It’s time to ask What’s the Difference?

* Except for all of those pesky social changes that tend to date fiction badly.

Book vs Movie: The Little Mermaid – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at the classic children’s story that became a(nother) Disney movie.

My memory of The Little Mermaid story is what you would call hazy. The Hans Christian Andersen tales, from my recollection of them, were a lot darker and nastier than would generally be acceptable for young children these days.

The movie is much easier for me to recall, as my daughter has recently taken a liking to the tale. Except for the bits with Ursula in them, which are far too scary. Fortunately, I’m usually on hand for hugs during those scenes.

The thing that has struck me the most about The Little Mermaid, and Disney kids films in general, is how much they have progressed in the last 30 years as compared to the 30 years prior. Several of the Disney films released in the 70s and 80s (The Little Mermaid, The Fox and the Hound, The Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh) bear a lot of similarities to earlier films (101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Bambi*). The leap that was made after Toy Story is profound, such that newer films are just in a whole other league (Tangled, Frozen, Zootopia).

Almost as big of a leap as children’s book have made since Hans Christian Anderson was writing.

The source material behind Disney’s animated classic, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, is a surprisingly metal fairy tale. Let’s take a look at all the ways the filmmakers changed the source material, talking crabs and all! It’s time to ask What’s the Difference?

* But not Dumbo. That film has aged badly. There is a lot to cringe at in Dumbo and the film itself climaxes with a very short scene, so it feels a little underdone.

Book vs Movie: 10 Things I Hate About You – What’s the Difference?

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Do you love Shakespeare and 90s teen romantic comedies? If the answer is no… Well, you’ll probably hate this month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix on 10 Things I Hate About You. This is probably not the blog post for you. Maybe read one of my other posts.

And who hates Shakespeare anyway?

Is it just because they forced you to read his plays in school?

Because his stuff is worth revisiting.

I have to confess that I’m not a fan of the original Shakespeare play, Taming of the Shrew. For me, it has not dated well. But I am a firm fan of the adaptation, 10 Things I Hate About You.

For me, this is where adaptations shine. A contemporary adaptation of older works can not only offer novel takes on the original story, but they can also cut the dated material. I’m not sure too many contemporary romance stories would appeal to an audience if the women were essentially treated as property.

Another thing I enjoyed about this adaptation was seeing Heath Ledger in his first major film role since seeing him in his first play – Peter Pan – several years earlier. It was exciting to see him make that successful career transition.

Vale Heath.

Book vs Movie: BlacKkKlansman – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers the amazing Spike Lee film based on the autobiography of the same name: BlacKkKlansman.

I have been reading quite a bit about fascism and racism lately. As someone who got lucky to be living in privileged skin, these are issues I feel we all need to be more aware of and actively standing against.

Instead of my normal comment on the film or book, I suggest watching the Vice coverage of the Charlottesville rally, Philosophy Tube’s videos on racism, Antifa and fascism, and reading the book on how to oppose fascism.

Book vs movie: Pet Cemetary – What’s the Difference?

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It was inevitable that someone in Hollywood would try to reanimate the corpse of yet another classic film. So with the upcoming release of the remake of Pet Cemetary, what better time for CineFix to discuss the original book and movie in What’s the Difference?

Pet Cemetary is one of the many books lingering on my shelf in the TBR pile. While I have decided that this year will involve a concerted effort to make a dent in said pile*, it is unlikely I’ll get to read this novel anytime soon. If I’m completely honest, I want to read The Stand first.

What about the movie, I hear you ask. Back when I was a young lad – walking the obligatory 10 miles (whatever a mile is in real measurements) to school through 10 feet of snow (why would there be feet in snow?) after working 10 hours at the coal mine – Stephen King novels and movies were all the rage. Whether it was Needful Things, Carrie, Misery, Lawnmower Man, IT, or Children of the Corn, there always seemed to be someone bringing a Stephen King VHS** to watch. And after my hard lesson learnt with IT, I tried to avoid the obviously scary films – hence I have seen Lawnmower Man and most of Needful Things, but not Children of the Corn.

At this point, I probably sound like a wimp. It is odd that I generally don’t find horror novels that bad, and even movies with horror elements are fine. But movies whose goal is to creep you out or gross you out (think Saw franchise or Hostel) just aren’t for me, particularly the latter. It’s a little hard to be entertained by that sort of thing.

Yes, yes, more excuses as to why I haven’t read or watched something. Don’t worry, plenty of horror in my TBR pile. Stay tuned.

*I’ve managed to read one from the pile and added two more to it this month. That counts as progress, right?

**VHS, that’s right. I am truly that old.

Book vs Movie: Hellboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s instalment of What’s the difference? from CineFix looks at Mike Mignola’s graphic novel and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Hellboy: movie or comic. Yes, I know, how dare you not love Del Toro’s amazing artistic vision! I’ve watched both Hellboy movies multiple times and have not loved them (and despite liking the Blade trilogy, Blade 2 isn’t my favourite – but Pan’s Labyrinth was fantastic). The comics I probably didn’t give them a fair chance, as I tried reading one omnibus after not enjoying the first film.

Anyway, the point I wanted to highlight from the video was something I think too many adaptations fail to do. When you are talking about a series of comics or books, there is often some prevailing themes, motifs, and imagery to them that may be less noticeable in any one edition, but taken as a whole it is important.

Because movies are often only drawing on one book at a time, or drawing on one run (or story arc) of a comic, important aspects may be lost. An example would be the Tim Burton or the Adam West takes on Batman versus the Christopher Nolan version. The latter drew upon more of the Batman comics than the earlier adaptations (not that either of those adaptations was bad*).

So while this doesn’t necessarily result in a direct adaptation, it does result in an adaptation that is faithful to the source material in the elements that matter.

*I’m pretending that the Joel Schumacher adaptations don’t exist. Akiva Goldsman is probably more to blame, given he has a long track record of making everything he is attached to that bit worse.

Book to Movie: Mary Poppins – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at one of the movies that you probably only realised was based on a book when they made a film pointing that fact out: Mary Poppins.

Having not read the books, I don’t have much to say about this month’s What’s the Difference? I would like to segue into a topic that the recent Saving Mr Banks raised. I think there are some interesting points to be made about the differences between mediums when it comes to how and what is remembered.

Truly great books will generally be read by fewer people than the number who will watch a middling film adaptation. Make a great film from a great book and you will still reach more people with the film. I’ve previously mentioned how as many people saw the final Harry Potter movie as there were sales of all of the Harry Potter series of novels. So even if we just go on audience size alone, it is fair to say that a movie adaptation will shape people’s memory of an artwork.*

Of course, it is worth noting that the movie Saving Mr Banks is somewhat revisionist. Tad important to know this as large media companies dominate the landscape of society. I mean, next thing you know Americans will use movies to try and tell us they turned the war by capturing an Enigma machine

This video essay by Lindsay Ellis talks about the Revisionist World of Disney:

*Further to this point is should this influence the author’s decision to allow a movie/TV adaptation knowing that their writing will take second place to the more popular medium?

Book vs Movie: Starship Troopers – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at one of the more blatantly different book adaptations: Verhoeven vs Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

The first time I watched Starship Troopers all I saw was a cheesy B-grade action movie. This was also what many movie reviewers thought at the time. Many years later I finally read the book and it clicked.

Verhoeven’s film only made sense to me after I’d read the book as it is as much a critique of the material as it is an adaptation.

“I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring,” says Verhoeven of his attempts to read Heinlein’s opus. “It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn’t read the thing. It’s a very right-wing book. And with the movie we tried, and I think at least partially succeeded, in commenting on that at the same time. It would be eat your cake and have it. All the way through we were fighting with the fascism, the ultra-militarism. All the way through I wanted the audience to be asking, ‘Are these people crazy?’ Source

The cheesy propaganda segments riff on the heavy-handed philosophical lecturing Heinlein does. The proud militarism is given consequence by utilising Heinlein’s own references to disabled veterans and by showing horrible training injuries and battlefield scenes. The fascist elements are played up for farce in the uniforms and sequences mirroring actual Nazi propaganda films.

Michael Ironside asked, “Why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie?”
Verhoeven replied, “If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it’s only good for killing fucking Bugs!” Source

Now, I did actually enjoy the book. It is very interesting and many of the ideas were challengingly different. The portrayal of future warfare was, at the time, as imaginative as I’d come across. So Verhoeven’s reaction to satirise the book – one that Heinlein dashed out as an angry response to the US stopping nuclear tests – was probably overwrought by his childhood in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. But if the movie adaptation had been faithful we’d probably have seen the worst elements of Heinlein’s ideas paraded around like something produced by the Ministry of Enlightenment.

Well, either that or a schlocky B-grade action movie about the military killing alien bugs.

Update: Here’s another take on the movie that, whilst missing Verhoeven’s critique, shows how much imagery and rhetoric is utilised. Although, it makes a good point that Verhoeven may have missed the mark a little in his critique.

Book vs Movie: Dracula – What’s the Difference?

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Since the annual American lolly festival is almost upon us, Cinefix is covering one of the classics. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Francis Coppola’s 1992 Dracula.

Time for some straight talk. I don’t know how you discuss this particular adaptation without mentioning just how bad Keanu Reeves is in this film. Embarrassingly bad.

I actually tried to rewatch Dracula a couple of years ago and just couldn’t bring myself to sit through it all. Despite it being a bit of a who’s who of actors in the cast – and people like Tom Waits – it all feels so camp and silly. Even when I first saw it in high school, I remember Dracula being only average – with possibly the best visual explanation of the link between Dracula and Vlad the Impaler ever.

It is harder for me to talk about the book as I read it so long ago. And, let’s be honest here, I’ve since read way too many Anne Rice novels to not get the details confused. I read Dracula and Frankenstein at roughly the same time; because gothic horror novels are what pre-teen kids should be reading. Neither stood out for me as novels, but it is amazing how influential they have both been to genre fiction.

I wonder if there will be any modern equivalent. A novel that establishes an entire genre that is continuously reimagined, refined, and redefined such that we get analogues ranging from True Blood (coming out of the closet analogy) to Buffy (girl power).

Are good books made into bad films?

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The short answer is no.

The longer answer is Berkson’s Paradox/Fallacy applies.

The even longer answer is explained in this video from Hannah Fry and Numberphile:

Comparing the book to the movie has been a long-standing blog topic of mine, which made this maths video pretty cool*. I’ve since developed a category list that relates to what Hannah discussed in the video about what gets made into movies.

  1. It is very unlikely that your novel will be published.
  2. It is very unlikely that your published novel will be optioned to be made into a movie (or TV show).
  3. It is very unlikely that the movie adaptation will actually be made.
  4. Most movies are average, so it is very unlikely that the movie adaptation will be above average.
  5. If the movie is above average, it is very unlikely that the movie will bear any resemblance to the book it was adapted from.
  6. Pointless arguments will ensue from the previous two points.

The Metacritic vs Goodreads analysis mentioned in the video is interesting and worth a read.

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*As always, I’m working from a definition of cool that includes the nerdy stuff I like.**

**Did you know that cool has always been cool?***

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Source.

*** Well, unless you use Ngram Viewer to check Google Books for word usage over time like some sort of nerd…

Ngram Cool

Book vs Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This month I’m just sharing.

Yep, that means I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie.

Feel superior in the comments.

20 years ago a new generation was introduced to the peak of Gonzo Journalism with Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Really great filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the savage journey into the American Dream, so what makes Terry Gilliam’s version so successful? Time to get cracking and ask What’s the Difference?!

Book vs Movie: Ready Player One – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix covers Ready Player One.

Normally I’d add a few comments here about what I thought about the book and/or the movie, particularly the adaptation. But Ready Player One falls into an odd realm for me. I’d initially had the book on my TBR pile but ended up removing it after a discussion at a writers’ group. The gist was that the book is a great example of the “you’re not a real geek” toxicity that pervades geek culture, exemplified by rating pop culture references.

Then when the movie trailers came out, it too looked like one long list of pop culture references that only true geeks would appreciate… By appreciate, I mean argue and post overanalysed articles and Youtube videos online for weeks after most people have moved on.

Hey look, here’s a video of all the pop culture references:

This is a roundabout way of saying I haven’t read the book nor watched the movie, nor do I feel particularly inspired to do either. Enjoy the video anyway.

Update – This covers Ready Player One from a writer’s perspective:

Further Update – This video expands on my point above about toxic geek culture with reference to GamerGate.

Book vs Movie: American Pyscho – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix tackles the disturbing book and the amazing movie, American Pyscho.

I can’t remember the exact reason, but after hearing about the novel American Pyscho I decided I should read it. To the library! Where they didn’t have it. To the bookshop! Where they didn’t stock it. To the indie bookshop! Where I was able to find one copy being sold in shrinkwrap.

There’s a point to be made here about the value of indie bookstores. And having all the sick and twisted novels available for sale probably isn’t the point I intended.

And this is a sick and twisted novel. There are some scenes in there that would make a horror fan blanche – break free little rat, break free! The “satire” of the novel doesn’t feel like satire, it feels like gratuitous sadism that is there as an extreme juxtaposition to banality in a lazily made point about yuppies.

Which is why I regard the movie as far superior. It manages to skim through and grab the major elements of the book and put them on screen without becoming horror porn for vore fans – don’t look up that word, you don’t want to know. Ellis may not be a fan of the movie – because it is hard to tell if Bateman got away with it or imagined it – but his complaints are far too typical of the precious artists I’ve commented on in this series many times.

The irony is that many people would say that the movie is still ultra-violent. In which case, don’t read the book. Don’t do it. Or keep some lye on hand.

Update: Wisecrack did a great breakdown of some key differences between the book and film:

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Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?

Book vs Movie: The Lost World – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference from Cinefix compares the book sequel written because the movie adaptation was successful and the director wanted more source material to ignore. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

Honestly, I can never keep it straight in my head which parts of the novels ended up in which movie. As mentioned in the video, the opening scene of The Lost World was actually from the first book. There are other examples, like the “birdcage” scene in one of the other movies was in the first book… I think.

One thing is for certain: Spielberg knows how to make a film. He knows how to build tension, he knows how to establish sights, sounds, and characters so that sequences hang together, and he knows not to have a talking dinosaur in an aeroplane.

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Yes, this is an actual scene from Jurrasic Park 3. Take a moment.

But The Lost World is an example of one the worst reasons you write or film a sequel: because the first one was successful. I don’t know exactly what Spielberg’s motivations were for the sequel – maybe he was under contract, maybe he needed a new wing on his house – but the film was dull. It was trying to recapture the lightning bottled in the first film. The same can be said of the book. Crichton didn’t originally want to write a sequel and was only convinced by Spielberg saying he’d give him lots of money that he would be keen to direct a movie adaptation of the sequel if one were written.

I’m on record as not being much of a fan of Michael Crichton’s books. He has a tendency to write solid thrillers that act as vehicles for anti-science rants by a raisonneur or mouthpiece. There is nothing wrong with doing this, per se, but science is awesome, so make sure your criticism is on point. Or don’t, depending on whether you want to impress me or someone who thinks chakras are a thing.

Needless to say, I was a fan of the first film, less so the book. The sequels… Put it this way, I haven’t bothered watching the new ones starring Chris Pratt yet.

Book vs Movie: When the Book Is Better

'We are making a film of the book.'

PBS Digital Studios have a new video series It’s Lit! which is part of The Great American Read, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Featuring one of the premiere video essayists in Lindsay Ellis, this series should be brilliant.

The first video briefly discusses a topic I’ve frequently discussed here, what makes a good adaptation and why the book is so often regarded as better.

Lindsay has very concisely summarised why movies so often don’t make for good or faithful adaptations of the source material. But she also touches on why they can sometimes improve the book, or make an adaptation that uses the source material in an interesting way to tell a different story.

If you aren’t already subscribed to Lindsay or PBS Digital Studios, you may want to do so now.

Book vs Movie: Dr Strangelove – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix delves into one of the few Stanley Kubrick films I’ve enjoyed.

Everyone remembers Dr Strangelove but very few remember Red Alert, the novel that was the basis for Kubrick’s adaptation. Peter George’s book was an early nuclear war thriller and having got there first tended to be copied (or is that emulated?) by many other authors. This was an important point since Kubrick and George decided to sue the production of another movie based upon a nuclear war thriller that was deceptively similar to Red Alert. I’m not exactly sure why this was important as George teamed up with Terry Southern to change the super-cereal novel into a timeless satire.

Did you know that Dr Strangelove was originally going to end with a pie fight? Apparently, the farcical element involved in that was deemed too silly for a poignant satire, despite how metaphorical it was to the destruction of the human race. I guess many would have missed that point. Comedy needs to take itself more seriously if people are to get the point.

I think Dr Strangelove is a great example of a movie being better than the book. The way it does this is by not taking the source material seriously. What would have been another by-the-numbers thriller was elevated by satirising war. Landing not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film managed to capture sentiments of the absurdity of mutually assured destruction and the ineptness of the cabals of military and political elites deciding fates.

Plus, Peter Sellers.

Book vs Movie: The Running Man – What’s The Difference?

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Given the impending authoritarian regimes and mega-media corporations forming, CineFix decided that this month’s What’s the Difference? would look at our near future. Reality TV will soon bring us The Running Man.

Back when I first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man the title sequence credited the source material as being written by Richard Bachman. One of the people with me, turned to us all with one of those know-it-all looks and said, “That’s really Stephen King.” So as we watched Arnie take down hulking professional killers with his trademark killer puns, we wondered if he was correct. Spoiler: he was.

Decades later I finally got around to reading and enjoying the novel. The movie and the novel were starkly different in so many ways. For starters, no half-starved, poverty stricken Running Man contestant is going to look like Arnie. But many of the themes are the same, if explored in differing ways.

This made The Running Man more than just a standard action film. By exploring the themes of totalitarianism, class subjugation, and media control while Arnie slices a guy in half with a chainsaw, we got a movie that was subversive and satirical. While not on the same level of social commentary as King’s novel, it does stand as an example of how you can do a loose adaptation of source material as an action movie but retain the exploration of themes.

And watch a guy with no pants get electrocuted when the fire sprinklers are set off. Way better than reading the description of Ben Richards’ entrails getting caught on plane seats.

Book vs Movie: Oldboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month in CineFix’s series What’s the Difference? they cover Oldboy. Live octopus not included.

Not having read the Manga, I don’t really have much to add to the above video. The film is amazing. It redefined “off-the-wall” and managed to make it compelling watching.

Let’s not talk about the Spike Lee remake. Because it wasn’t very good. Although, because it is an American adaptation of a South Korean adaptation of a Japanese work, it can be interesting in an intercultural sense. This article is very interesting in that regard.

Best Adaptations of All Time?

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In keeping with my monthly series of posts on book adaptations – Book vs Movie – I thought I’d share this CineFix video as my last post before the Festive Break. They cover a lot of great adaptations, even mentioning a few I was unaware were adaptations.

Thanks to my readers and commenters for dropping by this year. I hope you all enjoy whatever Holiday tradition you celebrate. Best wishes from me to you.

Now let’s argue over whether this video has missed any of our favourite movies based upon books.