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.

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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.

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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.