Before Daredevil was kicking butt he was trying to bring a fallen star to his girlfriend. Let’s have a look at Stardust.
For me, Stardust was one of those films that someone else had decided to watch in the house. Sure, it didn’t contain Scott Adkins or a single-car chase, but it was enjoyable enough to not find something else to do.
As for the book, I think it is easiest to say that the younger me only successfully finished one Neil Gaiman book. The one he co-wrote. You know which one. The greatest book ever written.
I don’t know how many Gaiman books and adaptations I’ve tried over the years, but I tend to have a similar reaction to them. Aside from Good Omens, I’m always left feeling Gaiman’s work has promise but doesn’t grab me.
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.
I’ve covered this book previously when other Youtube channels have discussed Starship Troopers. The first was What’s the Difference by Cinefix, which breaks down the differences. The second was from Wisecrack on how the movie makes fascism look good, despite Verhoeven’s intentions.
Let’s dive into the book and movie that made Sean Connery give up acting and Alan Moore give Hollywood the finger.
This is one of those rare instances where I can say I didn’t like the book or the movie.
Back when I was graduating from junior to adult fiction, I went through a phase of reading all of the classic adventure novels. Everything from Tom Sawyer to Dracula. As such, I was familiar with every character Alan Moore put into his comic and none of them sat well with me. They were all slightly facile and nastier versions of the characters and stories I’d appreciated – love is far too strong a word.
When it came to the movie I was blown away by how terribly hamfisted it all was. Nothing in the movie really worked, despite there clearly being some talent involved.
For me, the worst part of the movie was Dorian Grey. I’d actually only gotten to that novel shortly before The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie came out so the character was fresh in my mind. To say that the character portrayed and the one from the novel were nothing alike is an understatement. Even the comic version is taking only the cliff notes version of the character.
It makes you wonder why either book or movie versions decided to use these public domain characters rather than make their own?
Oh look, Moore has commented on that, saying:
“The planet of the imagination is as old as we are. It has been humanity’s constant companion with all of its fictional locations, like Mount Olympus and the gods, and since we first came down from the trees, basically. It seems very important, otherwise, we wouldn’t have it.“
“…it could be said that the theme of using popular fictional characters to comment on cultural and political mores has been carried over to “The Black Dossier” and the next volume of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”Source.
Or in other words, he thought it would be a cool narrative technique that might attract some readers. Not sure what the movie makers were thinking other than “franchise, franchise, franchise” while dancing in a conga line.
If this post has a point, I’m not sure what it is, but rest assured that I can’t find a word to rhyme with is.
I know that Dr Seuss is regarded as something of a big deal, particularly in the USA, but I was never really taken in by his books. Aside from Green Eggs and Ham, none of them has really stuck with me as stories.
And then we have the adaptations, the above-mentioned How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat. Both of these films came at a time when I’d had enough of Jim Carey and Mike Meyers. It’s really hard to enjoy a film that feels like more of that actor’s shtick rather than bringing a character to life.
So why am I discussing this Lost in Adaptation episode then?
Look, it was an interesting video, okay! I can find insights into artistic endeavour interesting without having to find that art to my taste!
Let’s have a look at one of the adaptations of Matilda by Roald Dahl in this What’s the Difference?
Recently our youngest has been on something of a Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith read-a-thon. She is very much looking forward to the new Matilda film coming out soon and very much enjoyed the book.
Part of the reason for her enjoyment was that, unlike The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith, the movie protagonist is a girl just like in the book.
“Why would they make the girl into a boy for the film?”
Yes, Hollywood, why indeed.
I can vaguely remember watching the 90s film Matilda and enjoying it. Our youngest loved it. And we’ll inevitably sit down as a family to watch the new version. And this is in no small part due to the lack of kids books and adaptations featuring a female protagonist. You have to make the most of the handful of female-lead books and movies aimed at the middle-grade audience (YA is better served but comes with slightly more stabbings and blood-drinking than we’re comfortable exposing a kid to).
As with many of Dahl’s children’s books, the treatment of kids comes from a different era. Matilda was published in 1988, yet much of the way schools were run had already begun to change by then. In many ways, the mistreatment of students by teachers would probably feel more familiar to my parent’s generation than it does to me, and feels odd to our kids. Yet it still manages to be entertaining to kids, if our children are any barometer of what kids these days like.
Update: the new adaptation was good. Our youngest has already watched it twice.
If you like spies, then this instalment of Lost in Adaptation will be for you.
Many many years ago I decided I loved spy novels and read the Game, Set, Match series by Len Deighton. Not satisfied with books that mostly went over my head, I was recommended some John Le Carre. Again, I feel like the much younger me got lost in the ins and out of the spy world of Le Carre’s stories.
But then two things happened. The first was they made a pretty decent film adaptation of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. Then they cast Tom Hiddleston in a star-studded series adaptation of The Night Manager. So obviously, I was ready for my Le Carre.
I think the TV series was okay. The acting was just terrific, particularly from a relative Aussie newcomer in Elizabeth Debicki, but a lot of the scenes and details felt contrived. This really undermined any tension for me.
For example, the main antagonist played by Hugh Laurie is continually suspicious of everyone around him, but he is just a little bit too ready to accept Tom Hiddleston’s protagonist into the fold. “Here you go, you’re now in charge of one of my shell companies!” This would have been better if it was also great blackmail and/or worked as some sort of leverage against a potential spy (or maybe it was and I just forget that detail).
At some stage, the more mature and debonair me will revisit some of the books and authors I read when I was probably too young to appreciate them. Le Carre and Deighton are on that list.
I will resist the urge to use Burgess’ slang in this entire What’s the Difference with A Clockwork Orange.
Despite having previously covered A Clockwork Orange, Dominic’s video raised some points I didn’t discuss.
The mention of the missing chapter in the US editions of the book reminded me of the far more acceptable British version I had read. Because it has been quite some time since I read the book, I had forgotten entirely that Burgess had ultimately said “people grow up” or can actually change. Leaving this out of the US version and thus the film is both bad form and entirely American.
Given that most of the novel is essentially a drawn-out complaint about kids these days, it’s kinda important to acknowledge that ultimate point by Burgess. But in the land of gun-toting ‘Mericans, it makes sense they’d prefer the ending that justifies them standing on their porch with a shotgun grunting “get off my lawn.”
The other thing I was reminded of was the lexicon glossary. Burgess included a section (at the end? Could have been at the beginning) that roughly translated the slang into something approaching English. I can still remember continuously flipping back and forth as I read, deciphering as I went. It wasn’t a long novel, but I do remember doing this for the whole book.
I wonder if a more mature me would have more or less trouble with this slang aspect? I do know the more mature me would certainly have less patience.
While I don’t want to make a habit of doing multiple posts about books that get multiple movie adaptations, I’m doing it for Dune. Previously I discussed the very 80s adaptation of Dune. And now I’ve finally gotten around to watching the Dennis Villeneuve version.
It was fine.
I’ve watched a few sci-fi adaptations lately that spent a lot of time screaming “THIS IS SCI-FI” at the audience *cough Foundation cough*. So I was happy to see something so obviously sci-fi that didn’t do that. I also really like the world-building, which was mostly just long shots of locations. Made everything feel big.
But the new Dune kinda felt like an overly long and tension/stakes free movie. The soundtrack was bland and built zero themes to call back and emphasise key moments. Given the runtime and world-building, there still managed to be gaping holes in the story and consistency. I liked what they tried to do with the timeline visions, but it was a little confusing and could have been done better. And Jason Momoa managed to stand out in his role despite showing up as Jason Momoa.
To give an example of the consistency issue, I’ll mention the final scene (spoilers). Paul is shown to be capable with a knife early on but doesn’t show himself to be a warrior. Meanwhile, we get a heap of rhetoric about how tough and awesome the Fremen are, even a scene where they ambush and wipe out a unit of elite Sardaukar. Then in the final scene, Paul just casually bests a high-ranking Fremen (/spoilers). This all felt really inconsistent and in desperate need of establishment.
I will say that many of the issues with the movie are also issues with the source material, including the one I highlighted above. But for the most part, this was a pretty good adaptation. I’m just not sure it was a great film.
Let’s talk about the greatest book of all time and its TV show adaptation.
Roughly every decade I re-read Good Omens. It’s a fun novel that I recommend everyone read. They even have it as an audiobook, so no excuses!
When I first heard they were making a TV show adaptation, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. Pratchett’s work has a habit of being turned into forgettable shows and movies. But then I heard about David Tennant and Michael Sheen being cast. With Tennant attached to a project, you can guarantee it will be watchable, and the two real-life buddies have great chemistry (just watch Staged).
I still waited for some confirmation that the show would do the novel justice. My wife bought the series and laughed the whole way through. So I thought I’d ask her if it was any good before diving in myself. She said I might enjoy it.
The thing that impressed me about this adaptation was that it really “got it”. Obviously, it helps that one of the authors took the adaptation on as a labour of love and to honour his late friend. The idea that Gaimen had a good handle on his and Pratchett’s work seems like an obvious thing, but being the author of the book doesn’t make you a good screenwriter or the person to do the adaptation (looking at you Stephen King).
Seeing a show that manages to make changes to the source material that you’d swear were there all along is a testament to nailing an adaptation.
Do you remember when Kevin Costner was a star? Then you might appreciate this month’s Lost in Adaptation on Field of Dreams.
The point Dominic Noble makes at the end of the above video is a good one. This is not the sort of book I would have thought would make for a good watchable movie. But often we can get stuck in our favourite genres (or whatever) and a movie adaptation can come along and shake us out of that rut.
That said, the only thing I really ever enjoyed about Field of Dreams was the references made about it in other movies. As for reading the book, this Aussie raised on cricket thinks baseball is too boring to read about.
Let’s explore a Scandinavian crime fiction classic, with Lost in Adaptation.
Many years ago, when I was on something of a crime fiction bender, I stumbled across Jo Nesbo. People were raving about his take on the Scandinavian crime genre and how interesting it was.
Part of this raving was that he was touring Australia promoting the film Headhunters (an interesting thriller movie) and exhibited a charming and charismatic demeanour as he humbly gave credit to his novel’s English translator. Yes, that’s right, despite his fluency in English and the majority of his book sales being to the English-speaking book market, he lets someone else translate them.
So I picked up a few Harry Hole novels and read one.
Nesbo himself referred to the series as being inspired by Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, which I think is a fair comparison. But, the difference is that Connelly tends toward the dry real-world investigation influenced by his time as a crime reporter, whereas Nesbo tends toward the excitant – as much as a police procedural can do so.
Why did you read only one of the novels you bought?
That’s a very good assumed question from the assumed audience.
There are a few reasons. The first was that sometime after reading my first Nesbo novel I’d grown tired of the crime genre. As Dominic Noble mentions in the video, there are often numerous contrived red herrings in these sorts of books that start to become tedious rather than exciting and interesting. Often the main character is unlikeable or would be the person everyone at a party avoids due to their predilection for telling stories about linoleum texture styles through time.
The second reason was that, outside of a few exceptions, crime novels are part of the normalisation of the exceptional with a side serve of copaganda. When you start looking at crime data and policing and the giant chasm between that reality and the perceptions of crime and police, it becomes hard to enjoy this type of escapist fiction.
The third reason is something Dominic Noble alludes to in the video. The books aren’t exactly good. With a bit of distance from the genre now, I find myself less enamoured with authors like Nesbo, and thus have no real desire to read more of his stuff.
And on this point, I’m reminded of something Lauren Beukes said about being on a panel with Jo Nesbo. He was describing going to her home country of South Africa and how he got kitted out in body armour, had an armed guard to go places, etc, etc, and she commented how it was nice exaggeration that makes for a good story, but doesn’t really work if you give it any thought or know something about it.*
* I may be putting words in Beukes’ mouth here as this is a remembered comment from at least a decade ago.
Remember that time Leonardo DiCaprio used to date women his own age? Me neither. So let’s reminisce together and look at What’s the Difference between the book and the movie of The Beach.
The Beach was one of those books I picked up and put down. I can’t remember if that was before or after the movie – who am I kidding, it was probably after. But I do know that after watching the film, I’ve felt no compulsion to rewatch the film nor retry reading the book.
As Dominic discusses in his summary of the themes in the video, the hypocrisy of the characters wanting to find the non-tourist trap locations that only they can be tourists in is a great idea. But I’m not sure this idea was explored in an interesting enough way. Maybe it was in the book, hence its word-of-mouth success. Or maybe the book just executed a more engaging narrative that twenty-something me didn’t appreciate – I bet there wasn’t a single chapter devoted to things exploding after someone performed an amazingly athletic flying kick detailed in multiple paragraphs.
Actually, there’s an idea for a reboot: The Beach starring The Rock.