Bad Book Adaptations

Hani Fearon takes a look at some of the bad book adaptations to make it to the big-screen

Any film that has been adapted from a novel is usually met with at least a little criticism. If it’s a decent book, there will always be someone out there ready to scoff at any attempt to recreate it for the big screen. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the adaptations are always awful, but it’s unlikely that a Hollywood recreation of your most-cherished book is going to do it justice. I’ll admit there are exceptions, which I’ll most likely fan-girl over at a later date.

The problem with cinematic adaptations is that they tend to fall into three categories; the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly. For now, I’m going to take a look at a few books that I rather enjoyed, but felt that the movie got wrong.

I Am Legend,2007, dir. Francis Lawrence

I Am Legend

First up is one of my favourite novels, I Am Legend. Written in 1954, this horror story was very much ahead of it’s time and extremely influential in the rising popularity of zombie and apocalyptic narratives. The novel had already been adapted for cinema several times, including The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971). In the 2007 adaptation starring Will Smith, however, everything just went wrong.

Now, it wasn’t an awful film at all. In fact I rather enjoyed it, but I’d never be happy to call it an adaptation of the novel. The main reason is this: Mattheson’s I Am Legend is about a vampiric pandemic, not the crazy voiceless mutants that appear in this movie. Also, as much as Will Smith kicks ass, he’s nothing like the Robert Neville imagined in the book. For a novel that inspired and influenced legends like George A. Romero, I expected much more from a modern adaptation.

Jack Reacher, 2012, dir. Christopher McQuarrie

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is a perfect example of when an adaptation is just plain ugly. Based on Lee Child’s collection of Jack Reacher novels, the film seemed to take little from his work besides the title character’s name and a half-hearted attempt at recreating the plot of his ninth book, One Shot.

For starters, the casting is absurd. Jack Reacher is a former Major of the US Army who investigates suspicious events all over the country. According to the books, Reacher is blue-eyed and blonde, 6’5, weighs around 250 pounds and has a 50-inch chest. Tom Cruise is clearly the natural choice for such a role. Seriously? In what world does 5’7 Cruise fit the role of a former Military Police Major with a 50” chest?

As a fan of the Jack Reacher novels and anti-Cruise at the best of times, this particular casting decision was a cause of outrage. According to Childs, ‘Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way’. If the poor casting isn’t enough to put you off, the adaptation seems to drain the novel of all elements of neo-noir (something that would have been most welcome to me in a modern motion picture). Anyway, let’s move on from my Tom Cruise rant…

The Hunger Games, 2012, dir. Gary Ross

Film The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is an odd one for me. Whilst I did enjoy the first book in the trilogy, I fail to see how Suzanne Collins can claim that she was never influenced by Battle Royale – as a matter of fact, the author has apparently never even heard of it. However, I still enjoyed Collins’ novel (even if it is just a futuristic Battle Royale. However, when the adaptation hit the cinema I was sorely disappointed. The novel was quite violent at times, something which was glossed over in the film. In fact, during the movie adaptation, they spend very little time in the actual ‘game’ at all. Unfortunately, the plot really needs the violence to show how messed up that world can be.

So, they scrap the violence. What do they focus on instead? The romance? Wrong. Whilst the relationship between Katniss and Peeta might not seem entirely genuine, the novel draws readers in and makes them want to believe it’s real and that such love can exist in this violent dystopia. However, in a bizarre twist, the movie seems to downplay the romance and portray it as being a load of crap. It might be crap, but in the novel, it’s believable crap. So take away the violence and the romance, what do we have left? Nothing of any interest at all, besides Woody Harrelson stumbling about the place.

The Time Traveller’s Wife, 2009, dir. Robert Schwentke


I’m never quite sure how I feel about this book, but it’s certainly something. Audrey Niffenegger managed to pull off chick-lit meets sci-fi without dumbing it down. A love story about a man that travels involuntarily through time, the novel constantly moves between times and locations. The Time Traveller’s Wife is at times devastatingly romantic and Niffenegger writes some beautiful passages.

Then came the film, which really did just dumb it down. Not only that, it seemed to completely miss the point and depth of the novel. The time travelling was sloppy, and the connection between Henry and Clare didn’t engage me in the slightest. Nice butchering, Hollywood.

American Psycho, 2000, dir. Mary Harron


Now, my final choice is a little controversial. American Psycho is in no way a bad film, in fact, it’s rather good. Christian Bale plays a fantastic Patrick Bateman and the integration of his music monologues with other scenes from the novel works rather well. However, American Psycho is my all-time favourite novel, so of course I’m going to nitpick.

My main issue with the film is perhaps what makes this a strange choice. It’s just not gory enough. I’m not saying I want my films to be all guts and gore, but American Psycho’s extreme graphic content and violence is what caused such controversy when it was published. Such scenes of violence would be extremely difficult to portray on the big screen without making the film an absolute gore-fest, so fair play to Mary Harron for trying. A nice effort, but no amount of fake blood and SFX prosthetics could do Ellis’ novel justice, so maybe I’m being unfair. Still, American Psycho is a great example of a good adaptation that fails to impress negative film nerds like me.

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