4 Films That Are Terrible Adaptations of Books

Okay, maybe not terrible, but definitely weak. And there’s nothing worse than seeing a decent film that’s decent up to the point you find out there’s a book that’s a thousand times better.


On the Road (2012)

The main misleading bugbear of the On the Road film adaptation is the presence of Marylou in the passenger seat of Dean’s car on the theatrical posters. The whole idea behind Jack Kerouac’s five-part account of road trips taken by alter-ego Sal Paradise and Neal Cassady stand-in Dean Moriarty is the freedom they feel while finding themselves on their Americana-fueled adventures. In the book, Marylou appears in the car during one trip in part two, when Dean leaves her again to be with his wife, Camille. The ‘freedom of the road’ filled with ‘girls, visions, everything’ wouldn’t have been quite so free if Dean had brought his bird along for the ride. While women – generally, not specifically – are a big part of the novel, their individual roles are slightly less than they appear in the film. Supposedly sixteen-year-old Marylou gets a lot of screen time – good for Kristen Stewart fans, maybe, but not entirely accurate to the story.


Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Now, it must be said that some depth and extra story probably had to be added to turn Maurice Sendak’s 48 page picture book into a feature-length film. But the late author’s book, which analysed anger in children through a boy named Max masquerading as a wolf, isn’t quite as unhappy as its film cousin. The film, punctuated with bullying, divorce, and ever-present loneliness, makes the ‘land of the wild things’ a much more literal space. Where the book sees Max unleashing his wild side within the creativity of his own imagination, the film shows Max literally boarding a boat to an island – and while this could be a representation of imagination too, it doesn’t have quite the same effect.


The Shining (1980)

As a standalone, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 gothic horror novel is a Hollywood horror classic. But unfortunately, the plotline of Kubrick’s film dumbs down a good deal of the real scares. King’s novel is centred on forces and spirits in secluded Colorado hotel The Overlook, which are felt and strengthened by the presence of main character Jack Torrance’s five-year-old psychic son, Danny. It’s these forces which take control of Jack and lead him to an alcohol-fuelled, murderous rampage against his wife, Wendy, and Danny – not Jack’s failed play-writing and subsequent overdramatic case of cabin fever. While demons take many forms in the book – from alcoholic to supernatural – the film lacks much of the eerie undertone, and most of the transcendental terror is lost in the hedge maze with Jack.


East of Eden (1955)

John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel was his self-proclaimed ‘greatest’ and while the film, starring Hollywood heartthrob James Dean, won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, it’s not the most accurate representation of the book. Yeah, yeah, Cal Trask is a bit mental and spends the entire 115 minutes trying to earn his daddy’s love, but the film seems to be more hinged on Julie Harris’s Abra mothering James Dean’s whimpering, childlike Cal. Where Steinbeck’s stunning generational novel weaves an intricate, psychologically driven story of two families that mirrors the fall of Adam and Eve, the film condenses the second half of the 640 page book into a watery mush of underwhelming guilt, romance, and death. Any Steinbeck fan worth their salt would be ecstatic to see a film version that took advantage of the dark, complex characters in East of Eden – so Hollywood, get crackin’.

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