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10 Movies That Didn’t Do Their Source Material Justice

07 January 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Red Stewart


Whenever we learn that our favorite book is getting made into a film, we immediately pray that it be a good adaptation. Sometimes our prayers are heard, as with The Lord of the Rings, but other times we cry in defeat, as with Eragon or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. However, a fair amount of adaptations tend to be strange in that they’re not horrible, in fact they may reach a positive critical consensus with general moviegoers. However, true fans of the book or graphic novel will know that the movie failed to do its source material justice. Here is a list of 10 such films (in no specific order):


10. V for Vendetta


The book and its meaning: When Alan Moore set out to do V for Vendetta, the United Kingdom’s then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had since established herself as the Iron Lady due to the power she emitted in the government. Britain’s political atmosphere shifted dangerously conservative, with even talks of fascism reaching the ears of the working class. Moore channeled his anarchist views into creating a morally ambivalent work about a terrorist striving to get the citizens of a dystopian U.K. to embrace freedom over their current oppression, by ruling themselves.

The movie’s shortcomings: Admittedly the Wachowski’s had the problem of adapting a very Anglocentric graphic novel for American audiences, but their solution ended up turning V for Vendetta into a liberal film attacking the Bush Administration. Alan Moore summarized the film best when he gave a rant to MTV:

“It’s been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country. In my original story there had been a limited nuclear war, which had isolated Britain, caused a lot of chaos and a collapse of government, and a fascist totalitarian dictatorship had sprung up. Now, in the film, you’ve got a sinister group of right-wing figures — not fascists, but you know that they’re bad guys — and what they have done is manufactured a bio-terror weapon in secret, so that they can fake a massive terrorist incident to get everybody on their side, so that they can pursue their right-wing agenda. It’s a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values [standing up] against a state run by neo-conservatives — which is not what “V for Vendetta” was about.”

As Stan Lee likes to say, “‘Nuff said”.


9. Jane Eyre (2011)


The book and its meaning: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has been highly regarded as a landmark novel in the feminist movement given its various themes that it tackles, most notably morality and sexuality. The first ten chapters are dedicated to Jane’s childhood, while the remaining focuses on her transition to womanhood and encounters with love and self-identity.

The movie’s shortcomings: While Cary Fukunaga assembled a brilliant cast, particularly Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester, the film opted to be primarily a gothic romance of sorts that ignored the book’s underlying messages. No doubt it features a strong protagonist, but the 2011 film essentially butchers the childhood portion of the novel by rushing through it to get to the romance. This decision ruins the whole morality angle the book depicted through contrasting the younger, passionate Jane with the older, reserved one. Without a good childhood background, the film is left as just a typical, gothic love story. The non-linear, flashback format Fukunaga utilizes doesn’t help matters either.


8. Apocalypse Now


The book and its meaning: Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, is an attack on the imperialism that many first world countries were conducting during the late-19th century, particularly that of Europe and “colonizing” the African continent. More than that, though, the book is an examination of the human conscience and the duality of human nature. The title refers not just to the interior of the Congo, but also the true character every man finds within themselves when placed in the right environment.

The movie’s shortcomings: There’s no doubt that Francis Ford Coppola did a wonderful job adapting the novel into the Vietnam War setting that many films of that decade were criticizing (including Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon). While the film certainly achieves Conrad’s idea of the true chaos/ambiguity war presents on morals, Apocalypse Now fails to showcase the heart of darkness within everyone through its main character, Benjamin Willard. While the novella’s protagonist, Charles Marlow, changes into the very people he’s seeing as devils, Willard remained very static and unchanged throughout the film, even after his meeting with the famed Colonel Kurtz. While the film is certainly universally praised for its depiction about the truth of war, it ultimately did this at the cost of the novella’s strongest ideas concerning human ethics.



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  • alanhenderson

    Only 10? An entire website could be devoted to that concept.

  • BobsPath

    good article

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Just about every film that’s based on a novel never does it justice. Even the Godfather took many liberties.

  • kevin

    hunger games? come on as much as ppl love the movies they are actually trash compared to the books. i would think it would be on the list considering there are so many shortcomings in adapting books to film. at least keep the films listed relevant to the present. i.e. noting films that are currently out or were made relatively recent.

    • Rorshach Sridhar

      If you’re too much of a metrosexual to pay attention to older films, then this site cannot be held accountable for your laziness.

  • Ana

    Most of the time a film doesn’t do justice to the book. Lengthier novels need to be significantly pared down and generally suffer from this. And novels that are introspective and plumb psychological depths only work when handled by directors who are able to work with the film medium in more suggestive, associative ways than mainstream realism invites.

    For me two of the greatest novel adaptations are Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now. (I don’t agree with your critique of the Marlow character in AN. In both cases Marlow plays the role of a participant-observer, offering a critique of imperialism and an ambiguous and ambivalent commentary on Kurtz. Sheen’s character is not substantively different from Conrad’s Marlow.) What makes these adaptations superior is largely the fact that the directors don’t attempt to slavishly reproduce the novel but find new, cinematically-suited ways of representing and exploring the deeper issues. Only really good directors – such as Kubrick and Coppola, in this case – can make really good adaptations of really good novels.

    • Rorshach Sridhar

      I have to agree with the author. I don’t recall Sheen’s character ever offering a critique on the war nor commenting on Kurtz at all. He was static the whole way through, being at times more of a ghost than Kurtz.

      • Ana

        That’s really interesting. I’ve always read AN as a satire of the American War on Vietnam (as has much of the scholarly writing on the film) – what with its surreal, nightmarish portrayal of the war and the insanity of the American presence (sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll – and the surfing, of course). Much of this is conveyed through Marlow’s voice-over narration, which includes commentary on Kurtz – necessarily oblique. From the hallucinatory opening scene of Marlow in the hotel room in Saigon through his journey up the Mecong Delta to Kurtz, and his own descent into semi-madness – how not critique? In addition to the fact that Coppola himself has spoken about it as such, and that the White House refused to fund the film or allow the use of American military equipment because it too interpreted the film as ultra-critical of the Vietnam War. Ghost or not, Marlow mediates this critique throughout.

        • Rorshach Sridhar

          Either you’re reading too deeply into the film or I’m not reading deeply enough xD.

          Yes, he provided some voice over narration (it wasn’t as detailed as I would’ve liked), but I’m talking about his actions- he acts the same from the beginning of the movie to the end, not once doing something that I saw as representative of him changing.

          In Heart of Darkness, you see Marlow doing all sorts of different things that differ him from the imperalists until the end where he ends up just like them. Actions include giving food to the dying natives, hanging out with the natives over his own crew, and working whilst everyone lazes about among other traits.

          • Ana

            Yes, how deep does one go (or not)…!

            I don’t think either Marlow character ‘takes action’ in any conventional way – hence participant-observer. Also, both narratives are complex and layered and it can be argued that both Marlows are complicit in the imperial relationships they ostensibly critique (and you may right that Coppola’s Marlow is less explicitly critical than Conrad’s Marlow). I don’t know if you are familiar with Chinua Achebe’s famous critique of Heart of Darkness’s representation of Africa and Africans but I think a similar critique can be made of Coppola’s representation of Vietnam/the Vietnamese.

            So I guess what I’m saying is that in the context of these two narratives that are critical of their respective imperialist conflicts, both Marlows play similar functions even is they themselves are morally ambiguous characters in their own right.

            Interesting discussion, though. Thanks 🙂

          • Rorshach Sridhar


            I think Copolla did a great job adapting Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War setting (as the author said). All I’m saying is that I agree that it appears Coppola chose to criticize the Vietnam War by showing how crazy and chaotic it is rather than do a more subtle analysis via observation as Heart of Darkness did.

            I am familiar with Chinua Achebe’s critique of the book and I do agree that Konrad did race paint, but in a way that helps the novella work better because Marlow realizes that everyone is the same,no matter how strange they may differ.

            Likewise. Everything’s philosophical so there’s no right answer no matter how much we debate lol.

  • Terry Shannon

    Alan Moore famously hates or dismisses all film adaptations of his work. Authors in general are going to be biased concerning the handling of their original material. I find King’s condescension towards Kubrick particularly annoying. I’m sure Philip K. Dick would have some fairly negative comments toward many of the film adaptations of his work if he were still around. The short of it is, adaptations should be judged by their own artistic merit, not slavish adherence to the source material or whether the author of the origin material “approves” of how it was handled.

    • Rorshach Sridhar

      I believe the point of the article was to target films that are indeed praised for their artistic merits, as The Shining is, but ultimately are big let downs compared to the book.

      • Terry Shannon

        Indeed. My point is that the authors of original material are a rather biased source to cite regardless of how well an adaptation follows the source material. King got his chance to see The Shining remade to follow the source material more closely. It wasn’t very good.

        • Rorshach Sridhar

          You know what’s funny? The Stormbreaker film was actually written by Horrowitz himself.

  • TheThrashEffect

    Where’s World War Z

  • Andrew Kidd

    Starship Troopers!