In a way, I’ve been lucky. A lot of the books I love — either recent reads or ones I grew up on — haven’t been made into movies. (Or I’ve never seen the movies — at some point, I feel like I should probably watch The Black Cauldron, considering that The Prydain Chronicles was actually my first epic fantasy series. But my interest is limited.) Because while it can be totally awesome and exciting when something you love is adapted into another medium, it can also be hideously painful as well.
Today, I have a list of some of the more disappointing adaptation changes I’ve seen, mostly on the big screen but occasionally on the small screen as well. This is NOT a list of the worst film adaptations — though that list may be created at another time and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will almost certainly be on it — but of alterations to characters or scenes that were incredibly disappointing, even if the work as a whole is actually quite good.
DISCLAIMER: THERE WILL BE ALL KINDS OF SPOILERS IN THIS LIST, BOTH FOR THE SOURCE MATERIAL AND ITS ADAPTATION. I’M TALKING MOVIES, TELEVISION, BOOKS, GRAPHIC NOVELS, AND CARTOONS HERE.
(Also, the order of this countdown is, as always, tentative at best.)
13. The Anticlimactic Destruction of the Library – The Name of the Rose
I wasn’t expecting to love The Name of the Rose, not after having so-so feelings about the novel. Still, I was a bit disappointed by several of the changes, specifically with how little I cared when The Library to End All Libraries burned down. The movie spends very little time establishing the importance of this library or how this vast wealth of knowledge has been coveted and denied to so many of the monks. So when the library is destroyed, it’s hard to get particularly worked up about it. Particularly because William manages to save at least an armful of the texts, whereas in the novel, he doesn’t save shit.
I wanted to feel every bit of the bitter loss — because it really is one, when you read it. Instead, the destruction of library is treated with the same amount of emotional significance that is given to the cave of treasure in Aladdin, or the tomb of treasure in The Mummy, or the whole of Ahm Shere in The Mummy Returns, or even The Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. (Hell, even the pirate ship in The Goonies fits this trope. I might actually feel the most sad about the pirate ship — and that’s just silly because surely the Coast Guard can track that shit down.)
12. Wendy is a Worthless Human Being – The Shining
All the gorgeously creepy cinematography in the world couldn’t help me when I realized how awful each character had become in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation. (Well, Halloran was okay, I guess, which is probably why he died — another annoying change.) But I could have gotten past Danny, who I found surprisingly annoying for a small child, and I could have gotten past Jack, who had a great deal more dimension and nuance in the original novel. But Wendy, man. I liked Wendy in the book. She seemed to be a completely competent human being — only for the movie to turn her (its only female character) into the weakest, most annoying stereotype of a woman. I wanted her to die and die badly.
The Shining is a beloved horror classic, but I’ve never able to get past this. Though, admittedly, I haven’t tried all that hard, as I still haven’t been able to make myself give it a second chance.
11. Vera and Phillip are Innocent and Make It Off the Island Alive – And Then There Were None
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, partially because I haven’t seen the movie in full and partially because the film is technically adapted off the play, not the novel. But the play is adapted from the novel and, also, I don’t care. The twist ending is the very best part of this story — to give And Then There Were None some bullshit happy ending where the leading man and lady are actually good guys who survive? NO. Just no. (Of course, this movie was made during the Production Code, where Vera couldn’t have killed herself because even the mention of suicide was a big Not Happening. I still don’t care. I am offended by the very idea of this ending and will not be mollified until someone makes a proper remake.)
10. Hansel and Gretel’s Parents Abandoned Their Children to Save Them – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
I’m not going to complain about this being a bad film because I knew what kind of movie I was getting into when I rented it. Actually, it’s far more entertaining than I thought it would be, fully committed to its campy ridiculousness, and not anywhere near the worst fairy tale adaptation I’ve ever seen. (I’m pretty sure that’s still Red Riding Hood, although Snow White and the Huntsman gives it a run for its money.)
Still, I was pretty disappointed with the change in Hansel and Gretel’s origin story because, for me, it’s just not the same story if their parents didn’t selfishly abandon the kids in the middle of the forest for their own survival. Making Mom and Dad secret good guys is boring, not to mention predictable. (Especially when the chief antagonist of the film ends up being responsible for their deaths all along.) It’s also particularly shitty because the mom essentially martyrs herself, gets her husband killed, and dooms her children to a lifetime of trauma for no good reason at all. Oh, white witches can’t use their magic to hurt anyone? Please, lady. You are a terrible person. I hope your idealism comforts you in Hell.
9. Ozymandias is Spectacularly Miscast – Watchmen
I didn’t hate Watchmen the way a lot of people did, and in fact, was quite happy with some of the changes they made — I hold firm to the idea that making Dr. Manhattan the scapegoat was particularly clever. (Sorry, guys. I’m aware I’m failing you all right now.)
Unfortunately, Ozymandias doesn’t work for me at all. He’s supposed to be this superhero archetype, this perfect specimen of WASPy physique — like Captain America, but with Batman’s brain. (Also, German.) Instead, they cast a slender brunette with a wishy-washy accent, and terrible hair dye aside, Matthew Goode just completely fails to be intimidating, charismatic, or interesting in any way. I’ve liked the actor in other things before, but found him utterly disappointing as the superhero/mastermind here.
8. Henry is the Worst – Dreamcatcher
This movie is an abysmal failure. And, admittedly, the novel has multiple problems and was never going to adapt particularly well into a feature film anyway. But I actually like Henry in the novel — he’s easily my favorite character — and in the movie, he is the most incompetent asshole I’ve ever seen. I normally enjoy Thomas Jane’s work, but this performance is just bad, like, there is no redeemable quality to it at all. There are pancakes that are less flat than this performance. It’s like he’s actively trying to do the worst job he can.
I don’t know if I expected Dreamcatcher to be great, but I did figure I’d enjoy watching Henry at least, since I liked him so much in the book. I was NOT anticipating him to be the worst part of a movie that also had Morgan Freeman’s Eyebrows of Destiny and an alien pretending to be a guy with Down’s Syndrome and cancer.
7. Why Should I Care About Shinji Again? – Battle Royale
Battle Royale is kind of a devastating book to read. You thought The Hunger Games was sad? HA. I mean, I really do like The Hunger Games, but gut punch for gut punch, it’s not even in the same league. One of the hardest deaths to read is Shinji’s, who’s a major player in the book, one of Shuya’s closest friends, and hard at work at hacking the BR Program when he’s killed by the book’s chief antagonist, Kazuo. And Shinji, man, he fights hard to live. When he finally dies, it’s just — dude, I stopped reading to cuddle with my stuffed animals. (Okay, I don’t remember if stuffed animals were involved. There could have been. There were Far Side comics, though. I grew up reading those, and I needed the silly nostalgia to clear my brain of sadness.)
In the movie, though, Shinji probably has about six minutes screen time total. And I get it — huge cast, time constraints, etc. — but he never really gets the chance to shine much personality at all and his death scene is veryy underwhelming. No stuffed animals necessary. As an audience member, you just sort of shrug and move on, and while it’s far from the weakest part of the film — which probably has to go with whatever the fuck is happening between Noriko and Kitano — I did feel like it’s one place where the movie really fails to adequately translate the horror of the novel.
6. The Apocalyptic Rock Fight Is Bullshit – IT
IT is a deeply unbalanced miniseries. On one hand, it has Tim Curry. On the other hand, it also has so, so many problems. I won’t list each one here, but one of the most downright disappointing translations from page to screen is definitely the Apocalyptic Rock Fight.
It’s just . . . it’s bullshit. That’s all there is to it. It lasts less than a minute and only one of our heroes is actually injured. Six boys, one girl. Can you guess which one gets hurt? Well, of course you can. And once the girl is injured, the shy boy who has a crush on her gets his primal masculine rage on, and it’s all just crap. This was supposed to be WAR, damn it. This was supposed to be EPIC.
I want to hope that the upcoming remake (split into two movies) will do this scene justice . . . but I’ll admit, the casting of Will Poulter as Pennywise has made me less than optimistic.
5. Rogue is Stripped Of Her Personality (Not to Mention Age) – X-Men
This also could be considered a cheat because X-Men is obviously an adaptation of the comics, whereas my source material is the animated series I grew up on as a child. But fuck it, this is my list, and I’m counting it anyway.
X-Men isn’t a perfect movie, but I still enjoy it well enough — but fifteen years after it first came out, I am still disappointed by the fact that Rogue’s sassiness and spunk is all drained away in favor of vulnerability and teen angst. Anna Paquin’s performance is fine, as far as it goes, but this is a completely different version of the character, so much so that it doesn’t even really seem like Rogue at all, save for the actual abilities and the white streak she gets in her hair. And damn it, I loved Rogue as a kid. I basically wanted to grow up to be her. I could’ve been okay with the de-aging, but why, why couldn’t she retain at least a little bit of flair?
4. Coraline is a Spoiled Brat – Coraline
I loved Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. It is such a deeply creepy children’s book — I’d cosplay The Other Mother in a heartbeat. I think she’s quite genuinely one of the scariest villains I’ve ever seen or read.
But unfortunately, I couldn’t stand the film adaptation because I abhorred the changes they made to Coraline’s character. And guys, I wanted to like this movie — I really, really did. But in the novel, Coraline is a great heroine — smart and adventurous and resourceful. I want more heroines like her. In the movie, though, she’s just a spoiled brat who I couldn’t sympathize with at all. I didn’t care if she made it back to her real mother or not, and for the life of me, couldn’t really imagine why anyone else would.
3. Adult Richie is a Cowardly Asshole – IT
Yeah, we’re going back to IT again. Because even worse than the So-Called Apocalyptic Rock Fight is Richie. Fucking Richie.
As Henry is my favorite character in Dreamcatcher, Richie is my favorite character in IT. But not only is IT my favorite Stephen King book of all time, Richie might very well be my favorite Stephen King character in any of his works. I love him. I love basically everything about him. And, shockingly, he gets to live! How rarely does that happen?
But Adult Richie in the miniseries is nothing like his counterpart in the novel. In the miniseries, he’s this sleazy asshole guy pretty much only concerned about his own skin, and I kinda wanted that stupid looking giant spider puppet to eat him. It’s bad enough when an adaptation leeches a character of his or her personality, but when they change that personality to something fundamentally opposite and/or worse? It’s worse than frustrating. It’s enraging. And while IT has many regrettable moments, it’s easily Richie that pains me the most.
2. Lady Stoneheart is Cut From the Show – Game of Thrones
I think Game of Thrones is an astonishingly good adaptation, and I’ve understood — or, in some cases, even loved — many of the changes they’ve made. But nothing has quite disappointed me like the absence of Lady Stoneheart.
A Storm of Swords must have been one of the most shocking books I’ve ever read in my entire life. The Red Wedding. The Purple Wedding. Lysa out the Moon Door. Tywin kicking it on the john. Fucking Oberyn Martell. That book was gut wrenching and powerful and you never knew where it was going. But that ending — when you find out that Catelyn Stark has been resurrected and is coming back for blood? HOLY SHIT, it was one of the most boo-yah moments I’ve ever SEEN. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I read that ending, or how pumped I was to see it on HBO . . .
. . . only to find out that they were cutting it entirely. And, guys, that was just depressing. Wholly depressing. It is literally one of my favorite moments in the entire series, and it’s just . . . gone. I still want Lady Stoneheart so much that I find myself hoping they’re secretly planning to resurrect a different character instead. (I won’t say who yet, in case I wildly and miraculously end up being right.) Or, better yet, that it’s all smoke screen and Catelyn IS still coming back — but the actress and producers have seemed pretty clear that she is dead for good. And while it’s not a show-killing offense for me, I am still really disappointed about it. (Also, kind of bewildered: you don’t resurrect a main character from a horrible death unless she has an important part to play, do you? Either Lady Stoneheart really isn’t pivotal to the ongoing plot — in case, WTF, George R.R. Martin — or the Game of Thrones creators have some serious gaps they’ll have to fill.)
1. Fred Weasley is Killed Off Screen, Leading to a Hugely Underwhelming Battle Between Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
This moment — or technically, couple of moments — is probably the most disappointing to me because so much led up to it. Seven books, eight movies. Years and years of time. And when the final film came to a close, yeah, I was pretty disappointed. It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen, probably not even the worst film in the series, but I was definitely underwhelmed by Deathly Hallows Part II, and a lot of that had to do with this.
Fred Weasley — yup, favorite character in the whole series — is killed off. I totally cried while reading it, even though I expected his death for several hundred pages. And for me, it was obviously the saddest part in the whole book. I loved that kid. But in the movie, they just killed him off screen and spent approximately .07 seconds on everyone’s reaction. Fred Weasley is an important supporting character who has been in every single film, and they give his death about as much attention as they give to Ron Weasley’s jilted ex-girlfriend. Nope. So much nope.
And it’s not just because he’s my favorite character, either — Fred Weasley’s death should be fueling the infamous “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” scene. This scene is, like, one of the most notorious in the whole series. Mrs. Weasley kicks ASS in it. People quoted it forever. But in the movie, there is no pathos to the fight at all, no actual emotion — the translation is rote and lifeless. The whole thing lasts about thirty seconds. Both characters deserved more. Both actresses deserved more. We deserved more.
Please leave your Most Disappointing Adaptation moments in the comments. I’d really like to hear them.