What a Waste of Money (Sometimes): Book to Movie, V

The movie actually is better than the book.
I mentioned in my last post that many times, movie-makers purchase the material of a book rather than its plot. This approach has its downsides--and occasionally its upsides, as when the movie is better than the book. Julie & Julia is a far, far better movie than its book (and the movie isn't all that good although Meryl Streep is amazing).

The true oddity is when the movie-makers purchase the title and use none of the material.

It gets even stranger when the material offers more than the script.

The movie The Robe (1953) is truly odd because it takes an action-packed book based around the New Testament and turns it into a talky movie. I read the book first, then watched the movie. By the time I hit the second hour, I was in a state of  bemusement: "But there's a chase scene here . . . maybe . . . nope . . . there's a fight scene here . . . no, huh?"

A few of the recent Poirots (David Suchet) fall into this category although the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marples were way worse offenders. There's a reason Christie is the best mystery writer ever! (And a master in multiple mediums; she knew how to adapt a movie to a play, even if it entailed changing the ending: Appointment for Death the book and Appointment for Death the play have radically different endings as do the book and play versions of And Then They Were None--and it was Christie who made the changes!)

Incredible casting. The movie-makers
got the kids right!
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events starts out as a faithful interpretation and ends in the quagmire of Jim Carrey's personality. I don't blame Jim Carrey by the way. He is perfectly capable of being a good actor so long as the director is willing to sit on him. But the director of Lemony Snicket's started out with one idea, then let himself be derailed by how hilarious Jim Carrey was on set--oh, he is sooooo funny.

Breaking the fourth wall constantly can be hilarious (Supernatural pulls it off in its Season 6 spoof episode), but too much doesn't help tell the story. (Supernatural doesn't do it very often.)

Susan Calvin's character does retain elements of book Calvin.
I can personally forgive a lot when it comes to movies if I feel that the movie-makers love the original work. I, Robot is NOT the book--not even vaguely. It is the name of one of Asimov's short story anthologies, but the script draws material from Caves of Steel and "Little Lost Robot" (from I, Robot) to create an entirely new story.

If, like me, you watched the movie for the first time expecting a tribute to I, Robot's examination of the growth of positronic robots from clunky Robbie to suave Stephen Byerley--I'm afraid that, like me, you were disappointed.

Disappointed but not flummoxed (as I was with The Robe) or angry (Why didn't they simply make up their own story?!). Despite the glaring lack of material from the original source and despite the slight misuse of the three laws, I came away from the movie I, Robot feeling that (1) the writers and directors valued many of the ideas embraced in Asimov's texts; (2) the writers had at least read the short stories plus the Elijah Baley mysteries (Will Smith IS Elijah Baley sans wife) and (3) Asimov, being Asimov, probably wouldn't have minded. (Mr. Prolific would have volunteered to write the movie novelization or something.)

And besides, it is Will Smith.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I enjoy both the entertainment and sci-fi philosophy of the "I Robot" movie. Fortunately I do not need to wrestle with the distortions from Asimov's book or his ideas of the future. Perhaps this is an example where the movie producers recognize that far more people will see the movie who are not familiar with the actual book, or have not read past page 10 of said book.