Where sci-fi books go to die
(Spoilers - It's Hollywood - allegedly)
A.P. Aragon and Seth Goblin
Science-fiction is the greatest genre in the known universe and anyone who doesn’t think so is wrong and should feel bad about it. Sci-fi is the genre of imagination and will do absolutely anything you want it to—rather like being the exact opposite of my wife in that regard.
But sometimes it all goes wrong and it never goes more spectacularly wrong then when a sci-fi book is adapted into something else.
Here are some of the worst of them, and why they suck harder than a sparkling vampire!
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ story is an undoubted masterpiece. It takes satire and comedy and blends it seamlessly with his rampant alcoholism. The story follows protagonist Arthur Dent into a galaxy full of the unexpected after the Earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspace express-way.
With all this source material, established in books and radio-plays, and after Adams himself adapted it into a low-budget television series that was widely acclaimed, nothing could possibly go wrong. A movie was made with a stellar cast and a script worked on by the great author himself, before his untimely death. It seemed like this was going to be a license to print money.
Then everything went wrong—of course. The movie was just… well… boring. It didn’t live up to expectations, even when all that was asked of it was that it followed the original story and made us laugh. It just kind of forgot to be funny.
I blame the government!
Isaac Asimov’s novel, I, Robot, was a collection of short stories that worked as the perfect introduction to his work, and also a reminder of everything he stood for. It’s an intelligent analysis of the human condition seen through the mirror of robot psychology.
The story is told from the perspective of renowned scientist Susan Calvin as she remembers her career and relates the development of robotic technology to an interviewer. It’s a heartwarming and clever tale of the rise of a benign form of technology that changes human development forever.
The film took all of that and threw it away, turning into a second-rate action movie with Will Smith being led around by some very bad CGI. There was a scene that was directly cut from one of the most famous of the stories, ‘Little Lost Robot’ where a robot is hiding among a crowd of his own kind. Otherwise, it borrowed very slightly from ‘Robot Dreams,’ another Asimov collection, and then just went off in its own direction like a car with no steering wheel.
What’s frustrating to a fan of the novel is that now, there is never likely to be a faithful production of the actual story, since the rights now belong to someone who used the original book to pick spinach out of their teeth—allegedly.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Ridley Scott took the novel, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ and completely changed it. Almost nothing of the original book remained: the plot, the characters, the situation and the world-building were all completely built from scratch, completely ignoring the source material.
The end movie was an interesting film that earned itself the title of ‘Most Overrated Movie in History’ by completely failing to be entertaining in any way.
This was just as well, because the original novel was utter crap.
Dune is a huge, sweeping sci-fi fantasy series that explores your ability to stay awake for extremely long periods. The books take a very deep dive into an imaginary culture that has spread across the galaxy, inspiring a host of terrible copies—such as the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.
It explores such themes as colonisation, the evils of rulership, greed, destiny and really big worms.
What went wrong in every adaptation so far is simply a lack of scale. Dune could never be compressed into a single movie because of the sheer volume of material. At least the most recent adaptation acknowledges that and has attempted to launch a series of films but there’s still a problem of compressing a lot of slow development into an entertaining story that will work in small chunks.
Everything by Stephen King
Stephen King is a terrible person with the morality of a rabid baboon—allegedly. He openly hires ghost-writers to complete the ideas that come to him while sitting on the toilet, drinking shampoo straight from the bottle—allegedly.
He released an online novel and charged monthly for it, then gave up halfway through, abandoning his audience and creating a sense of distrust in online publishing that lasted for decades. For this reason, I avoid his books, and this would be a problem if they were good but fortunately they’re the literary equivalent of junk-food.
His least favourite adaptation was ‘Lawnmower Man,’ and to be fair, it was a steaming pile of garbage, but I don’t care because he deserves it.
This book was a subtle introspective look into the world of metaphors and the interconnectedness and incongruously alternating relationship between dragons and old tractors. The main character is a kind of very large squirrel who drives a delivery van that only delivers recycled frying-oil.
OK, I’ve never read it. I admit it.
I’ve never seen the film either.
A lot of people look down their nose at graphic-novels, but not us! Alan Moore is as good a writer as any novelist out there, and his work has excellent structure, character development, plotting and themes.
One of his greatest and most popular works was Watchmen, a superhero arc about what might happen if superheroes were real, in a world that was heading to all-out nuclear conflict.
It was a bold tale with each character getting a very detailed and intertwined backstory and slowly built tension in an over-reaching arc that was embedded into each and every word.
Sadly, Alan Moore was not as good a businessman as he was an author and signed a contract that took all his rights and flushed them down the toilet.
The movie adaptation was a truly excellent piece of work, but was slightly soured by the very justifiable hated of the loathsome Zack Schneider. There was some story-compression and missing subplots, but that was only to be expected when you take a huge amount of material and shorten it into a movie.
For the most part, the film was a bold and respectful version of the original story, but it did go spectacularly wrong.
The ending of the book was changed significantly. This is understandable to an extent, because the original ending was woven into countless subplots scattered throughout the story which could now be cut, reducing the sheer quantity of material it had to cover. At the same time though, it derailed the entire point of the story, and skipped over all the metaphors and symbolism wrapped up in it.
Divergent, by a balloon with a face painted on it—allegedly, is a sort of novel, sort of set in the future, and has sort of people in it. The story makes as much sense as modern politics, the characters are empty planks of wood with mysterious motivations, and the only theme seems to be horrible writing.
The plot meanders from one random event to the next, shuddering along like a cart with a broken wheel. Stuff happens at random, characters come, and go and nothing seems to matter. The story gets introduced about halfway through, awkwardly shoehorned in. It’s a mess of a thing that simply wasn’t ready for publication. For some reason though, it did get published and someone thought making it into a film would be a good idea.
The film was utter rubbish, but still managed to be better than the book. It took the liberty of re-arranging several scenes so the flow was better and the dialogue was polished. You can polish a turd, but it’s still a turd. Sometimes sci-fi books are just better off dead!
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