Ep. 54 — Read the Book, Don’t Wait for the Movie

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image-9This episode of Strangers and Aliens, the Christianity and sci-fi fantasy podcast, is a celebration and deconstruction of adaptation! Hosts Ben Avery, Dr. Jayce O’Neal, and Stephen MacDonald take a look at some of the best and worst translations of book to movie, from Lord of the Rings to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! They also take a close look at the screen adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books.








14 responses to “Ep. 54 — Read the Book, Don’t Wait for the Movie”

  1. Michael Poteet Avatar

    Neither one of you are quite right about 2001. The screenplay and the novel were written in tandem. Clarke once explained, “Kubrick wrote to me in the spring of 1964, asking if I had any ideas that would enable him to make the ‘proverbial good science fiction movie’… I had already given Stanley a list of my shorter pieces, and we had decided that one—‘The Sentinel’—contained a basic idea on which we could build… Stanley suggested that before we embarked on the drudgery of the script, we let our imaginations soar freely by writing a complete novel, from which we could devise the script. This is more or less the way it worked out, though toward the end, novel and screenplay were being written simultaneously, with feedback in both directions. Thus, I rewrote some sections after seeing the movie rushes—a rather expensive method of literary creation, which few other authors have enjoyed.”

    When you announced you’d be dealing with the original American fantasy, you had me all psyched for an annoucement of an Oz podcast. Oh, well. 😉

    1. whisperingloon Avatar

      An Oz podcast IS coming . . .

  2. Mickey Kit Avatar

    The Wizard of Oz book is awful? Or, the Wicked book is awful?

    1. Michael Poteet Avatar

      I thought I heard them say “Wicked” was awful, which I’d agree with – although I enjoyed the first half a lot, it took a real turn to the dark and weird halfway through. I don’t need to read about Eyes Wide Shut-style orgies in Oz, thanks. I have heard though, consistently, that the musical simply takes the premise in a far better direction and is a really enjoyable show. Got to see it one of these days.

    2. whisperingloon Avatar

      Jayce was saying that Wicked was a terrible book.

  3. Mickey Kit Avatar

    Ah okay. I skipped Wicked. I read and was mostly enchanted by the original Oz books.

    2001 is a bad movie?!?!
    Turn in your geek card.
    Seriously, 2001 is brilliant. Calling it boring is like complaining about corn on the cob not being a good conversationalist. It’s not a story film. It’s a moving painting that hovers on a story the same way paintings hover on stories. Paintings don’t strictly tell stories, they borrow the concept of a story to introduce you to their world.

    The Neverending Story is my favorite and least favorite adaptation of a fantasy book.

    Reasons for it being my favorite: the visual world created by the film is vibrant; Bastian is perfectly cast (even though Barret Oliver is not chubby); one of the book’s central themes is expressed extremely well: the reader of the book enters the book’s world to save it.

    Reasons for it being my least favorite: Book author Michael Ende hated it. The sexualized chamber of the Childlike Empress was creepy and the large-human-breasted Southern Oracle was distracting and creepy. The movie also stopped halfway through the book. The first half of the book is translated into film well enough, but stopping where the film stopped makes the point that Bastian should lose himself in the fantasy world and ignore his real life. That is quite different from the point of the book. Read it.

  4. Aaron Reini Avatar

    All three of you mentioned “The Princess Bride” as one of your favorite adaptations. Interestingly, I believe that was the only book-to-movie adaptation in which the author (William Goldman) was also the screenwriter. There are, of course, clear advantages to an author interpreting his or her own work for a new medium.

    A potential disadvantage, though, is an author being uncomfortable with re-imagining the material in a new and interesting way.

    One of the laziest criticisms of book-to-movie adaptations is “it was too different from the book.” Well, of course it was different — that’s kind of the point. Now, I’m not suggesting that all changes are beneficial — far from it. I’m just saying that it’s more helpful to examine the underlying story/theme/motivation reasons why you didn’t care for a change, rather than identifying change itself as a problem.

    Thankfully, I didn’t hear much of this sort of “lazy” critiquing on your episode. On the contrary, your comments on why you did or did not care for an adaptation were rather thoughtful. I particularly enjoyed Ben’s breakdown of the “Hitchhikers” adaptations — each version being a “response” to the original.

    1. Ben Avatar

      Well, now, William Gibson wrote the screenplay for Johnny Mnemonic . . . is that the universe balancing itself after William Goldman’s adaptation of HIS own book? If Princess Bride is one of the “perfect” examples of adaptation . . . Johnny Mnemonic is over there on the opposite end!

  5. Aaron Reini Avatar

    I haven’t seen “Johnny Mnemonic,” but the poster looks amazing. It’s like the Wachowskis took one look at that poster and said, “Yep, that’s our guy.”

    1. Ben Avatar

      I Russia (I believe) it was promoted as The Matrix 2 . . . even though it was made before The Matrix and had zero connections in any way to it! In this case, do NOT judge a movie by its poster. It is not good. If you watch it, I accept no blame for it.

  6. Aaron Reini Avatar

    “The Matrix 2” — that’s great!

    As difficult as it is for me to accept that any movie co-starring Keanu Reeves and Dolph Lundgren could be bad, I’ll take your word for it.

  7. Don Ensign Avatar
    Don Ensign

    One movie adaptation that was much better than the book was Ben Hur. As a kid I saw the Charlton Heston movie and was blown away by it. I finally got around to reading the original Lew Wallace book some years ago and found it to be an example of really poor 19th Century novel writing (by the way they were many great 19th century novels–Ben Hur just wasn’t one of them).
    I agree with Ben I liked the John Carter movie even though there were some things that didn’t jive with the books, Carter wasn’t a damaged warrior–he really liked the battle-in the books.
    Anyway this was a very good episode. Good analysis and good commentary.

  8. John Avatar

    I couldn’t stop thinking about the song “Read the Book (Don’t Wait for the Movie)” by White Heart while listening to this episode! Insert lame Christian 80’s reference here.

  9. Hank Harwell Avatar

    Just listened to this ep today, and I must respectfully disagree with Ben on the BBC adaptation for Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. I discovered HHGTTG in high school, and then watched the BBC adaptation with my friends around the same time. I found it very faithful, and the asides were spot on. The movie was frenetic, and lacked the charm for me, especially where it comes to the “entries” for the Guide. In the book as well as the BBC series, the Guide is a separate character, and I feel like this is missing in the movie version.

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