Monday, June 13, 2011

The Worst Adaptations of Beloved Geek Properties On-Screen

After a weekend spent gaming, (what else?) reading and watching the penultimate episode of the first season of Game of Thrones I started thinking about how it is a pretty good time to be a geek. Many of the things we love are becoming more accessible, we can finally talk about a few of our interests with non-geek family and friends, and perhaps most importantly, it looks like film and TV producers are finally realizing that faithful adaptations of great novels, games and comics are the most popular and profitable. (Though there are recent exceptions.) I think a lot of the credit for this has to go to Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings adaptation, where the “sweet spot” between being faithful to the source and making changes to allow a story to be told properly in a visual medium was hit. This said, it wasn't always like this. It wasn't so very long ago that hearing a favorite comic or book was going to be in the movies or on TV filled geek hearts with dread. Those adaptations are the ones I want to talk about.

Too obvious. WAY too obvious.

Lord of the Rings (1978): Ralph Bakshi's animated version of the Lord of the Rings story has been much-maligned over the years, and for many of the wrong reasons. It isn't particularly unfaithful to the books, at least not more than the Peter Jackson trilogy was, it isn't badly animated or acted, quite the contrary, in fact. Some of the techniques pioneered in this movie were used in later animated films, and were later translated to animation in video games. The problem here was studio interference. The story ends abruptly at the battle of Helm's Deep (2/3 of the way through,) and Bakshi wanted to title the movie, “Lord of the Rings – Part One,” but he was overruled by studio executives who feared that audiences would refuse to pay to see half a movie. Audiences expecting the whole story were outraged at the ending, and those same executives used this fan disappointment as justification to not fund the production of the sequel that would complete the story.

And it doesn't even have Leonard Nimoy singing.

Ghost Rider (2007): GR was one of my favorite comic book characters, and this movie seems to have been done on a wager to see how many different ways a comic book adaptation could screw things up. To start, we have the terrible casting of Nicolas Cage who is not tough enough to play Johnny Blaze and too old to play Danny Ketch, the two mortals who became the Ghost Rider. The origins of the characters are changed in arbitrary ways, details thrown in missing key bits or context as though they were penned by someone who had the character's origin explained to them once by someone who kinda remembered reading them a decade earlier. The plot is nearly incomprehensible with ridiculous new elemental-demons tacked into the story and virtually every character from the comic sharing little with their namesakes aside from, well.. their names. If filmmakers are going to get everything from the comics wrong, they could at least do so in pursuit of making a decent movie. Every deviation from the comics made an already bad story worse. Oh... and they are making a sequel. Take that, Ralph Bakshi.

It takes a lot of hard work to make me hate something featuring this guy.

Legend of the Seeker (2008-2010) : Okay, to be completely fair, I am less than thrilled with the Sword of Truth series of books by Terry Goodkind, which this show is (loosely) based on. However, the first season covered events from the first book in the series, which I actually enjoyed a lot when I first read it. The biggest problem with this show is that interpretations of key characters was just plain wrong. In the book, Wizard's First Rule, Zeddicus Zul'Zorander is a quirky but harmless seeming old man who plays the fool and isn't taken seriously by anyone, despite secretly being a powerful wizard. In the show, Zedd behaves like a powerful wizard but no one suspects him because the script told them not to. The Kahlan Amnell of the novels is aloof and consumed by the weight of a power that defines her and keeps her from getting close to anyone. Her power is such that teams of three assassins are sent after her because she is expected to kill two with a single touch, and having no combat abilities, the third will kill her. The Kahlan of the show is a perky girl who fights by spinning in circles with knives. You could get everything else right, and the show fails by missing the point on two of the three main characters.

No. Just... no.

Mortal Kombat: Conquest (1998-1999): It isn't really hard to find a bad adaptation of a video game on screen. You could start with the whole career of Uwe Boll, for example. I hold up the single season of the Mortal Kombat TV show as how something can fail before it has even started, and then manage to end even worse. Mortal Kombat has dozens of characters in its universe, and other movies and show (including Kevin Tancharoen's recent excellent web series) have struggled to incorporate them all without it being ridiculous. The main characters of the show were two brand new characters never appearing in the game, and a minor character from the game best known for being “the asian dude who wears a sombrero.” I'm not kidding. They also portray Raiden, God of Thunder as a white guy with long white hair, just like the movies showed him because the film wanted to cast Christopher Lambert as somebody. The first (and only) season also gives us the “everybody dies” ending, with a man in a halloween costume laughing as the camera zooms in on the Mortal Kombat logo in the final shot. At least the show launched the career of Kristanna Loken, who was looking her absolute best in those days.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003): One of the greatest graphic novels ever written, and the single largest crime against comic geeks perpetrated by Hollywood. They put in an unnecessary American character to appeal to audiences who wasn't in the comic (U.S Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer? Oh, and they arbitrarily add Dorian Grey to the team as well, why not?) Fine. They dumbed down the plot and changed key characters' personalities and motivations. Fine. They took a Victorian adventure and tacked on a car chase on the streets of Venice. I don't even know where to start to explain what's wrong with that sentence, but.. fine. They had to utterly destroy the strongest female character I've encountered in any comic book. Mina Murray (formerly Harker) was the team leader, a proper lady with a dark past which may have left some residual powers. If she possesses any supernatural ability from her run-in with Dracula years ago, she doesn't show it. She doesn't need it. By intelligence and strength of character she manages a team struggling with homicidal impulses, limited capacity for loyalty or heroism, extreme sadism and near-suicidal levels of addiction. In the movie, she's a stock slutty vampire who spouts one-liners in a team run by Sean Connery. This is not fine.

We'll never get a good film based on this, now.

Yikes. On second thought, enough of these were recent that I think I'll still get nervous when I hear something I like is being turned into a movie or TV show. There are countless more obvious examples, and I'll probably be able to follow this up with “Worst Films based on comics” (Catwoman, anyone?) and a multi-part series of “Worst video game movies” at some point in the future. But for now, I'm going to do something nice and calming. Just writing about LXG makes me mad all over again.
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Zombie Ad said...

What was once geek is now chic.

And the geek shall inherit the earth.

All hail geekdom.

Alpha said...

Ugh...a Ghost Rider sequel...

Biff Tanner said...

I love all of this stuff!

Chris C. said...

Very interesting. I liked the Legend of the Seeker TV series, but then I never read the book. I'll definitely have to read it to compare; though I suspect if I had read the book first, I'd have the same issues you mention.

Jay said...

hollywood makes these films for people who haven't read the source material.

the problem today is that anyone with an internet connection and five minutes of spare time can now read about these excellent stories.

RedHeadRob said...

Ghost rider was painful.

The Angry Lurker said...

Couldn't agree with you more, some awful abominations listed there.

Eric Lindberg said...

I'd argue that some of the animation in Bakshi's Lord of the Rings WAS bad. That rotoscoped Balrog looked pretty laughable. Also, the film was poorly edited. Aside from the abrupt ending (not his fault, granted), the White Wizard alternated between being called "Saruman" and "Aruman," presumably a holdover from an earlier draft of the script. I was not very impressed with that movie.

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