Books | Film

April 8, 2005

When Bad Movies Happen to Good Books

Great novels are mere grist for the Hollywood sucking machine.

Aaron Zamost

In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's poignant personal history of his obsession with soccer, he wanders through nearly 25 years of headers and left-foot volleys, girlfriends and breakups, hooligans and Cup Finals, mothers, fathers, and family relationships. Hornby's tale shows how rabid sports fandom works as a microcosm of daily "real" life, and how important a team like Arsenal (his favorite) can be to an awkward almost-teenager dealing with his parents' divorce. He writes, "I don't think I was very happy, and the problem with being a thirteen-year-old depressive is that when the rest of life is so uproarious, which it invariably is, there is no suitable context for the gloom. What I needed more than anything was a place where unfocused happiness could thrive, where I could be still and worry and mope; I had the blues, and when I watched my team I could unwrap them and let them breathe a little."

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Fever Pitch, the movie: It's a long way from Highbury.

So you can imagine how off-base the new movie Fever Pitch is going to be (opening nationwide today), especially since this very moving, little book has been adapted by the Farrelly Brothers to star Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon in a film about baseball's Boston Red Sox. These are the masturbatory-hair-gel, Jeff-Daniels-on-a-toilet Farrelly Brothers, two guys not known for the type of subtlety and sensitivity that makes Hornby's book so great.

But that seems to be the theme these days: People trying desperately to ruin my favorite novels. Other adaptations to dread:

Everything is Illuminated: Liev Schreiber, of Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3 fame, is writing the screenplay and directing (his first attempts at both) Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel.
Why it won't work: Every person who loved the book cites the same reason: Alex, the young Ukrainian translator who narrates the novel in broken English. ("If you want to know why so many girls want to be with me, it is because I am a very premium person to be with." Excerpt from It will be incredibly difficult for Schreiber to convert Alex's voice to screen without making Alex appear cartoonish and slow, or drowning the film in voiceovers.
Probability I will like it: 10%. Elijah Wood is in it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: What's with all these first-time directors? Apparently you don't need any experience to direct the best sci-fi novel-turned-film since Blade Runner, but you need an Academy Award to direct The Da Vinci Code. Someone named Garth Jennings has adapted Douglas Adams's tour de force for a summer release.
Why it won't work: Similar reason as above: Hitchhiker's humor comes from Adams's random allusions to technology, science and human history. If you're curious, simply read the first chapter (at eReader), and then ask yourself if it sounds like a movie. This is another film that might require narration to be funny.
Probability I will like it: 64%. Adams adapted the screenplay himself, and the movie will star Martin Freeman from BBC's The Office. (Don't even get me started on how they're currently destroying that show on NBC.)

The Corrections: You'd think author Jonathan Franzen would rather read Dan Brown novels than allow his National Book Award winner to be made into a movie, especially since he famously expressed mixed feelings about being included in Oprah's Book Club, leading her to withdraw her support, and perhaps leading to a loss in sales (the ensuing controversy arguably boosted his sales more than the book club itself would have; USA Today). Stephen Daldry will direct.
Why it won't work: The Corrections is a complicated book. Franzen spends a great deal of time almost toying with his characters, putting them in absurd situations and watching them struggle. And while the reader might laugh at the Lambert family, the book is far less comedic than tragic. If not taken seriously, the movie version could very easily turn into just another bad Woody Allen film.
Probability I will like it: 38%. Probably more Home for the Holidays than Ordinary People.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: I'm pretty sure Daldry has it in for me; he's also been tagged to direct the adaptation of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Like Adams, Chabon will adapt his book himself.
Why it won't work: For the same reason Cider House Rules was a bust: This is a thick, character-driven period piece, with more than just one or two characters with serious depth. It has the potential to be bloated (like The Aviator) and far less personal than it needs to be (like Beloved). And I'm sure test audiences will demand a happier ending.
Probability I will like it: 22%. Wonder Boys was fair, but Chabon didn't write the screenplay. If he cuts the 100 pages in Antarctica, this increases to 30%.

Related on the Web

Slate, USA Today, and others explain why NBC's The Office is a poor imitation of the original.

Official site and reviews for Fever Pitch

•Official site for the Hitchhiker's Guide movie, opening April 29

Related in Gelf

•No matter how bad these movies are, studios will surely find a quote from a critic's review to adorn their ads. Every week, Gelf looks behind the Blurb Racket to see what critics really said.

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- Books
- posted on Sep 23, 11

This is so true...adaptations of books into movies almost never work. The only movie I've ever seen that's better than the actual book was The Devil Wears Prada.

Article by Aaron Zamost

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