13. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby
Though by far the least offensive film on the list, and breathtaking in cinematography and scope, any film that resorts to onscreen narration, even if acknowledged by the characters in the scene, still has one foot caught in the door of books. Luhrmann, like Clayton and Nugent before him, is defeated by Fitzgerald’s narrative. The extremely modern soundtrack jars harshly with the time period, and all attempts at subtlety are thrown out the window for good when it’s revealed Nick Carraway is in a sanitarium after all.
12. Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Despite the fact that absolutely no one thought Gene Wilder’s Wonka needed a revamp, Burton went ahead and cast his old pal Johnny Depp as Michael Jacks–I mean WIlly Wonka in this overstimulated, charmless, and tone-deaf Roald Dahl adaptation where all the Oompaloompas look like identical miniature Ian McShane clones.
11. Garth Jennings’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
One of my favorite books and a sci-fi comedy classic, the strength of the book series lies in Adam’s meandering jumpy and satirical narrative style, which just isn’t translated effectively despite the best efforts of an all-star cast including Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Warwick Davis and Sam Rockwell, forgoing wit for overused slapstick comedy. The hilarious original dialogue of the book is mostly scrapped for fear it would go over the audience’s heads.
10. Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass
The first of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, a brilliant and re-readable fiction trilogy that explores contemporary notions of identity, religion, and conflict resolution, Hollywood scrapped all of its subtlety* for fear of upsetting America’s christian demographic, even though those have read the books understand it’s not actually anti-religious but a critique of overzealous authority figures. In Weitz’s hands it’s reduced to an unoriginal and overly-produced action movie.
*a wink to those in the know
9. Stephen Norrington’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Based on the graphic novel by Kevin O’Neill and Alan Moore (who has since publicly disassociated himself from the film) and despite (or perhaps because of) Sean Connery in the lead role, this action flick about a league of fiction heroes brought together to save the British Empire features absolutely no character development or a sense of anything besides vertigo as the plot hurdles forward.
8. Roland Joffé’s The Scarlet Letter
Despite Gary Oldman and because of the ill-cast Demi Moore as a sexy Hester Prynne and featuring one weird scene where we witness a servant masturbate with a candlestick in a bathtub (I don’t remember that in the Hawthorne), the killing blow to this adaptation is by far the ending, where an actual horde of Native Americans attack the settlement and Hester escapes. You catch a glimpse of it around the 2:40 mark.
7. David Lynch’s Dune
Oh man, what doesn’t one say about this movie. Based on the Frank Herbert sci-fi classic, the always-weird Lynch casts his favorite Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Portlandia’s Mayor) against Sting himself, and even Sir Patrick Stewart can’t save this highly condensed and scattered adaptation that makes no sense to non-book readers and very little to those who have read it. Lynch should’ve taken a hint from Jodorowsky and given up (though Sting prancing about is really a delight).
6. Rob Letterman’s Gulliver’s Travels
Something tells me the famous 18th century Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift did not have Jack Black in mind for the role of lead were he to know movies (never mind adaptations) were a thing. The political insight and relevance is, of course, totally absent, and instead we watch Black (whom I love, but come on) do what he does best: sing and dance around like a lovable but misguided idiot. This is really just not the time nor place for it.
5. Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf
Entirely (and weirdly animated), nobody was clamoring for a naked CGI Ray Winstone to battle a gross and inarticulately screaming Crispin Glover as Grendel. Oh and Grendel’s Mother is now a sexy Angelina Jolie. It goes without saying that the source material, though admittedly in old english, was barely heeded. There is nothing successful about this film.
4. Bo Welch’s Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat
This 49 second clip was the shortest I could find, and it’s still 49 seconds too long. Mike Myers is the least funny he has ever been, but then again the source book has no plot because it’s designed solely to help children read. On the other hand, the book, at least, has Seuss’ trademark whimsical rhymes. Welch’s does not, instead injecting potty humor and and barrage of tone-deaf, often sexual, slapstick jokes that appeal to no one.
3. John Madden’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
A classic on any worst-of list, this adaptation of the widely successful novel by Louis de Bernières fails, once again, despite the best efforts of the rest of the cast (here John Hurt and Penelope Cruz). The only thing you need to know (or rather, hear) is Nicolas Cage’s absolutely atrocious Italian accent. It’s entrancingly unstable.
2. Joseph Strick’s Ulysses
I am absolutely baffled as to why anyone would try to adapt James Joyce’s most famous novel into a film. It’s actually impossible, seeing as he plays as much with form, style, tone, and references to specific instances in 1914 Dublin as he does with the plot. The whole point of the book is to stretch the limits of what a novel is capable of; something so medium-centered doesn’t have a chance at successful adaptation. In this clip of the final chapter, like Luhrmann (but far worse), Strick just gives up, and resorts to having Molly Bloom’s famous stream-of-consciousness soliloquy simply overlay a scattering of images because he doesn’t know what else to do; it’s like a boring and yet nightmare-ish episode of Reading Rainbow.
1. Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula
This movie is HILARIOUS. Keanu Reeve’s british accent is amazing. Listen to that “I know where the bahstard sleeps.” Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman are dragged down on this titanic failure of a film. If it had been billed as a comedy, it would’ve had a fighting chance. I highly recommend you watch this film (with some friends, laughing alone at Dracula is endearing but a little sad).
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