Jena did you know Die Hard was a book first? Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp, renamed Die Hard later to tie in with the movie. From what I can tell, it’s a good thing the Bruce Willis flick is not a faithful adaptation.
This got me thinking about originalists, who condemn any change made to a book’s story by filmmakers. It’s a comfortable, easy way to rip up a movie, just saying “the book was better.” Story is king, though, and a change is only bad if it weakens our experience of the story.
At the end of the last Harry Potter film, when Voldemort and Harry jump off Hogwarts castle and fly through the air in combat, they skip the scene from the book, in which Harry and Voldemort circle one another, and Harry unpacks the mysteries of the elder wand, horcruxes and Tom Riddle. That scene anchors the action-packed conclusion firmly in its place among great detective stories, and without it, the movie loses one element of the film, which is all Harry’s loyalty and non-violence paying off. That change weakens the story, however slightly.
Omitting the scourge of the shire at the end of Return of the King, however, was a great move by Peter Jackson. In the book, the four hobbits return from their adventures to find the shire taken over by cruel men lead by the fallen Saruman. While our hero hobbits save the shire, the point is made that war and innocence cannot coexist, even in Middle Earth. It’s a digressive, fun chapter in the book, but it surely would have tried the patience of an audience just catching its breath and winding down after the resolution of a conflict spanning three films.
In the movie, what we get instead is a simple and moving scene. The four hobbits gather in the same pub we met them in when it all started in Fellowship of the Ring. They’re different little people now, and the merriment of the hobbits around them feels remote and out of place. They sit for a moment, each lost in their own memories and traumas, and then without a word raise their halfpints of beer. It’s not in the book, but it’s really good.
Then there are changes that originalists condemn because they misremember the book. The boxing scene from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes angers lots of people who remember Basil Wrathbone and the deerstalker hat, but in fact Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes was an amateur bare-knuckle boxer, capable of going round after round with professional prize-fighters.
While other tweaks to the Holmes character may have been done in that movie, the boxing scene fits perfectly within Doyle’s vision of the character, and it’s awesome. (It’s worth noting that Doyle was not very consistent with his character, who refuses pay in one story, saying that’s not why he does the work, and quietly accepts pay in a later story.)
Reinvention and remixing is how we keep making things. Remakers and rethinkers can ruin good stories, make them better, or brush them off enough to retell them.
What do you think? Do changes ruin film adaptations for you?