There’s nothing more fun than an adaptation of a classic that gets it right, and there’s nothing more excruciatingly painful than one that gets it terribly, terribly wrong. Unfortunately, when it comes to SF, there’s more of the latter than the former. We’re not sure why.
Hollywood does have a tendency to assume its audience consists entirely of idiots, and can you really blame them? “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”, the only movie to ever be used by an atheist to disprove the existence of God, made over $400 million worldwide. The biggest science fiction movie ever was “Star Wars”, and while we love Luke and company, let’s face it, “Star Wars” isn’t exactly the SF version of “War and Peace”.
Still, there are some ideas that you’d think Hollywood could just chip shot and have done with it; fairly straightforward adaptations that would make sense and would make great movies with the right director and writer. But, unfortunately, Hollywood could care less about quality, so they’ll just make whatever’s cheap. Thus, SF’s best often gets turned into bad movies. Here are five of the worst.
5. “The Dresden Files”
It’s not that we dislike “The Dresden Files” TV show per se. For what it is, a kinda goofy mystery series, it’s not bad. In fact, if you’ve never picked up the books, you’d think it was kinda fun, if a bit unmemorable. In other words, about what one expects from a network that decided to change their name without checking it with a Google Search first.
Then you read the books and realize that basically a combination of low budget and technical requirements meant the books were put through a meat-grinder. CGI skulls are expensive, so Bob the Skull becomes Bob the Ghost Who Lives In a Skull. Karrin Murphyâ€¦well, we have no idea why they made her a tall brunette who dislikes Harry instead of the short blonde who likes Harry. Don’t even get us started on the rest.
On the bright side, despite only lasting twelve episodes before getting canceled, the series stimulated interest in the books, and Jim Butcher can now crank out Dresden Files novels to his heart’s content. As long as he does it faster, and doesn’t end the book on a cliffhanger again. Dude, seriously? That’s how you ended “Changes?” Why not just go around kicking readers in the nuts as a follow up?
4. “The Six Million Dollar Man”
We could waste our time telling you about “The Six Million Dollar Man”, but we won’t, since you’re probably already reciting the show’s opening crawl. But despite residing in a niche of pop culture reserved for ’70s camp, believe it or not, “The Six Million Dollar Man” was based on a book that was actually not campy. In fact it was pretty good.
The book was “Cyborg”, by Martin Caidin, who pretty much cranked it (over 50 books and over a thousand magazine articles). In the book, Steve Austin is a rude horndog who, yes, crashes his test plane and gets bleeding-edge prosthetics. But in the book, he becomes a spy. No super speed, no lifting cars, just a fake eye that could take pictures and a grip that could crush throats. The book decided to turn him into Superman’s wussy ’70s cousin. Then a few years ago they apparently decided they could turn it into “Battlestar Galactica”. We kind of hope the Bionic Man stays in his box from now on.
3. “The Time Machine” (1960)
H.G. Wells was one of the men who legitimized science fiction. Even though he was a colossal douche who stole from spinster librarians, and wanted his epitaph to be “I told you so”, because he was just that much of a know-it-all, he did legitimize science fiction and bring it to a wide audience. Then, as payback for his sins, George Pal got his hands on Wells’ work.
Pal was the George Lucas of the ’50s, but unfortunately combined the technical savvy of the young George with the plot and directing sensibilities of the current, throat-pouched George. Granted, this worked better for “War of the Worlds” back in the ’50s, although the less said about the Spielberg remake, the better. But “The Time Machine” was what passed for intelligent satire in Wells’ mind: the Morlocks were a race doing all the work while the Eloi, dumb as sheep, lived in comfort and somehow managed to oppress the Morlocks. How, we’re not sure, because we’re not kidding about the intelligence of the Eloi. They’re dumber than the special-needs guy wrangling shopping carts at the grocery store.
So, he made the Eloi the heroes and the Morlocks the bad guys, because pretty people are always better than ugly people. Oh, the Eloi were still egregiously stupid, mind you; they were just now the heroes for some reason. Did we mention the Eloi were all Aryan types? And the Morlocks weren’t? And the film ends with the Morlocks being wiped out? Granted, this was 1960, but you’d think somebody, anybody, would say “Hold on a moment here…”
If you were adapting a science fiction classic, who would you hire? A director experienced in special effects? A director who loves science fiction? A director who was highly experienced at pulling together large productions, instead of one who had made an independent film and an exceptionally well-received drama. Well, how about throwing all that over the side and hiring…David Lynch? And then cut his script! And cut his edit! And cut his budget! That’ll end well.
Just so we’re clear, the fault of “Dune”, the movie, coming off like something a sandworm spat up after digesting “Dune”, the book, lies squarely with Dino DeLaurentiis, who at least produced “Evil Dead II”, so that’s something. But even if Lynch wanted to make a truly awesome movie, literally, the money just wasn’t there as Dino realized what a bad decision he’d made and hedged his bets, in the process making it the single most miserable experience for everybody on set, right down to the poor bastards burning tires to make enough smoke for the battle scenes. So bad, in fact, that the most complete cut is credited to “Judas Booth”, because Lynch didn’t want his name on it. On the other hand, seeing Sting in an Art Deco thong really is hilarious.
1. Ralph Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings”
Fans eagerly remember Peter Jackson’s classic trilogy, because the other option is this disaster.
Granted, Ralph Bakshi has made some classic movies, such as “Fritz the Cat”. He’s also made some excruciating disasters, such as “Cool World”. You get one guess what side of the scale this adaptation of Tolkien falls on.
Granted, this didn’t ruin anybody’s career. It made $30 million on a $4 million budget. The problem is, it’s trying to cram all of Tolkien’s rich legacy in a little over two hours. Yeah, what took the good movies about four hours to reach, they tried to fit into two, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. It’s got a few good points, but suffice to say that fans were less than pleased.
The really sad part?
Ralph Bakshi spent twenty years trying to get this movie made.
Something to think about, the next time your parents tell you to have some ambition
By Dan Seitz