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Why SF Movies based on SF Novels Suck

Now here’s an interesting article that examines sf novels that are adapted to the big screen – and why it mostly fails. Some noteworthy observations/conclusions from the article:

  • A good film gets you to sympathize with the protagonist; a good book allows you to empathize with him.
  • The “better” sci-fi movies are only loosely based on their sources.
  • Folks don’t want sci-fi movies that provoke thought; they want to go for an SFX ride.

[via heinleinblog]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

5 Comments on Why SF Movies based on SF Novels Suck

  1. SF movies based on SF novels usually suck because they DON’T FOLLOW THE NOVEL!

    Witness: Starship Troopers.

    Witness: The impending I, Robot.

    Witness: Just about any movie based on a book by Stephen King (not that I read Stephen King novels or watch Stephen King movies or anything…)


  2. I tend to agree. My attraction to sf is in the sf concepts, not the SFX (although eye candy can add more to an already-good film). Maybe the movie-going public has different priorities.

  3. Actually, I’m afraid you missed the point of the article. It didn’t have anything to do with ‘sucking.’ It has to do with films having to give books and the themes of a book a new perspective. The article wasn’t complaining that the films were bad – it was that how different the films had to be in order to be successful (and it did lament how those that stayed true to the books were often box office failures even if they were critical successes.)

    With film you can’t have large exposition or explanation without the film appearing boring at worst, or film nior at best. A book can spend pages describing how a character feels, but a film just can’t do that – it has to show how they act.

    Ultimately, films are about acting, and books are about thinking. They are very different.

    I don’t believe that all movies based on books suck at all – in fact, some are awesome. I like the Lord of the Rings, the various Clancy-novel-based flims (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, etc.)

    I liked the Startship Troopers movie – it was a fun romp (and making fun of Doogie Houser added to it.) It wasn’t the book, but so what? Some elements were taken and it worked.

    I don’t think a movie has to follow the book to be fun. I think one problem we have is that we read a book, enjoy it, then see a movie based on that and we’re dissapointed because the characters don’t act the way we think they should or the plot has been changed in some way -we want them to act as if they had just jumped off the page of the book we read. This is a nice idea, but doesn’t work for complex tales (it works for Harry Potter because of its simplicity) because there isn’t time to establish the character for all those people who didn’t read the book.

    I’ve often felt that this is a big challenge and we shouldn’t be overly harsh. True some films from books are totally terrible (I hated Total Recall, for example, because the ending was so lame) but I don’t think we always give the films a fair shake.

  4. Catchy post title aside, I do agree that film is a different medium than paper and naturally differences will arise; some of them concessions, some changes for the better. Personally, I enjoy a good compare/contrast-a-thon between book and movie. My only argument is against the statement that a science fiction novel needs to be ?regurgitated as an SFX-laden action-adventure? to be successful, a term which the article defines as high income, not high quality. I watch sf for the sense of wonder, not the explosions. And usually the sense of wonder is there in the story; it?s just not carried over to the big screen. And, are you saying that all films without explosions are boring or noir?

  5. I didn’t mention explosions at all – I don’t feel a film has to have that. Silent Running didn’t, yet was a good SF flick, for example.

    That said, sci-fi lends itself towards that sort of thing because one aspect of the future is exploring the future of our rather violent race.

    There are additional espects of our human tendencies that are also fun to explore in sci-fi films though – like Paycheck or Total Recall or Blade Runner showed.

    What I said was that a film that contained the exposition required to establish a character’s motivation as well as a book would likely be boring. Certainly that’s open for debate though.

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