Film adaptations that work

Last Orders a successful example

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A shot from Starship Troopers

Gazette File Photo

WE THOUGHT WE WERE SMARTER THAN THE BUGS. Despite its big screen fame, the Starship Troopers story originates from a 1959 novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

If there’s one thing Hollywood seems to love, it is suckling on the teat of the great adaptation cow. Be it a comic book, novel or the inane drivel that passes for television these days, tinsel town seems more than willing to grab ideas that are anything but original.

That being said, this process isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the plague of “sequelitis” can be irritating " Dumb and Dumberer, I’m looking at you " there have been notable examples in the past where an adaptation has been made of another form of media with stellar results.

Ignoring some of the obvious candidates, such as the first two movies of The Godfather series and their spectacular ability to transform Mario Puzo’s words, there is a long list of faithful adaptations that live up to the source material.

One such movie is the relatively unknown film Last Orders, based on a novel by the same title by British author, Graham Swift. Why this movie never caught on to a larger audience is beyond me. Even though the movie can be a little slow at times, the star-studded cast " including the sublime Michael Caine and Helen Mirren " continues to entertain.

The film revolves around a rather morbid road trip to the coast of England to deposit the ashes of Jack Dodds (Caine) into the English Channel. Along the way, the various events that brought this group of friends together throughout Jack’s life are addressed in a compelling, if somewhat sentimental, manner.

Last Orders works as an adaptation because it takes the various plots originally woven together by Swift and creates a film that isn’t overly dense while at the same time retaining emotional impact.

Now to take things in the totally opposite direction " an adaptation of a film that bears only the slightest relationship to the source material.

Most of the time these projects fail abysmally. One of my favourite books as a teenager was Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. The book’s popular fiction tone masks an interesting philosophical position on the role of war in human society and remains one of the reasons why it is on many reading lists at West Point, the prestigious military college.

However, I feel most people, when they hear Starship Troopers, will think of the regrettable film adaptation by Paul Verhoeven.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think Verhoeven’s film is one of those weird movies that exists in the category of “it’s so bad, it’s good.” The ridiculously poor dialogue and slate of B-movie actors are paired with a special effects budget so high that the results are laughably awesome.

But maybe I’m being a little unfair to Verhoeven. After all, a film can be very loosely based upon the source material and still remain entertaining.

Case in point would be his 1990 classic Total Recall. Notable not only for the manner by which Arnold Schwarzenegger mangles the English language (“If I’m not me, den who da hell am I?”), the movie perfectly encapsulates so many of the cheesy, highly entertaining films produced during the late 80s and early 90s.

However, many seem to be unaware Total Recall is actually based on short story by prolific science fiction author/methamphetamine abuser Philip K. Dick called We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. The short story deals with issues of false memory and includes a nifty little twist ending that will leave a smirk on your face.

What I’m trying to say here is that while adaptations can go disastrously wrong (insert League of Extraordinary Gentlemen joke here), they’re not a universally bad thing.

And with The Watchmen coming out tonight, I will be eagerly awaiting whether I’ll be able to add another film to the list of successes.

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