Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Believe it or not, Cameron Crowe had written a 1981 novelization of the true events before penning the screenplay and producing the film. Really, aside from the Spicoli sideplot, the movie was a pretty basic tale about a 15-year-old diving into the world of sex, getting knocked up and having an abortion. Real life, especially such an unsurprising story, usually doesn’t make good film, but Crowe managed to make something watchable out of it.
Called the “father of the summer blockbuster film,” most forget the original 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, who had a real penchant for marine horror. Reportedly, Spielberg first picked up the book because the title was so nondescript, to the extent it could’ve been a pornographic work about a dentist. Though Benchley wasn’t a huge name, two other producers at Universal wanted the rights at the same time as Spielberg. It was destined to become a movie. Other adaptation of his work include The Deep, The Island, Dolphin Cove, The Beast, Creature, and Amazon.
After 23 Bond films (and 4 addition troubled indie productions), it’s easy to forget Ian Flemming’s attachment to the series. In fact, CBS first paid Flemming $1,000 for the rights to Casino Royale in 1954. It was a 1-hour episode and Flemming’s legacy has grown ever since. It’s too bad he died in 1964 of a heart attack and never got to see just how big his work became. By the by, he also wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Absorb that for a moment.
While it’s fairly common knowledge the Carpenter version was a remake of a 1951 classic, few recall it was based on a 1938 novella Who Goes There? By John W. Campbell. The tale was voted in 1973 by the Science Fiction Writers of America to be one of the best sci-fi novellas ever – 9 years before Carpenter’s adaptation. However, the movies tend to do little with the monster’s telepathic capabilities.
These films tend to be a high-quality scrap heap for novels-made-screenplays. Literally, the first film happened because Schwarzenegger had turned down filming it as a sequel to Commando. Only when the 5th film came around was a screenplay written that was intended as a sequel. Anyway, the original film was based on Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the second was 58 Minutes by Doug Richardson, the third was Simon Says by Jonathon Hensleigh and the fourth was A Farewell to Arms by John Carlin. Maybe the fifth movie would’ve retained the freshness of the others if they’d picked a novel to adapt once again.
The Princess Bride
Before the 1987 film, we had the 1973 romance novel of the same title by William Goldman. Fortunately, the film retained most plot elements of the book. In more recent times, it almost became a musical in 2006. When that was scrapped, a board game was made in 2008.
Despite Robert Bloch’s 1959 book being a limited success and spawning two sequels, this one if oft forgotten. Keep in mind the sequels by the original author have nothing to do with the film follow-ups. Psycho 2 was originally about Bates escaping an asylum under the guise of a nun, then making a journey to Hollywood. Universal scrapped it as a film possibility and made a crummy sequel. The third novel, Pyscho House, featured the famous location as a tourist attraction turned deadly.
Okay, so Kubrick took a lot of liberties with this one, as he usually does when filming. After A Clockwork Orange, it should be no surprise his other works had deep literary influence. The problem is it’s so hard to picture Dr. Strangelove having ever been a literary work, yet it was. Two Hours to Doom, AKA Red Alert, by Peter George (using Bryant on the cover) was a suspense novel in 1958, yet it was rereleased with the movie title attached in 1988. Kubrick found humor in the topic of how absurdly easily humans could start a nuclear apocalypse and history was made.
Silence of the Lambs
Only a novel could’ve created someone as warped as Hannibal, and Tennessee’s Thomas Harris was the man to do it. In fact, every Hannibal movie is closely adapted from his work. The thing about Harris is he doesn’t want many to know about him. He hasn’t done a single interview since 1976, five years before the release of Manhunter. His career is marked with long lengths of time, at least seven years, between novels. Reportedly, he’s an extreme perfectionist with every line of his work and cranking out a novel is torment to him. He’s since retired to Florida. I suggest going there and hitting him up for a game of golf.
Some of us would be surprised to learn De Palma’s 1983 Scarface was actually a remake of Howard Hughe’s 1932 production of the same name. However, more shockingly, it was based on a 1929 novel of the same title by Armitage Trail, who made damn good money off it. The screen rights alone were $25,000 – nearly $341,000 by today’s standards. While the original work was about the rise of Al Capone, every iteration has gotten further and further from the source content, which is fine. We wouldn’t want to see Pacino acting under 1929 censorship standards!
For those familiar with mob tales, Nicholas Pileggi isn’t an uncommon name, and his 1986 book Wiseguy was what became Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The story is less fiction than reality, as it followed the story of Henry Hill, a mobster-turned-informant. I myself spent a bit of time researching Pileggi’s work for a film, but soon learned the lesser producers of mob films are strange characters I’d advise against working with. It’s like being surrounded by insecure clones of Gary Busey.
Matthew Scott Surprenant's personal blog and bookstore is at http://matthewscottauthor.wordpress.com/