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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

A little over a year ago, I began a Geek Fu column with the words "The movie was good but the book was better." I then went on to list five movies I felt were actually better than the books they were based on. Yes, I was quite the heretic that day. Now it is time to atone for my sins.

"Good God, did the idiots who made that movie even read the book?"

I'm sure many of us have said something similar after watching a wretched movie based on a book we enjoyed. In fact, it happens so often I'm going to focus solely on movies supposedly based on science fiction books to keep the list manageable. On top of that, I'm going only from memory to further pare the list down to a mere few.

Let's start with the single worst movie based on a book I can think of. In late 1977 -- yes, the year of Star Wars -- a few of my college buddies and I piled into a car and drove the 40 miles from Clemson University to the first multi-screen theater in Greenville, SC. As a bunch of science fiction fans, how could we not make that drive to see a movie based on one of Roger Zelazny's novels. Almost an hour later, we bought tickets and settled in to watch Damnation Alley. On the plus side, the movie did not include any of the '60s slang that never even lasted into the '70s. On the minus side, there was everything else.

The movie was set after a nuclear war and it featured specially designed vehicles to travel the nuclear wasteland. Nothing else from the book was present in the movie. Instead of a desperate cross-country race to take the cure for a plague from the west coast to the east coast, we had man-eating cockroaches. Instead of an ex-Hell's Angels anti-hero as the main character, we had a military operation set on rescuing whoever they could while going where ever it was they were going (Albany, NY, I think, though I don't remember why). The movie was one of the first I'd seen which caused me to ask, "Why did they bother to license the book if they were going to ignore it entirely?" The only positive thing I can say about the movie is that it was a bit of a bonding issue for those of us who saw it; shared misery and all that.

Seven years later, one of the same friends who went to Damnation Alley with me joined me in my next choice for a truly bad movie based on a book. By this time we were both married and his wife chose to come with us. My wife stayed home. My friend is now divorced while I'm still married. Take that for what you will. So, what was the movie this time? It was Dune, a movie I was quite excited about until I actually watched it. How bad was Dune? How about so bad that I barely remember anything about the movie other than my total disappointment in the final result. I have not even been able to convince myself to give the movie another look on video tape or DVD. I'm sure there are movie theaters in Hell using extended cuts of the movie as punishment for particularly evil sinners.

Skip forward 13 years. Another night, another friend and his wife (miraculously still married, despite the movie debacle I'm about to describe). Our first clue about the movie should have been that the three of us were the only ones in the theater. I had even worked hard to moderate my expectations, expecting to watch a movie which featured some characters whose names matched a book I'd read and with some bits of plot somewhat similar to that same book. I got what I was expecting, yet Starship Troopers still failed to meet my incredibly meager expectations.

There was no powered armor and mobile infantry. Instead, we had big guns and lot of bullets. There was no feeling that the "bugs" had any serious intelligence or any real indication of technology at all. Then they tossed in a psychic Doogie Howser and the whole thing just went to Hell in a hand basket.

This is the point when I'm sure everyone expects me to mention Battlefield Earth. I heard too many poor reviews to bother going to the theater to watch movie. Eventually, I did break down and rent it. After hearing it touted as the worst movie of all time, the movie didn't have any expectations to live up to. I'll only say the movie was not as bad as I had been led to expect. Note I'm not saying it was good, but it was obvious the people behind the movie had read the book. Just saying.

I was about to mention the 2005 release of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a movie that surgically removed virtually everything funny found in the book and the BBC series and transplanted lots of crap. But then I remembered that Hitchhiker's Guide was a radio program first, a BBC series second, and only then a series of books. It's a really horrible movie but not one based on a book. So it's not eligible for this column.

What did I miss? Or did I trash a particular favorite of yours? What are your selections?

Let the arguments begin!
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