Some (especially me!) would say that the ending is the most important part of the story. It is the last chance for the author to effect the audience, to really say something. It is the moment when everything comes together, the moment that everything builds to. Here, the intentions behind the story become clear.
Which is why it’s really frustrating, blood-boiling even, when the movie changes the ending! Here are six movie adaptations that completely changed the book’s ending. Some of them make for a better story, but not all of them. Especially not that film.
Oh yeah, spoilers. But these books and films are like —*mental math sounds* —old.
6. The Witches
According to Syfy, the 1990 film The Witches is the most iconic Roald Dahl adaptation. It’s both terrifying and awe-inspiring. The witches have, as described in the book, bald heads, eyes that change color, and toeless feet. Heck, just look at the Grant High Witch (Anjelica Huston) in all her glory:
Just kidding. That’s just her unmasking. This is what she REALLY looks like:
Most 90s kids will agree that image sent shivers up their spine and is burnt into their consciousness. The story follows a little boy named Luke Eveshim who unwittingly stumbles upon the annual meeting of witches, taking place in the hotel where he is staying with his grandmother. The witches are planning to turn children into mice, and Luke is one of their first victims.
The film follows the 1983 child’s book of the same name rather closely. That is, until the ending. In the book, Luke remains a mouse, however this is not portrayed as a sad ending, as his lifespan as a mouse will be about equal to the amount of time his grandmother has left alive, and thus they will live out the remainder of their lives together.
In the film, HOWEVER, one of the witches doesn’t like how the Grand High Witch is treating her so she bails, and tracks down Luke (who is still a mouse), reversing the spell and turning him back into a little boy.
BBC News reported that Roald Dahl, dismissed this film’s ending as “utterly appalling”. Personally, I think after seeing their interpretation of the Grand High Witch, I’d cut the film some slack for its happy ending.
5. The Shining
We’ve all absorbed the story through the cultural zeitgeist—through either reading the Stephen King novel, seeing the Stanley Kubrick film, or just seeing enough stills and hearing enough quotes from the film to consider ourselves fairly familiar with one of the most iconic thrillers of the modern age. So, as you probably know, The Shining follows Jack Torrence (portrayed by Jack Nicholson), a man struggling with both with writer’s block and alcoholism, who brings his family to a remote hotel he can finally complete his play.
Unfortunately, the two creators – King and Kubrick – were fundamentally at odds with each other. According to The Guardian, King received one call from the infamous director which went something like this:
Kubrick: “I think stories of the supernatural are fundamentally optimistic, don’t you? If there are ghosts then that means we survive death.”
King: “What’s that mean?”
(A long pause)
Kubrick: “I don’t believe in hell.”
So the two creators didn’t see eye to eye. What more is that the films diverge far before the ending. According to Steven King, “in the book, there’s an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he’s crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene.”
Knowing this, it’s hard to explain why these two approaches reach vastly different endings. In the novel, Jack Torrence regains his senses and sacrifices himself – giving his son Danny and wife Wendy time to escape with Dick Hallorann.
In the Kubrick film, Danny runs from a crazy Jack through a hedge maze ( the book features topiary animals that come to life, but no giant hedge maze) and eventually evades Jack. Exhausted, Jack collapses to the ground while the others escape – without Dick Hallorann as he is killed in the film version – and Jack freezes to death.
As Steven King said, “…the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.”
That sums it up pretty well.
4. Fight Club
Here’s a case in which the author actually preferred the film adaptation to their own book.
Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club ends with with Jack/Tyler Durdan in a mental hospital. Yeah, that was inevitable.
But the David Fincher film gets revolutionary. Jack holds hands with Marla while Project Mayhem goes off without a hitch, and the city’s buildings crumble to the ground. Brief shot of a penis (see the movie, read the book to get it) before we cut to credits.
Mr. Palahniuk himself said in an interview “…when I sat down…[to]…record a commentary track for the DVD, I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make”.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah: in 1962 Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange and 1971 saw the release of the Kubrick’s film. While Anthony Burgess made it clear he didn’t want to be remembered by this novel, his fate was fixed when Kubrick had a young Malcolm McDowell stare into a camera lens, his glassy eyes gazing right through the audience.
Both stories follow the character of Alex before and after his imprisonment. While the plot of the novel and the film are largely the same (except for character swaps here and there) the endings differ.
In the film Alex is de-conditioned during his recuperation in a hospital, during which time, he meets with government office and makes a deal with them: Alex will tell everyone the government isn’t at fault and they are friends (even though the government in this dystopian setting are to blame for Alex being literally unable to defend himself). After this deal, Alex looks at the camera and goes, “I was cured alright,” as Beethoven’s 9th blare out. Alex’s fantasies are back in full wind and he faces no more consequences for his actions.
The novel, on the other hand, includes an extra chapter. In Chapter Twenty-One, Alex finds an old friend, Pete, who is now married and settled down. Alex begins imagining that kind of life for himself, signifying his change into adulthood. Consequence of Sound quotes Anthony Burgess as saying, “My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in life.”
2. First Blood
The iconic 1982 movie is based on David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood, in which Rambo dies!
Yes, the iconic character dies. Also, his name is Rambo in the book. Just Rambo. The film takes extensive liberties such as giving Rambo a first name (John).
In the film, Rambo goes after Sheriff Teastle and, as he prepares to kill him, his commanding officer Trautman arrives to stop Rambo. Rambo ceases fighting and surrenders to Trautman in order to be taken into custody.
However, in the novel, Rambo puts a stick of dynamite against his chest when he goes after Sheriff Teastle. But Sheriff Teastle doesn’t fire back and that Rambo is too weak to light the dynamite. Alas, he is then shot in the head. No sequel for Rambo. Trautman has put him out of his misery and Teasle feels a moment of affection for Rambo before he dies.
Both mediums are about Vietnam veterans, but the novel, released during the Vietnam War, depicts a character unable to stop fighting while the film, released seven years after the war officially ended, shows a character who is willing to surrender for the greater good.
1. I Am Legend
This totally isn’t that film that I was talking about in the beginning. Calm down.
So Richard Matheson’s book and the 2007 film starring Will Smith have the same premise: a man walks alone in a post-apocalyptic city filled with plague monsters. In the book, they’re vampires. In the film, they’re zombies. Oh well. I can live with that. So far, so good.
The movie ends with Will Smith’s Dr. Robert Neville in an all-out brawl with the infected zombies, eventually sacrificing himself to save other survivors while they escape with a cure.
The book ends with Robert Neville attacking in an all-out brawl with the infected zombies, eventually realizing that he has become a monster. The world is no longer meant for humans – and the monsters fear him the way he fears them. He understands that their desire to kill him is not something he can condemn and thus resigns from life, leaving the earth to the monsters.
Get a load of this kicker: the filmmakers actually had the book’s original ending in the script. Heck, they even filmed that ending. But it didn’t do well with test audiences, so it was given a Hollywood ending. Even the film’s director, Francis Lawrence, told Screen Rant, “I agree [the book has] the better ending.”
It was announced yesterday that Robert Zemeckis will direct a new adaptation of what is arguably Roald Dahl’s most frightening work, The Witches. This book instilled me with a lifelong suspicion of anyone wearing the telltale combination of pointed shoes, gloves and suspiciously shiny hair that could possibly be a wig. As a child, I would cling to my mother on the rare occasions I saw anyone decked out in such a fashion, sneaking glances at their face in an effort to ascertain if their pupils were changing color, or the little bubbles of spit in the corners of their mouth were tinged blue. Witches, I knew, were everywhere.
I was happy enough to believe this was the case because I loved the book so much. Like all Dahl’s children books, The Witches contained unthinkably, delightfully scary and irredeemably evil characters, led, in this case, by The Grand High Witch. The book has a reasonably happy, though it is extremely important to note, not entirely happy ending, which adds to the believability of the witches’ power and intent, and brilliantly ties up a novel which is not of happy endings, but of close calls, and of good and evil.
Anjelica Huston as The Grand High Witch, attempting to murder an infant / Via Giphy
The 1990 movie starring Anjelica Huston was, overall, a fantastically scary film and a pretty loyal adaptation, except for the ending, which is altered in order to give the film a perfectly happy ending. This is, of course, annoying, but the rest of the movie does not shy away from its unnerving source material and does such a good job of scaring the living daylights out of whoever is watching it (me, to this day) that I can more or less forgive the sickly sweetness of the Hollywood ending. And because the original adaptation did such a stand-up job, and was so enjoyable and thrillingly scary, and because it scares the absolute crap out of me, I have mixed feelings about the upcoming reboot. Here they are.
Feeling the first: I worry that they will do to the witches what Spielberg did to the giants in his recent botched attempt at adapting The BFG. The giants in Dahl’s book are, again, extremely dangerous, ominous characters. They have shiver-inducing names like Bloodbottler and Flesh Lump Eater. In the film, however, they are modeled on Celtic warriors in appearance (controversial) and are lumbering, comical morons, who stumble around bumping into one another. One of the first lines spoken by any giant in the film is an announcement of a sore finger: “I has a booboo.” Even when they are bullying the BFG (played by Mark Rylance and by far the best thing about the film), you never feel as if the BFG is in any real danger. They simply seem too stupid to inflict any significant damage on anyone.
My fear is that the witches will be dumbed down, made comical- the grandmother’s chilling stories about children taken by witches made light-hearted and silly. I absolutely could not stand for such an atrocity to be committed against children’s literature. I could go on a whole other rant about how in dumbing down villainous characters in a rather condescending attempt to shield children from anything remotely frightening, we do them a great disservice, as children are more than capable of inventing monsters ten times more terrifying than anything an adult could conceive of.
Great big idiots / Image Via YouTube
Feeling the second: I’m scared that if they don’t dumb down the witches they will use the technology that was unavailable in 1990 to make these witches even more terrifying and I’m not sure I’m personally ready for that, even though it would be better than having them be unthreatening. I’m not generally too phased by horror films- they make me jump in the cinema, but they don’t haunt me or bother me for long after I’ve seen them. But The Witches, a children’s film, to this day gives me chills. The scene in which the witch appears while Luke is in his treehouse and tries to lure him down with a snake HAUNTS ME.
Feeling the third: I know both the first and second feelings listed here are fairly pessimistic, but I am genuinely excited for the new adaptation. It’s a brilliant story, which has already yielded one excellent film and may well produce another. The characters are clear-cut and excellently wrought, the story jogs along at an excellent pace, in the marvelous setting of a seaside hotel, and is packed with humor. There’s no real reason to suspect that a new adaptation would be so much worse, when it has the original to work off. Still, I worry…
I’m just a nervous wreck over the whole thing and honestly feel that they should just hire me, someone who has thought about this LONG AND HARD FOR MANY YEARS, to consult on the film so it is just the right amount of scary but not so scary that I never sleep again. Even though I will probably never sleep again anyway, given how much of a nervous wreck I am over the whole thing.