H. M. Turnbull's Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film Adaptations

Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film Adaptations

H. M. Turnbull's Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film AdaptationsThere’s been some controversy concerning Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit, with some criticizing decisions such as making a three-part movie, the addition of original background characters, and many even pettier complaints.  Some have even gone so far as to say that it “wasn’t very true to the source material,” despite staying far truer to its source than almost any other adaptation has.  When I’ve listed the reasons for which these changes are all either insignificant or necessary to adapt the story to an utterly different medium, I’ve heard people retort that it was “the worst possible way to do it.”  As someone who has read and loved many books, so many of which have been horribly bastardized in film adaptations, I cannot help but wonder…  Have these people ever even seen a bad adaptation?

It is for this reason that I decided to compile a list of truly abhorrent adaptations, movies that actually did exactly those things of which Peter Jackson has been falsely accused, including earlier attempts to adapt Tolkien to the screen.  In fact, many of the films on this list go beyond even the craziest of accusations, and it’s hard to believe that some of these actually exist.  Rest assured, however, that these abominations do indeed exist, and rest assured too that they are all bloody awful!


Now, before I begin my list, I feel I should make clear some of the criteria.  First of all, I won’t be discussing bad films based on graphic novels, video games, or television—otherwise M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender movie would be at the #2 spot.  This is only for films based on books.

Many of these films are also some of the worst movies I’ve ever endured, and it’s difficult to believe that they’re actually based on some really good books.  If one encounters one of these films before having read the books, there’s a good chance the film will turn them off, as very nearly happened to me on several occasions.

Furthermore, I’m focusing on the bizarrely terrible as opposed to mediocrity.  This list isn’t for middle-of-the-road adaptations that just missed a few of the deeper themes of the books but followed the story overall.  Instead, these are the films that go far beyond this, often making the most incomprehensible choices and bastardizing the story entirely.

And lastly, I must stress that these are the films that spat upon the books I loved, so films based on books I haven’t read or didn’t much care for won’t be on this list.  These are the adaptations that made me angry, the films that should serve as a warning to any author whom a studio “offers a deal, deary!”  And so, if you’re quite ready to suffer along with me, let’s examine my Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film Adaptations.

10. “The Lord of the Rings” (1978) by Fantasy Films

Well, then.  I think we’ll start off the list with an adaptation of Tolkien, and I’m surprised that I could find nine adaptations worse than this one.  After the legendary director Stanley Kubrick attempted to write a script adapting The Lord of the Rings to film, he declared Tolkien’s work to be unfilmable.  My guess is that The Beatles asking to be given the roles of the four hobbits was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  After Kubrick gave up, a director of animated films named Ralph Bakshi decided to take a crack at it, and I don’t know how much of the film was his fault, but it’s really not good.

On Production

The animation, due to an ever-decreasing budget, was done mostly with rotoscoping.  Although interesting to watch, the animation makes the scenes where it’s used feel very odd, and after a while it becomes slightly painful to sit through.  In many scenes, the movement of the characters treads a creepy knife-edge between live-action and animation.  The music, while not the worst score I’ve heard, really doesn’t fit the tone of the book.  This wouldn’t be something I’d think too hard about, seeing as it’s from the ’70s, but Howard Shore’s score is perfect!  Having the hobbits just sing a gibberish “la, la!  La—la, la! Laah!” is just bloody irritating.

The Characters

The Four Hobbits in Ralph Bakshi's version.It’s the stupid grin on almost every character’s face, however, that grates on one’s nerves.  Lines are often delivered with the wrong emotion, and the characters are all just slightly off…  apart from Samwise, who is entirely wrong in virtually every conceivable way!  I hope you like adaptations that see the book’s courageous main character reduced to a blithering idiot who keeps shouting, “Oooh!  Ooooh, hooray!”

The First Great Tale

Being unable to adapt the full story on his pathetic budget, Bakshi decided to just go halfway through the book and then end abruptly, expositing at the Battle of Helms Deep that…

“The forces of darkness were driven forever from the face of Middle-Earth by the valiant friends of Frodo.  As their gallant battle ended, so too ends the first great tale of…  The Lord of the Rings!”

How could it possibly get any worse than this, you may ask?  Well, let’s see just how badly a movie can screw up!

9. “The Hobbit” (1977) by Rankin/Bass

This is the second Tolkien adaptation on this list, and this one was made by Rankin/Bass, the studio that brought us many of our most beloved holiday specials.  If you’re wondering how making a great christmas special could make a studio worthy of tackling something as grand as Tolkien, then may I just remind you that Peter Jackson’s prior work was mostly “splatstick” gore comedies and his Tolkien adaptations worked.  Despite what I just said, Rankin/Bass really was woefully unequipped to deal with this sort of story!

The Audience

Their first and most important mistake was editing The Hobbit into a cartoon for young children, which resulted in the removal of many of the book’s darker and most important scenes and themes.  Surprisingly, however, this cartoon also lacks most of the book’s light hearted and comedic moments in addition to the dark, emotional meat of the story.  Remember the first scene in the book, where Gandalf questions the meaning of Bilbo’s simple “Good morning.”?  Well, that’s gone from this cartoon, and we jump straight to Thorin saying “At your service,” something he was explicitly stated to not have said in the book—except to Beorn (who could easily have killed everyone if offended).

Next we get a rendition of Blunt the Knives that completely misses the point, followed by the cartoon getting every subsequent scene completely wrong in similar fashion!  Bilbo and Gandalf have North American accents, Gollum calls The Ring his “ring” rather than “precious,” and Beorn is omitted from the story entirely!  When we finally meet Smaug—although the cartoon pronounces it “smog” for some reason—the dragon has a southern U.S. accent and looks like a lynx!  Thorin’s mental state is never shown to be slipping (which was quite clear in the book and New Zealand movie) so he just seems greedy for no reason.

The Arkenstone (or lack thereof)

Cartoon Bilbo struggles with heavy armourWorst of all, Rankin/Bass decided not to include the Arkenstone, so Bilbo never betrays Thorin in an attempt to avert the war.  Rather than thinking of some other reason for Thorin to try to throw Bilbo from the gatehouse, the cartoon is content to just have him call the hobbit a coward.  That’s it!  That’s the worst thing Thorin ever does or says to Bilbo, because this film is for kids and we can’t have anything dark in it!

I know The Hobbit is something all kids need to read, but that doesn’t mean its subject matter is tame, and it doesn’t mean a film adaptation should necessarily be made appropriate for kids!  American accents, the removal of central conflicts, juvenile musical sequences that suck all the dignity from Tolkien’s poems, and a load of effort they should have spent on something more on their level ensure this a spot on the list.  Rankin/Bass should have stuck to Christmas specials!

8. “The Black Cauldron” (1985) by Disney

Disney’s adaptation of The Black Cauldron was originally going to be higher on the list, but it kept getting pushed ever lower by worse adaptations, and it really is far more watchable than most of the films on this list.  Despite being named after the second volume of The Prydain Chronicles, the movie has more to do with the first book, called The Book of Three.  As watchable as it is, much of the charm, conflict, and depth of Lloyd Alexander’s books are wholly absent from this cartoon.  Add this to the plot being butchered to the point of making no sense, characters reduced to Disney archetypes, and an ending that spits in the face of the book, and you’ve quite a horrible adaptation.

Disney-fied Characters

I really love The Prydain Chronicles, and all things considered, the movie doesn’t have much to do with the book.  Instead of Arawn Death-Lord, the movie has The Horned King be the villain seeking the Black Crochan.  Doli, instead of being the grumpy dwarf from the books, is portrayed as a Disney-style fairy!  Eilonwy is, well, not Eilonwy!  And the same goes for any other character that the movie actually bothered to include.  Without Prince Ellidyr, the movie decided that Gurgi should be the one to jump into the cauldron and destroy it!  “But wait!” they realized, “we can’t just kill Gurgi!” so rather than making the film actually have something to do with the book and having Ellidyr destroy the Crochan, they just decided to have Gurgi come back to life immediately and with no explanation!

Gurgi comes back to life with no explanation.All told, this isn’t the worst adaptation ever—it hardly counts as an adaptation—but it is really, really bad.  It’s just another Disney film, and that’s not something that should have the same name as the second book of the series (or any of the others, for that matter).  The main reason I put it above Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings and Rankin/Bass’s The Hobbit was because of Gurgi coming back with no explanation when they should have just killed Ellidyr instead.

7. Dr. Seuss (various)

The main reason this one’s so low on this list is because I didn’t want to fill up any of the higher spots with what is at least a four-way tie, and that number is set to increase with every new movie that comes out!  I also didn’t want to put this too high because each of these four is of a different quality, but they’re all still horrible!  This is where we get to the really painful stuff, and it’s just going to get worse as we get closer to the worst adaptation ever!

Dr. Seuss’s books are the very definition of a children’s classic, and as far as I know, all the adaptations made when he was alive were pretty good, with many of them ranking as some of the best adaptations ever.  All this ended some time after Seuss’s death, and starting presumably with Universal’s The Grinch, we’ve since been forced to watch as, slowly but surely, every book he wrote is turned one-by-one into a horrible sell-out shit-fest!

Even the adaptation of Horton Hears a Who, arguably by far the least awful of these, utterly screws up the message by having the littlest who in Whoville use a giant bloody high-tech megaphone!  All the others are even worse in this and all other respects, each flipping its middle finger at the morals of its source.  Everything that made his books great is lost in a torrent of pop-culture, sex jokes, and pointless subplots to rival The Room’s infamous “Breast Cancer Scene”!

“Horton Hears a Who” (2008) by Blue Sky Studios

Horton the elephant in the horrible CGI adaptation.Alright, compared to the others on this list, Horton Hears a Who isn’t that bad.  Oh, it’s a bad adaptation, but I’m not sure if it would quite make the list were it not part of the set.  If you don’t yet know why these films are only number seven, this film’s relative mediocrity is why it’s no higher.

When I think of the awful Dr. Seuss bastardizations, I usually forget to mention Horton, and I might even have exempted it from the group were it not for the botched climax.  Instead of a small child’s little cry of “Yopp!” pushing Whoville’s cries past the threshold, the filmmakers thought it would be a good idea to change it so he invents a giant megaphone instead.  What about the message that even the smallest voice can make a difference?  Gone!  In this version the kid’s voice is bigger than everyone else’s put together!

But aside from screwing up what’s important in an insultingly Hollywood-style manner, this one really isn’t anywhere near as bad as the others…

“The Lorax” (2012) by Illumination Entertainment

I usually find it irritating when books leave important plot-threads unresolved, but in the case of The Lorax its message depends on the fact that it ends on an unresolved cliffhanger; it’s meant to leave you unsatisfied so you’ll dwell on the urgency of the problem at hand.

Illumination's adaptation of The Lorax is terrible.So how does the studio handle one of the few stories that should end unresolved?  Well, first they remove virtually everything that made the book memorable.  Next they give a faceless concept a face and make The Lorax himself an attempted murderer played by Danny DeVito.  They then proceed to shove a car-chase in our faces and end on a song about how everything’s just great now.

I know this one’s bad, but I can’t really think about that right now; I’m too busy dreading what comes next…

“The Cat in the Hat” (2003) by Imagine Entertainment

The Cat in the Hat wasn’t anywhere near my favourite of Seuss’s books, but this movie is nonetheless the worst film of these.  One of the biggest challenges in making this list is balancing an unpleasant film with how completely it fails as an adaptation.  I agonized over where to put this in the countdown, but I eventually decided to go with my gut; of all the Seuss movies on here, I care the least about this one’s source material.

Mike Myers miscast in the role of the Cat in the Hat.Nonetheless, this abomination only lost by a small degree.  I remember when my cousin bought me this film for my sixth birthday, and it gave me nightmares!  I remember running out of the room screaming and crying when the Mike Meyers monstrosity cut off his own tail.  I loathe this movie; I hate it forever!  I knew how awful it was when I was six, and it’s no more or less horrible now than it was then…  And that horrible fish!

Everything about this movie is unpleasant whether you’re six or nineteen.  As with all these horrors, it botches the moral and ignores everything that made the book good, but you’d be too busy vomiting to care about that.  It was a hard decision giving this the honour of not being first among these four.

“The Grinch” (2000) by Imagine Entertainment

“Hey, Ron!  Why don’t we needlessly remake a Christmas classic, only this time we do away with the moral and spend the whole film on pointless filler?”
“Great idea, Potsie!  Let’s find that guy from The Truman Show and put him in makeup so heavy that all he can do is mug to the camera!”

At least…  I think that’s how the conversation went.  Despite Jim Carrey’s being one of the few people who could have possibly done a good job in all that makeup, he’s completely wasted in an utterly unneeded film that has surprisingly little to do with the book.  The colourful and compelling world presented in the book and in the earlier animated adaptation is gone here, as is everything relating to its moral.

Jim Carrey is wasted as the Grinch in a terrible adaptation.Instead of our malcontent protagonist learning from the enlightened Whos that there’s more to Christmas than shallow materialism, we get a horribly shallow and materialistic Whoville with which Carrey is—quite rightly—disgusted.  Instead of a heart several sizes too small, Carrey is given a backstory that makes us hate the Whos just as much as he does.  It becomes therefore about the initially materialistic Whos learning the true meaning of Christmas from the Grinch.

The Worst Offender

This botched attempt to convey a moral that Chuck Jones has already done infinitely better is yet bolstered by a performance that cannot hope to match that of Boris Karloff.  Although the content of this entry is not quite as insulting as that of The Cat in the Hat, this film’s mere existence is more insulting, I think, than any of the other horrible adaptations that Seuss’s works have suffered.

I couldn’t but give each of these a place on this list, because they’re all essentially the same bad adaptation.  It sickens me that this is how Seuss’s work is being treated, and now all I can say is…  Keep your fucking hands off The Sneetches!

6. “Frodo: The Hobbit II” (1980) by Rankin/Bass

The cartoon orcs in the Rankin/Bass version turn into forest creatures.I’ve tried to sit through more than snippets of this one, but every time I get to that first horrible song I just can’t force myself to watch any further.  The film’s working title was “Frodo: The Hobbit II” (although it’s more commonly known as “The Return of the King: A Story of the Hobbits”), so we know this one’s going to follow the book really closely…  After reducing The Hobbit to their embarrassment of a children’s film, Rankin/Bass proceeded to do the same to The Lord of the Rings.  Apparently, they figured that a book with a recurring theme of mutilated corpses would translate perfectly into a kids’ cartoon.

Instead of starting where they left off and adapting the entirety of The Lord of the Rings or even just squeezing the lot into a single feature, Rankin/Bass chose to adapt only the final third of the book.  One might be tempted to think this an ill-fated attempt at a sequel to Bakshi’s adaptation, but one would be giving them too much credit.  Frodo: The Hobbit II was intended from the beginning as a direct sequel to The Hobbit.

The Characters

Despite apparently having the time to add the insufferable “Minstrel of Gondor” as a narrator, this version omits main characters such as Legolas, Gimli, and Faramir.  Despite Éowyn appearing, her originally grand heroism is downplayed.  The same can be said for Aragorn, who hardly appears in the cartoon at all.  Not only that, but less prominent characters like Saruman, Arwen, and Shelob—among others—are omitted from the story entirely.

In the scenes I’ve been able to watch without blacking out from the pain, the line delivery captures the absolute wrong emotion every time, changing the meaning of the scene.  The character designs are just as horrible as those of its prequel.  The worst part, however, has got to be the previously mentioned “Minstrel of Gondor,” whose unpleasant voice sings asinine musical numbers that would make this whole film a farce even without the rest of its problems.

I wish that I could proclaim this the most ridiculous film on the list, but we’ve still five worse adaptations to get through.

5. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) by Village Roadshow

Johnny Depp is horribly miscast as Willy Wonka.Johnny Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is possibly the worst movie on this list.  Every emotion it captures is wrong.  Every scene feels creepy in precisely the wrong way.  Everything down to the casting, acting, and makeup is horrible.  What’s worse than all this, however, is that there was already a perfectly good adaptation of this book to begin with!

I love the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder; it’s a true classic, and when I went into this film, I knew it was going to be bad.  I went into this with little more than morbid curiosity, and still it managed to scar me.  All the iconic characters are re-imagined as the blandest of equivalents, and worst of all was Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, who is portrayed as some sort of vampire-sociopath.

I couldn’t put this horror any higher on this list because it essentially follows the book’s plot-points, but it makes up for that by getting the emotion of every single scene—every shot, even—completely wrong in every way.  Like the live-action Seuss films, this remake takes the colourful, vibrant world presented in both the book and its previous adaptation, grinds it up, defecates on it, and throws the result into a film that attempts to be “hip” and “current” without a hint of passion for its source material.

4. “Eragon” (2006) by Davis Entertainment

Finally we’re getting to the really bizarre stuff; this is where it gets fun!  Where do I begin with this one?  It seems like every little thing about this movie is wrong on at least nine levels.  The film adaptation of Eragon managed somehow to suck out everything that made Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series interesting and compelling.  What we are left with is a rushed and bafflingly worthless film that turned throngs of viewers off reading the books.

The majority of changes were made, I think, to simplify it for the screen.  The problem is that these changes are horrible!  It almost feels like, rather than following the book, they reworked the story so that it’s less an adaptation of the book and more a remake of the first Star Wars movie.

Casting and Makeup

Eragon mounts his dragon Saphira in the bad movie adaptation.Eragon stands out as a bad adaptation because its casting is even worse than The Last Airbender!  The book’s description of Galbatorix, for instance, was almost certainly inspired by the late Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Saruman.  Whom, then, do they cast to play this role?  Why, the “anti-Christopher Lee” himself, John Malkovitch, of course!  Not a single character looks anything like how they’re described in the book, and few act similarly either.  The only casting in this movie that isn’t horrible is Jeremy Irons as Brom, but even he can’t save a movie whose script is so irredeemably bad!  It gets so bad, in fact, that relatives don’t even look similar to each other, and even the horrible makeup becomes therefore a plot-hole!  Speaking of horrible makeup, there’s an elf that doesn’t have pointy ears; good luck guessing who it is, because it’s never mentioned!

3. “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole” (2010) by Village Roadshow

I’m sick of all the horrible CGI movies that bastardize their source material.  It’s actually gotten to the point where if a book-to-film adaptation is CGI, you know it’s going to be one of the worst adaptations of all time!

I’ve made an effort to give more emphases to the adaptations that are bizarrely terrible rather than just going with those that make the same classic mistakes.  With most bad adaptations, even ones on this list, I can at least guess as to why they made the changes they did, but with this CGI attempt to adapt Kathryn Lasky’s books, I just don’t get why they did any of the things that made this one of the worst adaptations ever!  This is why it’s so high on the list—because nearly every change it makes to the story is inexplicably bizarre.  It gets so much wrong in so many ways, and I have no idea what—or if—the filmmakers were thinking.  I’m tempted to say that at every turn it goes with the absolute worst possible way to adapt the story to film.

One of the Worst

Soren and his evil brother Kludd, barn owls in the Guardians of Ga'hoole movie.Of course, as if its demented interpretation of its source material weren’t enough, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is also one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  I hadn’t read the books when I first saw this movie, and even so it stole Bridge to Terabithia’s place as the worst movie I had ever seen, although it was soon supplanted by the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, which is still the reigning champion so long as you don’t count Ben & Arthur.

Six Books to a Film

Readers of books despair when we hear of a series we love getting an adaptation that squishes the first three books into a single film, as only once or twice has such a thing ever resulted in a good movie.  Now imagine a movie that takes the first six books and crams them all into one movie!  Well, that’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, and the things wrong with this movie don’t end there.

A Nonsensical Beginning

Let’s start in the first few minutes of the film: it begins with Soren the barn owl telling his younger sister Eglantine a story about a hero they should never have heard of and a villain who doesn’t exist yet.  Wait—what?  Did I just write that sentence?  Well, I must have, because that’s exactly how nonsensical this movie gets—and we’re only a scene or two into the thing!  Why is Ezylryb a famous warrior of Ga’hoole when in the books he didn’t become a guardian till after he’d hung up his battle claws?  Why does he have a long history with Metal Beak (who shouldn’t even exist yet at this point)?

Despite compressing six books into a film and removing much of what made the books so awesome, the film adds loads of pointless characters like the Echidna Sage and Allomere.  Despite being based on a series of dark, violent, and disturbing books, the film tries for some reason to earn an undeserved PG rating by omitting most of the gorier parts from the books, and the result is a half-dark film that doesn’t know what it wants to be and winds up just being unpleasant.


When the Band arrive at the Great Ga’hoole Tree (in the film referred to as the “Great Tree of Ga’hoole” for some reason), we see that Otulissa, in the books a spotted owl, is a short-eared owl in the film.  It’s not that this is a huge problem or anything; it’s just one of many changes that the filmmakers had no reason to make.  To add insult to insult, Soren falls head-over-heels for her instead of falling in love with Pellimore as in the books.   I simply cannot understand what possessed them to decide, “Well, we’ve reduced Nyra and Kludd’s relationship to the strictly platonic; now let’s ship Soren with Otulissa.  Fuck you!”

Metal Beak

Even not having read the books, I still found it insulting that they never showed Metal Beak’s disfigured face.  This was meant to be the big reveal, the point where Soren knocks off Metal Beak’s mask only to recognize the marred face underneath as that of his brother…  Oh, wait!  Kludd’s over there, so Metal Beak is just some faceless villain with no connection to the main character.  Fuck you!

The decision to make Kludd an underling of Metal Beak rather than Metal Beak himself is not only a bad one; it’s just plain baffling.  If they were trying to trim the story to fit a single movie—a daft idea, seeing as they were most likely trying to squeeze the first six books into a single film—then it makes no sense to split Kludd into two characters.  Ignoring their reason for doing this, it reduces Kludd’s importance to the point where his presence in the story becomes redundant.  There only needs to be one Metal Beak, and if Kludd’s not he, then why is Kludd in the story at all?  Why reveal at the end that he survived the battle, particularly when the book has Twilight chop him in half?  Why not kill him off and leave it with the cliffhanger that his and Nyra’s egg has hatched?  That would make more sense and stay closer to the book, and I bet it would even take up less of the movie’s time than what they actually did.

Lyze of Kiel (Ezylryb)

Kludd isn’t the only character the film ruins, however.  The character of Ezylryb in particular is utterly different from the books.  Gone are his interesting backstory, his traitorous brother, his dead mate Lil, his pacifism, and his love of dirty jokes.  In the film he’s just the usual clichéd grim, sarcastic old warrior.  In the books, Ezylryb—after Lil was killed in a battle—swore never to fight again and kept that oath till he died.  Of course the movie had to screw this up; Movie-Ezylryb just had to fight in the Battle of the Burning!  Fuck you!

After watching the movie, I couldn’t imagine the books being any good.  But then I thought of how some people refused to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender because of how awful the Shyamalan film was, and I realized I was being a hypocrite.  I read the books, and I’m glad I did, because the books are really, really good!  All the things that didn’t work in the movie turned out to be the mere fabrications of Village Roadshow.  Dark, violent, and heavily inspired by both history and legend, the Guardians of Ga’Hoole books are a great read, perfect for fans of Redwall.  Please don’t let the film turn you off.

2. “The Hobbit” (1966) by Gene Deitch

You think those adaptations were bad?  Try an adaptation that was actively trying to be horrible!  I’ve already written a full review of this one, and I don’t want to spoil it as it’s quite entertaining, so I’ll make this brief.  The 1966 Gene Deitch adaptation of The Hobbit exists because someone named Bill Snyder, who had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, decided to exploit a legal loophole by making a twelve-minute reel in less than a month and essentially blackmail Tolkien with it.

Smaug the dragon in 1966 Hobbit cartoonSo what do we have with this one?  Well, let’s start with the human general Torin instead of the dwarf prince Thorin, the city of Dale looking like Canterlot, the inexplicable Princess Mika Milovana, and the monster lizard Slag the Terrible!  It only gets crazier from there.  There’s almost nothing in this adaptation that relates to the book and even less that makes sense on its own.  What really puts it near the top of this list, however, is that the intentions behind it were probably the worst out of anything on the list: blackmail.  It’s one of the worst adaptations ever… but I love it!  Of all the bad adaptations on this list, this is the only one I can actually recommend.  It’s so bad that it’s actually quite hilarious, and you should watch it the next time you’ve twelve minutes to spare.

1. “How To Train Your Dragon” (2010) by Dreamworks

We’ve seen some reeking piles of shite on this list, but I can’t think of any other adaptation that’s driven the author to go out of her way and put a sticker on each copy of the book saying, “Read the book before you see the film!”  At this point, you know you’re in for something truly insulting.

I don’t expect there was much overlap between those who’ve read Cressida Cowell’s books and those who saw this movie, probably because other fans of the books were smarter than I was—smart enough to give this CGI monstrosity a wide berth.

When I Was Eight

To give you some context, let me tell you a story about when I was eight years old.  You see, by that age, I’d already figured out that I wanted to write.  Being as yet unable to type, I’d spend a good chunk of each day dictating while my mother’s fingers struggled to keep up.  Of course, being a lover of books, I went to the nearest library many times each week, read for hours, and then borrowed as many books as I could carry so I’d never be without something to read.  I don’t know what it was doing sitting in the children’s section, but one day I happened upon the worst book I’d ever had the displeasure of reading, and to this day I’ve never read a worse story.  A Game of Thrones is a bland, tedious, and just plain unpleasant read, and it’s clear in every sentence that the author behind it had put very little passion into the insufferable volume.  Despite actively avoiding every tried-and-true device of fantasy, the story manages to be insultingly predictable at every turn.  I remember finally putting the book down and remembering a line by the villain of the Harry Potter series: “There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to seek it,” for this quote perfectly captured the mindset that literally every character in A Game of Thrones—and presumably the author—holds at their core.

Enter Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III!

That book was so bad, in fact, that it made me lose my faith in storytelling and even question whether, in a world where stories could get that terrible, I really wanted to write.  I almost gave up on writing, but then I stumbled upon the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III series by Cressida Cowell, at that point consisting of only the first three books: How to Train Your Dragon, How to Be a Pirate, and How to Speak Dragonese.  Fantastic creatures and spot-on humour were just the tip of the iceberg amongst the books’ unforgettable characters, deceptively deep stories, and a fascinating world of surprisingly realistic Norse politics.  Cowell’s work was what restored my passion for literature, paving the way for Tolkien to show me the true extent of what storytelling can be, and I consider the Hiccup books to be one of my major influences.  As the books went on, Cowell moved into more serious territory, but unlike Harry Potter, the Hiccup books didn’t lose their initial charm as a result of getting steadily darker.

The Coming of Dreamworks

A great story such as Cowell’s deserved far better from an adaptation than anything a studio such as Dreamworks could hope to deliver.  With the possible exception of their few collaborations with Aardman, Dreamworks’ animated movies have always been mediocre when compared to those of their competitors.  Dreamworks Animation’s films tend to be little more than poorly executed middle fingers aimed at Disney, and Dragons is no exception.  Instead of a real adaptation, lovers of the books were subjected to Dreamworks’ characteristically half-assed attempt to plagiarize Lilo and Stitch while also raping an unrelated series of books for good measure.The bastardized version of Toothless the Dragon.  Aside from lacking anything besides character names to tie it to the alleged “source material,” this rip-off also retains none of what made Lilo and Stitch great.

There really isn’t anything good about Dreamworks Dragon.  Rather, there are problems with most Dreamworks films that are somewhat absent here, but being better than Shark Tale doesn’t mean a movie isn’t still a bloody bucket of sewage.  Even the animation, by far the most impressive thing about this garbage, pales next to even some of Pixar’s earlier work like Monsters Inc. or Finding Nemo, mostly because Dragons’ animation lacks the personality that permeates even Pixar’s lesser works such as the Cars films.

Vídeo Brinquedo With a Budget

Dreamworks has become one of my least favourite studios.  Back when they first started, they actually made some good movies like Sinbad or El Dorado, but they were never as good as Disney because they never put anywhere near as much effort or passion into their movies.  Now, however, they’ve nearly reached the level of Vídeo Brinquedo or The Asylum thanks to their soulless rip-offs of far better movies.  Disney hit its low point with Chicken Little when it tried to emulate Dreamworks, but Dreamworks itself seems intent on seeing just how many low points it can hit, and it’s hard to pinpoint when they’ve been at their worst.  I don’t know if it was Shark Tale’s total lack of anything redeeming at all, the ceaselessly bland Penguins of Madagascar movie, or Dreamworks Dragons’ spiteful disregard for the books, but nothing else Dreamworks has done has made me quite as angry as Dragons.

A Shortage of Passion

As previously stated, Dreamworks was never as good as Disney, and this has made them bitter and spiteful.  Everything they do, it seems, is a jab at Disney, from Shrek to Shark Tale and even what is surely the worst book-to-film adaptation of all time.  If anyone from Dreamworks should happen to come across this, then I would like to say just why Disney has always been and will always be the better studio; no matter how badly Disney screws up, whether it’s The Jungle Book or The Black Cauldron, it can at least be said that they tried.  Disney tries to make good art, and sometimes they fail.  You, Dreamworks, have never tried—at the very least nowhere near as hard—and will therefore always be doomed to mediocrity.  Now, I wouldn’t care how bloody middling your films are, save that you seem to feel a need to drag others down with you.  Do you want to know why your adaptations are horrible?  It’s because you just don’t care about anything but getting up Disney’s nostril.  Dreamworks Animation—go die in a hole!

Closing Thoughts

No adaptation is perfect.  Every film that’s based on a book is either going to have to remove something or add something, but I think what really matters is that the people making the film are passionate about what they’re adapting.  In the end, like so many other things, it all comes down to passion.  A good adaptation is one that oozes passion for the original work, essentially being an homage to whatever it’s based on.  It’s one that brings a story into a new medium as best it can, and it’s one that knows it’s probably never going to be as good as the original.

When I think of adaptations like Dreamworks’ Dragon, at best I am saddened—at worst I am enraged.  The worst adaptations on this list cared nothing for the stories that gave them their audiences in the first place.  I can scarcely imagine the creators of such adaptations having ever read the books they claimed to adapt, let alone adoring them enough to justify the adaptation’s existence.  What saddens me more is when such an adaptation is praised and far, far better adaptations are called faithless.  As I feel I’ve made clear, I’ve seen bad adaptations.  Lloyd Alexander’s work deserved better.  Christopher Paolini’s work deserved better.  Kathryn Lasky’s work deserved better.  And, by Thor, Cressida Cowell’s work deserved better than what it got!

What If It Were Your Story?

When I see a good—arguably even great—adaptation receiving all the hatred and scorn that films like these rightly deserve, I imagine what Dreamworks or Village Roadshow might do if they got their hands on something I’d written.  Worse, I imagine the throngs of fans who’d adore not my work, not an adaptation of it, but something utterly different just wearing its face.  Just the thought of it scares me.  It’s enough to make me never want to consider letting someone adapt my work.

My advice to anyone who’s been offered a movie deal is this: don’t rush into it.  Authors have been taken advantage of by people claiming to love their work.  Be sure you’re confident that the people asking for the rights actually want to do your book justice as best they can.  When done right, however, an adaptation can bring a whole new audience to one’s work—people whom the film inspire to read the book that led to its existence and see just how much better the original almost always is.  But more than that, while watching a good adaptation, I see, hear, and feel all the passion that went into it.  When people who grew up with a story come together to bring it to the screen, the result can be a truly great movie, and that’s really the best an adaptation can be.

Leave a Reply