"Lost in Translation" and "The Myth of the Deadbeat Dad"

Readers respond to Joe Mullich on novelized movie novels and Suzy Hansen's interview with an expert on black fathers.

Published August 10, 2001 8:35PM (EDT)

Read "Lost in Translation"

I hate to say it, but the idea of the novelization of a film adaptation of a novel isn't exactly new: it's been around for decades. In most cases, particularly with science fiction novels, the new novelization is pushed by producers who don't want the reading public to see the original material and thereby realize how lame the adaptation was. For instance, after the release of "Total Recall," we received not the original Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," but a novelization written by Piers Anthony, a move comparable to letting "Quigmans" cartoonist Buddy Hickerson redraw Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. The same thing happened throughout the '90s: just look at the novelizations of a novel of "Little Women" and "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein."

As to why this is happening? Well, having to pay royalties to a living writer or the writer's heirs is a factor, as is the ego trip of a director or screenwriter. Unfortunately, though, most of this goes directly to the studio, which honestly figures that the audience might be confused by a novel that conflicts with the carefully focus-grouped film. (One of the better rumors running around was that on the eve of the release of the first "Batman" movie, Warner Communications was calling for a recall of the seminal Frank Miller series "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" because Warner suits were terrified that audiences "might be confused" by the graphic novel, meaning that they figured that audiences might actually prefer the graphic novel to their atrocity.) And so long as the studios keep micromanaging the final "product" hitting movie screens, this is only going to get worse.

-- Paul T. Riddell

A weirder case (again, science fiction) is "Escape from Witch Mountain," by Alexander Key, a fine kid's book which became an okay kid's movie, spawning a lousy sequel, then renovelized by -- yes! -- Alexander Key.

-- Allen Knutson

"Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" was based on the novel "Red Alert" by Peter George. The novel was a serious cold war thriller. Kubrick reportedly intended to produce a serious movie, but in working on the screenplay with George, found that there was a very dark humor to the scenario presented in the novel. After the film was released, George wrote a novelization of "Dr Strangelove or ..." in its Kubrick interpretation. However, like the sub-standard novelizations Mullich refers to, this version reads like an extended screenplay treatment.

-- Sam Upritchard

Reading Joe Mullich's observations, I was reminded of the time I saw a mass-market paperback titled "James Bond and Moonraker" on sale more than 20 years ago, when "Moonraker" was in theaters. In that case, Ian Fleming's James Bond novels (unlike Boulle's "Planet of the Apes" today) weren't at all obscure, but the movie essentially used only Fleming's title and nothing else; it even recycled the "Jaws" character from the previous movie. If Fleming's "Moonraker" were the only novel offered, readers would realize what the screenwriters had done to it -- so it was (temporarily) superseded.

The common thread is that if the original novel is any good and the derived screenplay bears little relation to it (or simply stinks), the studios would really rather suppress the original to disguise what they've done to a good book.

-- Jeffrey E. Cook

The most interesting case is the one where James Gunn, author of the novel "The Immortals," was compelled to write the novelization of the movie based on his own novel, being told that if he didn't do it, someone else would. If memory serves, I've even seen a novelization of "The Last of the Mohicans" -- which may be easier.

-- Alex Jablokow

Your article resonated with me, reminding me of the time I found "Great Expectations," the movie novelization, by Deborah Chiel, on a bookstore shelf. I was flabbergasted. The existence of this book is wrong on so many levels, I can't even begin to state them. And as for the "author," who seems to specialize in this sort of book, I suppose she has to look at herself in the mirror each morning ...

-- Ryan Kriger

The same night that I saw the movie "Tomb Raider," I saw a woman on the subway reading a novelization of the movie. Considering that the movie's basis was a video game and that the movie was not even as good as the source, one wonders what pleasure is actually derived from reading such a book. Some stories and ideas cannot survive the transition from medium to medium and become different things entirely, most often of lesser quality too. And while the urge to put in pictures what has only previously been available in words seems like a natural inclination, the reverse seems equally unnatural, unnecessary and undesired. But I am stuck as to why that woman was reading that book.

-- Jonathan Lill

The most amusing one I've ever seen was called "Bram Stoker's Dracula," and was written by someone else. However, the topic loses its anecdotal qualities when I think about the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. While I am very much looking forward to the upcoming films, lets all hope and pray that no one does anything so blasphemous as attempt to rework those classic books.

-- Sara Quale

This has often been done with films based on classics like "Les Miserables" or "The Man in the Iron Mask." Look for the upcoming reduction of "The Three Musketeers" into "The Musketeer" to generate more paperback pabulum of this kind.

So reflexive is my suspicion, that when I spotted the current reissue of Pierre Boulle's "Monkey Planet" (retitled "Planet of the Apes" to tie it to the movie), I quickly scanned the text to see if it was indeed Boulle's book as I remembered it and not a novelization of the screenplay.

A rare twist on this strange, serial adaptation is when a respected novelist is behind the curve and must catch up to it. Several years ago, Anthony Burgess wrote an original TV mini-series about the first Roman emperors called "A.D." The inevitable commissioned novelization accompanied its broadcast. Some time later, Burgess wrote his own novel based on his screenplay called -- if memory serves -- "Kingdom of the Just." Perhaps the two should have been sold together as a boxed set.

I read neither book, but it's a safe bet which one would have been worth my time.

-- David N. Small

Not only has "Planet of The Apes" spawned a novelization that has nothing to do with the original novel, the same was done a few years back with the Louisa May Alcott classic, "Little Women," the better to immortalize the Winona Ryder version of Jo. Apparently the original was too long and didn't stick closely enough to the plot of the movie.

-- Lauren Walker

Read "The Myth of the Deadbeat Dad"

I am a 44-year-old white woman, an unsalaried, often very poor artist, who volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter. Every single evening I spend at the shelter, I am asked, in a pitying tone, by women my own age who look 65, have no front teeth, no education, no means of support and no romantic history that doesn't involve physical brutality, "Whutchoo mean, you ain't got no babies? You 40, ain't you got no grandkids?"

These are women who can provide less than nothing to their dependents; yet they consider me deviant because I wouldn't have a child without a loving, committed husband.

They mean to ask me, "How come you don't demand that the world provide for you and your babies? How come you don't just have them anyway? How come you so fancy about who you make babies with? Whatchoo think, you gonna get some man to love you? You dumb bitch, no man ever loved no woman. Men just wanna fuck, make babies and disappear, and it be up to us to make the best of it.

"Just fuck ANY nice man with a little money, who wants to help out for an hour or a week! You don't have to love him, you don't even have to like him, you just fuck him and then when you get pregnant -- 'cause birth control is un-Christian! -- you have to have your baby cause that's God's will."

(Why don't these super-Christian homeless black women with children ever consider that if they'd avoided "FORNICATION," a big sin in Christian circles, they wouldn't have the three or four illegitimate kids they now consider to be "God's will?")

I am sick to death of poor people having babies they can't afford to raise. Bodily reproduction is absolutely all that these women can imagine as an achievement. It's disgusting.

The greatest thing that could possibly happen to low-income African-American culture would be for every woman to agree that she will have her first child ONLY after she is over 25 and has a college degree, and only with a husband (her OWN, that is!) who also has achieved a college degree.

-- Frieda Marca

While it is certainly true that African-American men do not set out to be "deadbeat" dads, the result is the same -- continued poverty for both the mother and the child. As an African-American woman, raised by a single mother, it is insulting to me to basically put forth the attitude that black men "mean well," so they are not to be harshly criticized for their lack of participation. Yes, there is a lack of jobs that provide a living wage; however, to foist the blame on society for what began as a private act between a man and a woman is absurd. Moreover, what about the "serial deadbeat," the man that has several children out of wedlock, and does not support them? Are we to blame society for that too? Racism and poverty are obstacles that African-Americans face daily, but that does not excuse anyone from acting responsibly. No matter how Ms. Hamer likes to prance around it, there are many deadbeat dads in the African-American community.

-- Angela Pi'on

This was an interesting look at the plight of the poor within the context of familial relationships. It is good that someone has attempted to learn the story from the "other side."

One thing that struck me, however, were the appalling statistics regarding out-of-wedlock/single parent households among poor blacks.

The problem with the "deadbeat" dad isn't so much lack of financial support, but the lack of discipline of the children and the failure of each generation to learn from the mistakes of the previous ones -- to wit: Having children when you can't afford one, never mind two or more.

Also ignored is the simple fact that these numbers show that birth-control is not being used much, if at all, despite the fact that it is often free, and always readily available. One child might be an accident, but more than one suggests irresponsibility, not just on the part of the men, but on the women, too who, ultimately, have the ability to prevent pregnancy. One must wonder whether they actually want to prevent pregnancy and, if not, why?

Unless this trend is curbed, the problem of poverty will continue ad infinitum. That, in the end, is the real story.

-- Todd Sanders

Yawn. Why is everything made so complicated? It's really simple regardless of the gender: 1) Don't have unprotected sex if you don't want to raise children; 2) When you make a baby you are not an organ donor -- you become responsible for raising the child you create; 3) If you don't want to raise children, that's perfectly acceptable -- just don't make any; 4) Rights are balanced by responsibility -- if you want to exercise your right to procreate, then you are responsible for the person you created; and last but not least, if you don't take responsibility for your children and don't provide for them you are a deadbeat.

-- Zelda

Oh, what bollocks!

Jennifer Hamer tries to claim "it's not that simple," but it IS that simple: If you bring a child into this world, and you do not have the wherewithal to support it, you have done a very irresponsible thing.

And if you are male and you do not provide as your child grows up, you are a Deadbeat Dad. The fact that you might visit and play with your child doesn't change this. It's a given that you should both play with your child AND support it.

And this goes whether you're black, white, or purple with orange freckles.

-- Walt Roberts

By Salon Staff

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