Not The Bourne Ultimatum after all

I did a dumb thing. I was on a very boring business trip, and I needed something else to read. So I bought a book. Despite my usual aversion to buying books republished with movie scenes on the cover to encourage more sales, I did in fact buy The Bourne Ultimatum. I couldn’t help it! The back matter was intriguingly written and I wanted to know what happened. So I bought the book, and I read it.

In and of itself, that was not the dumb thing. The dumb thing was reading the book just a few weeks before the movie of the same name came out. I mean, I have nothing against a good Matt Damon action movie. He’s good-looking, the action was fast-paced, there was lots of suspense and intrigue. It wasn’t a bad movie, nor were its predecessors. And if you’ve never read any of the books and only seen the movies, they even make a great deal of sense. (For a series of contrived spy action movies, I mean.)

However, and I admit that it is entirely my own fault that this annoys me, they have nothing to do with the books. At all. Yes, they star a character named Jason Bourne who lost his memory and turns out to be a super spy. But at that point, pretty much all plot similarity is abandoned, leaving me to wonder why they didn’t just give the character, and the movies, different names, and just not deal with buying the rights to the books or whatever at all. Because it would have been a lot easier, and then the script writers wouldn’t have had to feel so wracked with horrible guilt for completely erasing the plots of a perfectly good series of books for a new generation of people. (And if they do not feel this crushing guilt, they should.)

This is not a new complaint. People have been complaining about movie adaptations of books probably since the invention of movies. The thing is, I think I used to be more tolerant of it. But in recent years, my standards have been somewhat raised. After the recent serious book/movie franchises of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which had an incredibly dedicated and faithful crew working on them, and the Harry Potter movies, which have all been made in conjunction with the author herself, I’ve started to expect a bit more accuracy. I mean, movies always have to make changes to work in their own format, and people will always complain about what got left out, but they’ve been much more concerned about accuracy, and I approve.

I was talking about this with someone else a week or so ago, and he insisted that all the changes in the Bourne movies were due to them being Vietnam/Cold War era stories that needed to be updated. But I’d just read the book, and let me tell you, that had pretty much nothing to do with the main plot of the third book. The details and character backgrounds could have been updated pretty easily without changing the main plot points, and they would have made pretty excellent movies. But instead, the Bourne series is now done in the movies, and they were wasted. It particularly annoys me that they used the same names for the movies as the books when they stopped having any relation to each other somewhere in the first half of the first movie. As a counter example, Shooter was based on the book Point of Impact, and according to Mark, they did a lot of updating changes, but at least they used a different title. (They are, of course, using the movie to shill the book now, with the movie title now in bigger font than the real title of the book, but that’s not the point.)

On the upside, they will probably inspire more people to read the books, and hopefully the plot dissonance won’t be so annoying going the other direction, movies to books.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that rant out of my system, what do the rest of you think about books being made into movies? Do you think the LotR and Harry Potter movies have had an impact? Do you think movie makers have any responsibility to try to remain as true to the book as possible? Should radically changed movies have to use different titles?

-posted by Dana

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5 Responses to Not The Bourne Ultimatum after all

  1. poetloverrebelspy says:

    I am always amazed by the technology used in today’s films which make the special effects so real and spectacular (even in fantasy such as HP and LotR). These films would not have been half as powerful or nearly as “true” to the narrative 20 years ago.

    Not exactly sure who benefits when the book doesn’t match the film. Perhaps the first film is cashing in on the fame of the book series, and later the book series cashes in on the fame of the movies?

    Is the book always the “true” version? What about when we like the film version, even if it’s different, better than the original?

  2. halshop says:

    Personally, I don’t think “true” is the issue to be concerned with. If you like a book–good. If you like a movie–good. Rarely do the two meet on the same ground and we shouldn’t expect them to. Do we expect paintings and sculpture to carry the same effects? Do we think songs redone by another band or artist should have the same sound as the version we heard first? On the contrary, we want them to be different–and if they aren’t I’m usually disappointed.

  3. Dana says:

    Oh, I totally agree that books and movies need to be different, because different things work in different mediums. My issue is not so much that they left out this bit, or that character wasn’t the way I picture him, or any of that stuff. In some cases, I think movies can suffer from adhering too close to the “truth” of the original book, because audiences have different expectations for the pacing of a movie. My issue is when they completely and utterly forget the entire plot of the book they are supposedly working from. I’d say if you like the movie version better because the pacing worked better for you, great, but if the book came first, then it is the original story.

  4. Matty says:

    I had the same experience as you, read the ultimatum and was completely amazed at the lack of similarity between the book and movie. The only relationship between them appeared to be the title. I also think there is a possibility that the plot for the third book could be used as a plot for a forth movie. Maybe!
    Halsop, obviously there should be differences between movies and books as directors like to express themselves on the material but surely there has to be some resemblance present or else whats the point in the first place.

  5. eric says:

    i was shocked to watch the movie
    (as i came back from a long trip, and read the book)

    i waiting so long to watch the movie, as to maybe forget the book and not spoil the movie that much.

    to my surprise, the movie was so diffrent that i thought i read the wrong book.
    i actually located the book to compare title, and googled it (which led me here) as to see if the movie is at all based on the book, or if i was losing my memory faster than that of a goldfish.

    lotr was made into 3 great movies, and even though people say no 3 was too long, the book goes much further after that.

    harry potter movies are great, although since the books started to get so large, the movie lost a lot of the main action.
    the goblet of fire was terrible, as we missed all the good training parts, which i’d say are my favorite scenes when read.

    as for other movies from books, well i can’t say much as i don’t read much unless travelling 🙂

    p.s. great blog 😀

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