Every time a movie comes out that’s based on a book, people always shout, “LOL BUT TEH BOOK WAS SOOO MUCH BETTER LOL!” Well, sometimes the movie can be better than the source material. In some cases, drastically so. Just because the source material is a book doesn’t mean the book is not a huge steaming pile of shit. Here’s an example:
In case it wasn’t already known, I am a huge fan of the James Bond film series. I have watched them all, own them all, and eagerly anticipate the release of each new movie. The successful franchise is based on a series of popular books. Since I’m illiterate I had never read any of the books, but I figured, what the hell, I should give one of them a try. Going in chronological order made sense, so I figured I’d start at the beginning.
The first book in the James Bond series is Casino Royale. It was written by Ian Fleming and published in 1953. He pretty much made the espionage genre of literature and films popular with this single work. There have been countless imitators since then, but there is only one James Bond. There was no way I was going to dislike this book. It was the first James Bond novel! It was going to be awesome! I sat down to read, and…
…holy shit this book is fucking terrible!
I don’t even know where to begin when describing how laughably bad the Casino Royale book is. The story is extremely bare-bones and barely coherent. The characters are all completely one-dimensional. They exist solely to spout dialog and propel the cheesy story forward. But worst of all is the prose. The prose is so badly written. It is on the same level as a teenager, and only one step above Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame.
Here are some examples:
Mathis came over and took the doctor’s chair.
“That’s a good man,” said Bond. “I like him.”
“He’s attached to the Bureau,” said Mathis. “He is a very good man and I will tell you about him one of these days. He thinks you are a prodigy – and so do I.”
Oh, is he a good man? It isn’t quite clear. Maybe if someone else came in and mentioned how the doctor was a good man, then we’d have a better idea. Fleming should be given the Redundancy Award for Redundancy. I also like how Mathis tells Bond he will let him know about the good doctor someday. If there’s a story worth telling, then just go ahead and tell it. If not, then that statement is fucking pointless. (He never tells Bond the story, thus proving my point.)
“You are fortunate,” said the voice. “I have no orders to kill you. Your life has been saved twice in one day. But you can tell your organization that SMERSH is only merciful by chance or by mistake. In your case you were saved first by chance and now by mistake, for I should have had orders to kill any foreign spies who were hanging round this traitor like flies round a dog’s mess.
“But I shall leave you my visiting-card. You are a gambler. You play at cards. One day perhaps you will play against one of us. It would be well that you should be known as a spy.”
In this scene, Bond is being tortured, and someone bursts into the room and kills Bond’s torturer. Then, he gives Bond this long-winded speech. I really don’t think an assassin is going to be that verbose. He would just come in, kill whoever he needed to kill, and get out. I especially like how he explains to Bond why he isn’t going to kill him. Like that guy would give a fuck. And if SMERSH is all about killing spies, then why not just kill Bond, anyway? I suppose this is the origin of the stereotype that all the villains explain the details of their plan to Bond. The highlight of this passage is the masterful prose. “You are a gambler. You play at cards.” Yes, that is what gamblers do. This guy is like Sherlock Fucking Holmes.
He looked Bond carefully, almost caressingly, in the eyes.
The whole novel is filled with weird statements just like that one. The scene in question is filled with homosexual tension. Le Chiffre, the villain, strips Bond naked, ties him to a chair, and then hits him in the balls multiple times. Of course, then he “caresses” Bond with his eyes. If that isn’t gay, then I don’t know what is. The entire novel is rife with homosexual undertones. Le Chiffre gets aroused by torturing a naked Bond, and Bond’s friend Mathis gets awfully close to him on more than one occasion. Maybe Bond is supposed to be gay or bi-curious? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
They exchanged smiles over some item on the menu and apparently agreed that it would suit for the patron took the card and with, Bond guessed, a final exchange about the wine, he withdrew.
That sentence sums up what I mean by bad prose. The wording makes no goddamn sense. I had to read it three or four times before I figured of what the fuck was going on. Apparently, Fleming decided to write the most opaque sentence imaginable just to tell us that some guy ordered lunch and a glass of wine. The sentence is awkward, and the whole book is full of other shit that is just as awkwardly phrased.
He would try and catch the Citroen and shoot it out with them and if she got shot in the process, that was too bad too.
This is further proof that Fleming is a shitty writer. Not only is this a run-on sentence, but it’s dreadfully written. If the girl Bond is trying to save gets killed then that’s “too bad too.” Oh, do you think you could use the word “too” some more? He probably should have written, “He would try and catch the Citroen, and shoot it out with them. If she got shot in the process, that would be too bad.” But Fleming doesn’t bother writing grammatically correct prose because he’s a hack. And apparently in the 1950s there were no such things as literary editors.
The plot of this novel doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s the Cold War, and deals with spies from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Le Chiffre works for the Soviet Union. He has been losing money on costly operations, and needs to recoup his losses to appease his superiors. He’s an excellent gambler, so he decides the best way to do this will be to head down to a French casino, the aptly named Casino Royale, to win some money by playing cards. British Intelligence decides if they can thwart him, they can shut down a Soviet operative, and prevent money from getting funneled back into Soviet Intelligence. OK, well, so far the premise makes sense. But that’s where the sanity ends.
Bond gets sent in as the British agent to beat Le Chiffre at cards. He joins a card game that Le Chiffre is playing in, and tries to beat him. What doesn’t make sense is what if Le Chiffre decides he’s done playing? He won a shitload of money beforehand, and could walk away at any time. Or what if he decided to go to another table? Why not do that? If Bond follows him, Le Chiffre would know he’s a spy, and the mission would be over. We later find out that Le Chiffre is already spying on Bond from the moment he arrives. He even tries to have him assassinated at one point. If he knew what Bond was up to, then why not just walk away immediately? He had already won back the money he needed, there was no incentive to stick around and keep playing. And it’s not like he had some big vendetta against Bond, wanting to crush him into oblivion, because the two had never met before. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s weak. Huge gaping plot holes like that are a sign of lazy writing.
The 2006 film version of Casino Royale improves upon the novel in every aspect. First, they fixed up the nonsensical plot. Instead of having Le Chiffre play against Bond for the hell of it until he eventually loses, they have a card tournament at Casino Royale. It’s winner-takes-all, so it now makes sense for Le Chiffre to stay and play against Bond. If he walks away he gets nothing, so he has to stick around. Already, the movie makes 10,000 times more sense than the novel.
While the novel opens with some boring bureaucratic nonsense and background information on the principal players, the film opens with an exciting action sequence. Bond gets involved in a free-running chase with a bomb-making terrorist. This eventually leads him to thwart a plot to destroy a new airliner. Not only was this very exciting, well choreographed, and just plain fun, but it also served an important role in the plot. Le Chiffre was playing the stock market and hoping to make a killing by destroying the airliner. He loses all his money when Bond interferes, and he is forced to go to the tournament at Casino Royale, otherwise he is completely fucked. This was nice, because it gave us some early excitement in the film, and made us realize the stakes for the villain. In the book, there isn’t really any sense of urgency. Le Chiffre of the book can just come and go and gamble as he pleases. There is no need for him to get the money as fast as possible.
In the book, it’s even more perplexing that Bond goes in with his real name, no alias, and the bad guys immediately learn he’s a spy. Great job, British Intelligence. Maybe if you used covers the Cold War wouldn’t have lasted 40 years. The movie at least gives him an alias and he chooses not to use it because he’s cocky. Vesper even calls him out on this, and Le Chiffre makes a remark about it. The movie shows us Bond is brash and overconfident, in over his head, while the novel just shows us that British Intelligence is run by a bunch of morons.
Also in the book, there is this weird scene near the beginning where two inept spies try to kill Bond. They throw a bomb at him and miss. They attempt to throw another, and it explodes in their hands. And that’s it. That story thread never returns again. Um, OK. What was the point of that? Narrative continuity seems to be something Ian Fleming was not concerned with.
On a more random note, one of the fun parts of the Bond movies is that the villain (or his henchman) have a unique, bizarre characteristic. For example, Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat, or the horrible metal teeth of Jaws. Le Chiffre of the movie has a nasty scar on his face which causes him to weep blood. Pretty cool. In the book, Le Chiffre’s defining characteristic is you can see the white of his eyes all the way around the iris. Well, uh, that certainly is, um, interesting. It’s about as frightening as Torgo’s giant knees from “Manos”: The Hands of Fate.
After Le Chiffre is finally killed, in both the book and movie, Bond spends time recovering in the hospital. The book has him waxing philosophically to Mathis, while the movie skips that shit and has him banging Vesper Lynd. The philosophical crap was pointless and idiotic. Bond decides he is going to quit being a spy because it is too dangerous. Apparently, the Bond of the books is a big pussy unlike the Bond of the movies. He drones on and on about good versus evil. He tries to wrap his head around the concept that he perceives himself as a good guy and Le Chiffre as a bad guy, while Le Chiffre perceives himself as a good guy and Bond as a bad guy. Thanks a lot, Socrates. That’s really fucking deep. This goes on for way too long, and ultimately only ends when Bond heals up and leaves the hospital. The movie screenwriters realized this was boring and made Bond sound idiotic, and no one wanted to see any of that. So they rightfully excised all of it. They decided that Bond should quit out of love for Vesper. That’s a motivation people can relate to. In the context of the film, it made perfect sense. In the book, no one can really relate to not wanting to be a spy because of some bullshit pop-psychological nonsense.
The book winds down with about 1000 chapters of Bond hanging out with Vesper in some French seaside town. They eat a bunch of meals, call each other “Darling”, and act like a pair of goons. Eventually, Vesper sees a man with an eyepatch and promptly kills herself. She leaves Bond a note explaining everything (of course she does): she was really a Russian agent, the eyepatch-man was her contact, the gig was up, and she felt the best resolution was suicide. Oh, and she really loved Bond. Bond then decides to remain a spy, and calls her a bitch. The End. Wow, great ending, Fleming. Apparently, he has never heard of the concept of a literary climax.
The movie fares much better. It shows Bond and Vesper happily enjoying themselves. She sees eyepatch-man and realizes the gig is up. This leads her to betray Bond, and culminates in an exciting shootout in Venice where Vesper ultimately dies. Bond is filled with mixed emotions: love, anger, grief and hatred. It comes across clearly to the viewers, plus it provided an actual climax to the film. In the book, Bond’s emotions are not conveyed to the reader. He’s just pissed that Vesper is dead.
Overall, the Casino Royale movie improves on every single aspect of the book. The characters are not flat, one-dimensional husks, as they are in the book. The Bond of the novel exists to simply be a foil to the villainous Le Chiffre. He has no emotions, no personality, no backstory, and isn’t the slightest bit interesting. This is all due to crappy writing on the part of the author. Plentiful action sequences make the film much more lively than the book. The bullshit psychology is gone. The nonsensical reasons for Le Chiffre gambling against Bond are reformed to something that makes perfect sense. Bond’s betrayal by Vesper and his feelings are easily conveyed. Plus, Vesper has a fitting end, instead of just getting scared and killing herself. Best of all, in the movie, you aren’t exposed to Fleming’s horrible prose.
Casino Royale the movie is really good, certainly one of the best Bond films. It’s hard to believe that such a great movie came from such shitty source material. It’s also amazing to think that anyone would publish this piece of crap. I suppose in the 1950s you could publish anything. After experiencing something this bad, I definitely won’t waste my time reading anything else written by Ian Fleming.
The Movie – Awesome
The Book – Shitty