A Clockwork Orange retains the characters, themes and plot of the book. Alex de Large is a delinquent obsessed with classical music, leader of a gang called the Droogs, who commit atrocious acts of violence; after attacking a couple and raping the wife, he is captured, and subjected to the Ludovico technique, which instils an aversion to violence that utterly transforms him. Sure, certain elements are changed, but it still follows the story, adapts the characters, and retains the themes.
Same with Jaws. A shark is threatening Amity Island, Chief Martin Brody has to campaign against the mayor to close the beach and kill the shark, he hires oceanographer Matt Hooper and shark hunter Quint to kill it, the three don't get along but eventually bond, before Brody sees the shark die. Sure, certain elements are changed, but it still follows the story, adapts the characters, and retains the themes.
Planet of the Apes. An earthman crashes his spaceship on a strange planet; the humans are brutish and apelike, and encounter an ape hunting party, who have reached civilization, and have mastered language, technology and culture, though their origins are lost to time; the earthman is adopted by two sympathetic ape scientists called Cornelius and Zira, who are astonished by his intelligence; ape society is divided between warlike gorillas, political orang-utans and intellectual chimpanzees; the truth of the planet is discovered, as it's revealed to be earth in the far future after an ape rebellion. Sure, certain elements are changed, but it still follows the story, adapts the characters, and retains the themes.
Man, if only we got Conan films as unfaithful as those adaptations.
I've been through this before, but I'm still absolutely perplexed at the idea that anyone could consider what Stone & Milius did with Conan to be remotely comparable to those other films. Then I thought: perhaps you, yes you, could help?
What I'm asking is for you to provide an example of an adaptation of a character which is as alien to the source material as Conan the Barbarian is. In order to qualify, I'm going to suggest a few things:
- Every character in the film is an original creation, aside from the main character. They could borrow a name from the mythology or one of the author's other works (as in Thulsa Doom), but they have to be largely completely independent in personality, biography and appearance.
- The film's story is an original creation. There can be scenes and elements lifted from the source material, but the overarching narrative, subplots and the like have to be introduced by the screenwriters.
- The central tenets of the origin story for the character, if present, have to be either ignored or directly contradicted.
- The philosophy, themes and allusions are sometimes contradictory to the original source material.
Sound good? It's actually bothering me that I can't think of that many adaptations. That said, I won't exclude suitably divergent adaptations that don't adhere to the above: I just want to know if Conan's in good company.
Right now, I can think of only one: Alex Proyas' I, Robot. The de facto main character of the stories, Dr. Susan Calvin, is present in the film, albeit pushed into second banana for Will Smith, and aside from occupation, belief in the innate decency of robots, and antipathy to humans, she isn't very similar to the original character. For one thing, Asimov's Calvin wasn't a supermodel before she was a doctor. The story is largely an invention, originally a science fiction film called Hardwired that had nothing to do with Asimov, before it was retroactively dolled up after the author's death. There are a few lifts from the stories, such as a robot hiding among its duplicates a la "Little Lost Robot," the reinterpretation of the Three Laws from "The Evitable Conflict," and the idea of a lying robot from "Liar," but hardly enough to constitute adaptations. I don't even need to tell you about the other things.
On the surface, Verhoeven's Starship Troopers would seem to apply, but then again, it does (poorly) adapt the plot and character: Rico, Raszcak, Rico being flogged for failing in testing, training is hazardous and deadly, the bugs annihilate Rico's home Buenos Aires, the invasion of Klendathu, Dizzy Flores dies, the arachnids are more intelligent than first believed. I'd say it's closer to Conan the Barbarian than, say, The Lord of the Rings in terms of adaptation, though. Certainly the themes are highly opposed.
So, over to you. Can you think of anything?