First off, I’m not talking about things which were changed, or things which were left out. Both of those have to happen a lot if you’re going to make a movie out of a novel, and if you’re going to make a Hollywood movie there are even more restraints (nudity, sex, drugs, cigarettes, driving while intoxicated, gay people).
No, within those restraints, if anything the movie is entirely too devoted to the details, while in some ways missing the point. And in some places where changes were made they are, for movie purposes at least, an improvement.
But here are the three mistakes.
1) The movie makes no sense.
It is a common misconception that the book makes no sense. Most of the reviews I’ve read of the movie refer to this — that the book is some stoned detective tale where nothing ties together at the end and who cares.
This is absolutely wrong, and it may show that movie critics should stick to movies and not start talking about books that they probably didn’t read and certainly didn’t understand.
Because the book is very tightly constructed, and everything makes sense at the end. This is not The Big Sleep (book and movie) where there is never any answer for the question of who killed the chauffeur or why.
For one example, late in the book Doc ends up with something very inconvenient in the trunk of his car. Why was it placed there? In the book, Doc makes an assumption, that it was just plain meanness on the part of somebody. But he’s wrong — it was a deliberate part of a very carefully worked out plan.
In the movie? No explanation.
I think it matters — if a story has a point to make, it makes a difference whether the story has a strong foundation or is floating in midair. This is not The Big Sleep (or Lucy!) — it’s a very different kind of story and it should actually make sense.
2) I mentioned before that the movie goes way more sentimental then the book (the book is not sentimental at all, in fact — romantic, in various ways, but not sentimental).
The two main ways this comes out are in Doc’s relationship with Shasta Fay, his ex old lady, and in his relationship with Bigfoot Bjornsen, his cop nemesis. I won’t go into details, but it really makes the focus of the ending very personal, very individual, which is the opposite of the book.
3) Here’s one specific about the ending which makes a big difference. I’m going to get into some details here, so I guess…
The scene near the end when Doc sees Shasta Fay again, and she urges him to spank her and then have sex with her.
Well, it’s from the book, kind of, but in the book there’s a big question about whether it really happens.
People more obsessive than I am (yes, really) have figured out exactly on what day of 1970 everything in the book takes place (this is possible mostly because Doc is avidly following the NBA playoffs throughout). And, through this, it’s been possible to determine that there’s an extra day in the middle of the book. A day on which there is no mention of time, the only clock mentioned is stopped, and everybody Doc meets acts wildly out of character.
So, if you take a scene (in which Shasta Fay acts wildly out of character) from that day and plop it into “real time,” it’s going to skew things quite a bit.
(I have my own theory about that day, as a matter of fact, which I wrote about here.)