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When Another Ending Is Just the Beginnng

Dave Randall

Posted on May 21, 2018 22:16

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Novels adapted for the big screen often change, sometimes for the better.

SPOILER ALERT: If you intend to read the books I mention in this TLT, look away while you can. If you've seen the movies made from them, prepare to have your eyes opened. I've been multi-tasking, glancing up at the 2004 movie Sideways on HBO, with an ear on the Dodgers-Rockies game over the radio. When it first hit theaters, I enjoyed Sideways so much that I ordered the novel. I like reading a novel first, so I can experience what will surely be left off the screen. I reversed my usual order with Sideways, only to find a different, far less satisfying ending. And as the Dodgers attempt to keep a long awaited winning streak going, I thought of another movie with an ending that improved upon that found in the novel: The Natural.

Written in 1952 and based on the actual shooting of a major league ballplayer named Eddie Waitkus, Bernard Malamud's dark, cautionary baseball tale would lie dormant in libraries for 32 years before being made into a film. It received generally good reviews when released in 1984, and it earned Glenn Close an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The Natural is now considered a classic. What it left behind in its transition from page to screen, it made up for in period detail, from the flannel uniforms to the antiquated ball park used for filming. What was most dynamic about the movie was the heroic ending. Even today's ballplayers will call a phenom with a sizzling bat "Roy Hobbs" after the conflicted main character, played by Robert Redford. The climatic scene was a crescendo, a catharsis — dramatic and fulfilling. It was so expert a depiction of a thrilling, game-winning home run that four years later, NBC interspersed scenes of Redford as Hobbs, rounding the bases in slow motion, with Kirk Gibson, after his astonishing homer to take game one of the 1988 World Series.

It was glorious and satisfying — and not the original ending of the movie or Malamud's novel. The first movie ending had Hobbs, like Mighty Casey of the Thayer poem, striking out. It left test audiences so distraught that the positive, heroic ending was substituted. 

The novel's conclusion was violent and discouraging. No movie audience would have enjoyed the rueful, cynical Hobbs, who not only strikes out, but furiously pummels his tormentor, his antagonist, to the point of involuntary defecation. Not even Quentin Tarantino would deign to horrify audiences with that. John Waters, maybe, but not Tarantino.

In the case of this storied baseball film, the license taken after the rights were purchased, rewarded fans, in both theater seats and in the stands at the ballpark, with more lore for a game already steeped in tradition. As a reader, I often resent unnecessary alterations of a story when a book becomes a film, but The Natural and Sideways represent the alternate side of that mindset. It's in the instances of these movies, as they come to mind, that the changes are definitely for the better. 

Dave Randall

Posted on May 21, 2018 22:16

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