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The Biblioracle: 'Endless Love' film adaptations underwhelming

AuthorsMoviesNick HornbyAlex PettyferTom CruiseDiana Ross

It's not every day that I say I feel sorry for a best-selling novelist, but I really do feel sorry for Scott Spencer.

Spencer, as some of you may know, is the author of 12 novels (two of them under a pseudonym, Chase Novak), mostly notably the multimillion-selling classic "Endless Love."


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.


Raise your hand if the voices of Diana Ross and Lionel Richie singing "My … endless love …" popped into your head.

(Those voices will exit your head sometime tomorrow. For now, just get used to it.)

I feel sorry for Scott Spencer because his really great novel has been made into not just one, but two really bad movies.

Originally published in 1979, "Endless Love" was first adapted by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, previously most known for his work on 1968's "Romeo & Juliet."

The novel and Zeffirelli's movie both tell the story of David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt) and Jade Butterfield (Brooke Shields). David is 17, Jewish, and the son of a couple of Chicago socialists. Jade is younger, 15, and the daughter of free spirits Hugh and Ann Butterfield. David is attracted to Jade's beauty, but he's equally attracted to the spirit of the Butterfields, their seeming ease and wealth and grace. David seeks to ingratiate himself to the family as a way of replacing his own, but as he gets too close for Hugh's liking, he and Jade are forced into a separation that leads to near-tragic consequences.

I hadn't seen the movie for nearly 25 years, and I was shocked at how terrible it is. (I was also shocked to see Tom Cruise in what was, apparently, his first film role. He delivers two lines with his shirt off. Zeffirelli apparently had an eye for talented, young pulchritude.)

Zeffirelli gets the novel backward, portraying David as the seducer, a semi-weaselly type seeking to ingratiate himself into the Butterfield clan, rather than the seduced, a boy who falls in love with a girl and her family, and their lives of gentile privilege, who can't let it go when it's wrenched away from him.

Perhaps inspired by his success with "Romeo & Juliet," Zeffirelli makes "Endless Love," into a similarly tragic romance, but the tone is all wrong. "Endless Love" the novel is no romance. It's a story of erotic obsession. A dangerous book from the first word to the last. Zeffirelli's chief cinematic accomplishment is to film Brooke Shields' iconic face in flattering lighting.

The original is at least faithful to the novel's storyline. The "remake," starring Alex Pettyfer as David and Gabriella Wilde as Jade, is unrecognizable as something spawned from the source material. Chicago is Georgia. David is generically "blue collar," rather than the son of socialists, and Hugh is against the coupling from the get-go. It's essentially a second-rate Nicholas Sparks adaptation (which is really saying something).

It is similar to Zeffirelli's film in that two really good-looking young people are consistently filmed in flattering light. Kudos to director Shana Feste for that.

The good-book-to-bad-movie phenomenon is well documented, but it's rare that a good book is turned into two bad movies. As to why the potency of "Endless Love" the novel is so difficult to capture on film, my theory is that film, as a medium, cannot approach the intimacy of a really good book.

Reading "Endless Love" is like having David Axelrod sitting next to you, whispering in your ear. He is not on screen, but instead climbs inside you, substituting his consciousness for yours.

Maybe that sounds creepy to you. Personally, I find it pretty cool.

My … endless love …

Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.

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The Biblioracle offers his recommendations

1. "Sleep Tight" by Rachel Abbott

2. "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

3. "Gingerbread Man" by Maggie Shayne

4. "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell

5. "Cop Town" by Karin Slaughter

—Andrea P., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Suspense and mystery run through these titles. I recommend the first novel in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, "In the Woods."

1. "Ten Years in Tthe a Tub" by Nick Hornby

2. "The word added Informed Air" by Muriel Spark

3. "The Day of the Dead: The Autumn of Commissario Ricciardi" by Maurizio de Giovanni

4. "Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher" by Lewis Thomas

5. "Communication as As Culture" by James W. Carey

—Kristina V., Chicago

That Nick Hornby book is a collection of his columns from the magazine, "The Believer" about reading books, which gives me warm feelings just thinking about it. I think Kristina will be interested in Alexandra Horowitz's exploration of how we see (or don't see) the world, "On Looking."

1. "The Bone Collector" by Jeffery Deaver

2. "The Borrower" by Rebecca Makkai

3. "The Hollow Girl" by Reed Farrel Coleman

4. "Roosevelt's Beast" by Louis Bayard

5. "Fatal Enquiry" by Will Thomas

—John B., Carol Stream

Fresh off the presses, I think John will enjoy Megan Abbott's latest foray into contemporary noir, "The Fever."

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AuthorsMoviesNick HornbyAlex PettyferTom CruiseDiana Ross
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