Print to Film: Primal Fear

By Spencer Ezzell, Taylor Wilhelm, Karthik

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Key Differences

Obviously, there is going to be missing information whenever there is a book to film adaptation, here is a look at some of the major differences between the two.

-Martin Vail, the hot shot attorney who is feared throughout the city by judges and prosecutors alike, is not exactly how he is displayed in the movie. In the book Vail is not concerned with his appearance and can be found wearing suits that looked like they haven't been pressed in weeks. However in the movie, Richard Gere is seen as charismatic, and to a point obsessed with himself. He cares very much about his appearance and always looks suave with hair slicked back and full pressed suit. In a film adaptation, it's easy to see why they would change Vail's persona to a more handsome man, as the viewers are constantly seeing him on the screen and he would need to look as impressive as he is. However in the book, you can get away with making him less visually appealing because it creates imagery for the reader knowing that this guy doesn't care how he looks, and he is still a complete badass.

-As the movie and book progress, the archbishop is murdered by an unknown suspect. In the movie, you can see Aaron Stampler, the alleged killer, running through the forest before crossing train tracks and hiding underneath the highway whereas in the book, he is found in a confessional holding the knife covered in blood. This seems to be an integral detail as in the movie he is fleeing because he knows he is in the wrong but in the book it is more of a symbolic place to find him. He murdered him and then went into a confessional to repent, basic sociopathic serial killer 101.

-In the movie, Vail has a team to help him with his cases, a female secretary and an African American man to help gather evidence and present it in court. Together they make for a formidable team but in the book, his secretary is an African American woman whom he had a relationship with. This difference is easily explained because Vail also had a relationship with the prosecuting attorney. Janet Venable is that attorney and they had an extensive relationship and the reason for excluding this in the movie is that they were trying to not take an emphasis away from that particular relationship, whereas with two love pursuits, there would have been ambiguous and the audience could not see the importance of Ms. Venable to Vail.

-Given that books can go into much greater detail than their movie counterparts, its easy to understand why the novel goes into far greater detail about Aaron, the boy on trial for murder. While the movie briefly touches on the fact that he was poor when he moved into the city and the archbishop took him in and became a father to him, the book goes into great detail about his childhood and his genius intellect. He could speak fluent Latin in the novel as well as being known to devour every book he could find.

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Primal Fear - Trailer


Throughout the movie, the directors stayed true to many parts of the book.

Mr. Vail has other clients such as Mr. Pinero who he represents just before taking the Stampler case. It is because of this case in the book, that the judge is "forcing" Vail to take the Stampler case so they can get him back for making them lose money.

Aaron Stampler receives psychiatric help in both versions to help him with his mental disabilities and in both cases, the unraveling of events turned out the same in both. He dispels his other personality when the doctor was asking about his girlfriend which suddenly spurred the transition. The doctor was pivotal in both the book and the movie so it was key that they kept that the same.

The ending is the most important part of either version and it unfolded the same way in both. Vail gets Stampler off on account of insanity even though he didn't plea that way which happened in the book as well and then while he was waiting in jail to be transferred to a mental hospital, he accidentally let a detail slip that foiled his plan the whole time.

The relationships in both adaptations were very similar. Except for the non existent black secretary form the book, the movie did a very good job of showing the hate and jealousy of the other attorneys and judges as Vail had won other cases making them very angry. This all directed them to making him take the case pro bono and trying to humiliate him with a guaranteed loss.

Another similarity in both, are the unorthodox methods used to gather evidence by Vail and his team. They chase a man down in the city and capture him and interrogate him and they also break into the murdered Archbishop's house to find tapes.

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Differences Pt. 2

-In the book, there is a vendetta against Vail and all of the cities lawyers and judges are involved. Shaugnessey is the judge who hates Vail and he puts him in a pickle that makes him take the case pro bono. He tells him that if he refuses to take the case, then every judge will disrespect him even more. He takes the case pro bono which means for free and it is assumed to be a guaranteed loss. In the movie, he takes the case on his own accord because he believes the kid is innocent. In both adaptations he believes Aaron is innocent, but he takes the case for different reasons in each. In the book, there is far greater detail as to why all the cities judges hate Vail, so it is easy to see why they put him in the predicament to take it pro bono to embarrass himself.

-Ms. Venable is the prosecuting attorney and she plans to leave the DA's within the next month and go to a major firm downtown with a fancy office and many other amenities. However in the movie, she had no plan with a major firm. She was just planning on leaving in the near future but was not sure what she wanted to do. The reason this is in the book and not the movie is because it would adds a more mysterious effect to the movie. The audience assumes she is going to continue her practice but she could start her own firm or become a partner somewhere else.

-I said how the ending is similar in both adaptations, which is true, but i cannot take away the fact that they are different as well. In the movie, the ending is a mental explosion with a gut punch to finish it off. The reveal is very methodical and is released like a herd of cattle. In the book counterpart, the ending is very suspenseful and subtle which allows the reader to make up their own mind and sit there afterwards thinking holy s*&t, my mind has been opened. The subtle ending does not go over well in movie crossovers because you want the audience to understand exactly what is happening and make them turn off the movie in complete shock. While the resolution is the same in both, the delivery in each is far different and more important to understand.

Settings and Character

The settings of the movie followed the settings of the book. Obviously like before, you cannot have every detail of the book in a 2 hour film, but they did do a good job of inputting the main sequences and scenes into the movie.

While the main cast was in the movie, there were some people left out form the book. Naomi, Vail's black secretary was left out as well as city attorneys and judges that are met in the book. These were left out in the movie because while they do serve a purpose, it is fairly minimal and would most likely take away from the story in a shorter film. Plus, there is no reason to cast actors when they have very little effect on the story.

Character appearance is another differing factor. While Vail is handsome, suave and well kept in the movie, his book self wears old suits and is not self absorbed with his looks. Ms. Venable is also different in each. In the movie she is a beautiful blonde woman with soft edges and shoulder length hair all the time. In the book, she is a tall red headed woman that wears a very tight bun when she works. The reason for these differences is because you can create very striking imagery of a red haired woman that doesn't seem like a normal woman, while in the movie she can just be modeled by an average pretty blonde woman. Overall, the novel can provide much more imagery and detail than the movie can, which is accountable for many of the changes.

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Both adaptations were very well done and are both very respected for the quality of work produced. The director has to make the decisions to cut or add certain scenes and determine whether or not they will better the film or just add superfluous detail. One would hope that the decisions of the director would be for the betterment of the film because they have to do what they believe is right, for the right cost. Both audiences from the book and movie love the work. The movie is very famous and has received high ratings from critics. The book was made into a trilogy series and has raving fan reviews. Obviously there is some discrepancy in between somewhere, but for 95% of people who either see it or read it, they love it.