Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is in a close tie for my favorite book, along with Neal Stephensen’s Cryptonomicon and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I watched the 1970 film adaptation last night and came away quite surprised at the accuracy, and disappointed at how it completely missed the point. Each scene felt like a perfect recreation of the scene from the book, but so many scenes were cut out, the plot came out disjointed and incoherent. I can understand the removal of certain scenes, such as the entire Schiesskopf sequence, but other things that were removed were critical to the undertones of the story.
For instance, the M&M Syndicate was shown, but not nearly as prominently as it needed to be to convey how it is a parody of capitalism. Also, the number of missions being raised was only glossed over, rather than being used as a tool to show that the main antagonist of the story is the military structure that is forcing the pilots to keep flying. The stripping down of Major Major Major Major’s scenes to a single interchange with Sergeant Towser was another annoyance – without his background, that scene is only superficially amusing, and all of the undertones are removed.
In the end, I feel that Mike Nichols was so focused on getting each scene right, he lost sight of the big picture. With a few exceptions, each scene is nearly spot on, but the story as a whole is gutted and left shallow. The book is simply too complex to do a perfect recreation in a two hour movie, and the focus should’ve been on getting the feel down. It was enjoyable, but nowhere near as enjoyable as the book.