The trailer for Spenser Confidential dropped recently. Let’s just say I have some thoughts.
There’s some definite star power attached here, encompassing the three male leads, the director, and musician Post Malone. But is this Spenser?
Before we delve too deeply into the answer, I also recorded a YouTube video on this. You can view it here. My channel is still new as of this writing, so I’d appreciate any likes and subscribes you can provide.
The big question I posed above was: is this Spenser?
No. Not as we know him, at least.
Before you tell me I’m a fan of the books who’s bitter over the adaptation, hear me out. This isn’t the Spenser we know because I don’t think he’s designed to be. While the movie’s IMDB page is pretty light, Wikipedia tells us the characters are basically just named after their literary counterparts. It also says the story is “very loosely based” on Wonderland, the second Spenser novel Ace Atkins wrote after Robert B. Parker’s death. It’s probably my favorite of the Atkins books.
This doesn’t look like the Wonderland I remember, just like these don’t look like the Spenser and Hawk we know. Like I said, I think this is by design. The movie needs to appeal to as many people as possible. Crime fiction fans know and love the characters, but outside of our sphere, how many do? Some folks may remember the 1980s Spenser: For Hire TV series (I do). Many may not—and many people watching the movie may have been born after it folded its production tents.
From the trailer, I think this is a buddy PI movie. It’ll have action, fistfights, some gunplay, and laughs. Many movies pepper these elements in successfully. Spenser and Hawk may have some humorous banter, but it won’t carry the gravitas it does in the novels.
Just because a film is “very loosely based” on a book doesn’t mean it’s bad. They’re different media, so I don’t think we could ever have a completely faithful adaptation. Look at The Bourne Identity. It borrowed a few elements from the Robert Ludlum novel, modernized a couple others, but for the most part, the movie told its own story. The second and third films in the series shared nothing with their source novels apart from names.
And they were great.
Fans of the TV show will remember Avery Brooks as Hawk. How could you not? He owned the role like he’d been born to play it. He was cool, badass, poignant, and funny all at once. I like Winston Duke as an actor, and he may do a great job in this movie, but the shadow of Avery Brooks looms large. Robert Urich was a good Spenser in my opinion—this is far from universal—even though he wasn’t a perfect physical match. He captured the sincerity, glibness, and overall attitude of the character well.
Whether you love or hate Susan, by the way, she’s not in Spenser Confidential. Iliza Shlesinger is credited as playing a character named Cissy. Susan wasn’t in the first novel, but omitting her from a movie really drives home the fact this isn’t the literary Spenser.
Will I see it? Yes. A friend of mine, talking about the uneven quality of Star Trek shows, says, “Bad Trek is better than no Trek.” I’ll port it over here and say this: Spenser in name only is better than no Spenser.
After I see Spenser Confidential once or twice, I’ll be back with some thoughts on it. Let’s cross our fingers and hope the star power pulls through.
Excellent post–you have some good thoughts here on adaptations in general and why they aren’t necessarily bad if they differ from canon. I only barely remember Spenser for Hire, but you’ve piqued my interest in this movie.
I’ve never expected an adaptation to be 100% faithful, and I don’t understand hating on them when they differ in a few ways.
Hope you enjoy the movie!
It is good to see that you have taken a practical view on the adapation from book to movie. A lot of people go in expecting a film or TV show to be like the book and then come out disappointed that it isn’t.
This of course is partly to do with the medium. A writer is able to draw you in with what is written and while some things are described in detail, others allow our imaginations to fill in the gaps and we create the characters based on what has shaped our lives.
The other reason of course is production. There are things that work in a book that don’t on film and vice versa and of course due to the costs involved in producing a film, the aim is to make as large a return as possible.
Few adaptations are close to their original source, the best example I can think of that is, would be the Bosch series produced by Amazon and written by Michael Connelly, though that is probably because he has an active role in their making.
I’ve not read the books for Spenser (though I do remember the Spenser For Hire TV show), so when the film comes out will have an unbiased view of it, yet to be fair, even if I had, I would watch it and if done well, would enjoy it.
Thanks. Interestingly, even the Bosch seasons differ from the books they’re based on.
They capture the spirit of the character and the series, though. It *feels* right even if some of the details don’t line up.
I know people who were apoplectic at the differences between the Harry Potter books and movies. But the movies (for the most part–I can only think of one exception offhand) got the feel of the stories right, and this is what matters.