Ta-da! I finally finished the book. Took me three months, but there were long sections of time where I read other books and didn't touch it at all. Then read the last 150 pages in the last two days.
Now I've wanted to see the movie since high school, mostly because the title fascinated me (seemed very illicit and Grown Up) and I knew it was WWII, and that fascinated me. Now, having read the book, I'm not so sure. I mean 90% of the book is people's thoughts and feelings. It's what's so good about the book (and also what made it so hard to read in anything but small doses -- it's hard being that close in someone's head through those kind of circumstances). How do you turn that into a movie? Without the thought processes, the actions become meaningless, the motives lost, the friendships that come and go in mere moments pointless. I mean really, this books takes 700+ pages to cover the set up and one patrol up a mountain and back. And there's also the flashbacks into each character's life before the war, from childhood to enlistment/drafted/whatever. You can't do that well in a movie.
SPOILERS from here down!!
Then coincidentally, I found this today in an unrelated search: Naked and the Dead movie snippet. Now that just makes me sigh. It's all wrong. The whole scene on the mountain staircase is riveting and shocking in the book, but they changed some key points for the movie and completely lost the charge from it. And, ahem, I see Hollywood can't bear to kill off a major character with one shot, dead and gone. Noooooo, they have to swap characters around instead. Grrrr. So, what happens to Wilson in the movie? He was far more interesting than Hearn ever was anyway. And that's one of the big problems here. They've clearly set up Croft as the "bad guy" and Hearn as the "good guy." Cuz Hollywood needs heroes and villains. It can't deal with a squad of guys who all get equal page time, who all have good and bad traits, each character as important as the next regardless of his rank. Noooo, that won't work in Hollywood.
I particularly don't like it because Croft was my favorite character, the one I most related to in the book. Naturally, he's not a bad guy to me. Sure, he's tough, he's ruthless, but that's only parts of him. To simply categorize him as a a nasty son of a bitch (which is clearly how he's being played in the movie) doesn't show the motivating factors, the fears and doubts, the fact that he can freeze in battle like the next man and how it haunts him, what completing a mission means. It doesn't show how close to collapse he is himself. He's very human.
When I read the book, Hearn was the guy I didn't like. He was arrogant and complacent at the same time, lacked the necessary experience. Exactly the kind of man I do not want leading a recon squad behind enemy lines. If Croft had led the patrol from the beginning, there would have been a different outcome.
What makes the book work so well is the non-judgmental contrast between the two men (all the men, really -- the characters are what make this book amazing), and how throwing a guy like Hearn into an established squad changes all the dynamics, undermines discipline, etc. But Hollywood can't do that, not easily.
I'll still watch this film if it ever comes to DVD, because I'll want to see just how much more they screw up. And I'll also want to see if Aldo can save any of the book's version of Croft in the movie version.