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Adaptations

ozoneocean at 12:00AM, Nov. 21, 2014
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In recent years Hollywood has been desperately mining already popular material in the hopes of producing ready-made hits, so we've had a great bonanza of classic Scifi, fantasy and comic book films blasting onto the silver screen with the likes of The Lord of The Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Starwars things, Ninja Turtles remakes, Transformers, Superman, Spiderman and Batman reboots, X-men films by the bushel, Hunger Games, Tron, Harry Potter, Twilight and more. TV has had its share with the reboot series of Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, comicbook fare like The Arrow, fantasy like Sleepy Hollow, Game of Thrones, The Pillars of Heaven, classics like Sherlock Holmes etc.

Apart from being already massively popular material, these properties are also all adaptions. Creations always have to be adapted in various ways to accommodate the changes needed to make them fit into another type of media or in the case of a reboot: another kind of audience in the SAME media. Adaptation is a fraught process, there are a lot of competing pressures: you have to remain somewhat faithful to the source material, you have to throw a bone to the fans who're responsible for the property's popularity to begin with, you have to try and open up and expand the audience so you're NOT just limited to those original fans, if the source material is dated then you have to work out how to make it more contemporary, and you have to let the writers and directors put their own creative stamp on things.



Some of the biggest failures in adaptions have been when they tried too hard to be contemporary or appeal to a broader audience and ended up weakening the connection to the original source material, the Star Wars prequels suffered somewhat from that as well as the newer Conan movie, Spiderman, and Superman also probably fit into that category. Some terrible failures as well as some of the biggest successes have been when the director and writer were allowed to put their own stamp on things: Lynch's Dune was a failure because his style was a terrible fit for the material, Burton's Batman was a massive hit because his unique style was a great fit!

As fans, we generally tend to prefer adaptions to pay as much homage as possible to the source material and tend to be quite disappointed when they don't. People trawl the net for the latest production news, scouring movie trailers for hints and clues, eviscerating proposed costume designs and casting choices (wonder Woman comes to mind). It can be very hard to put away the virtual fedora, shave off the virtual neckbeard and try and accept an adaptation on its own merits instead of always judging it in relation to its predecessor: look at them as unique creative properties and not just other versions of something else.



If the adaptions are appealing enough we can learn to love them AS WELL as what they were adapted from but not in the same way; more like the way you might love a different book by the same author.
Tankgirl is one of my favourite examples of that: The movie has very little to do with the comic, but it has its own wacky charm that made it a slow burn cult hit. Conan the Barbarian is another good example; the film is a great dark epic spaghetti-western style Nietzschian fantasy, with Schwarzenegger's Conan depicted as a simple innocent who is forged like sword steel by the evils and pressures of his world and driven by the fires of revenge; while Howard's original stories were typically short-form, episodic sword and sorcery fantasy. His Conan was a crafty, intelligent, avaricious, lustful, greedy, selfish thief, driven entirely by animal self interest and self preservation at all costs. And yet both versions are equally fantastic.



Finally, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series is a great example of the adaptation process: All mostly driven by the same man, Douglas Adams, it was first a radio play, then a book, then a radio play again, then a TV series, then more books, then more radio plays, and finally a movie. Since they're all written by the same man (mostly), they all have the status of pretty much representing the same story… and yet most of the adaptions are very different from one another. So how do you reconcile that? With all the changes over all the different versions which one IS the real story? With The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy you really do have to just accept each version as a separate work, roughly inspired by the others. It's also a very good example (along with Star Wars), of why the original creator is definitely not always the best person to adapt their work to the needs of different media or audiences, Adams like Lucas was not a great film writer.


What are some of your favourite adaptions and why? What are some of the worst?

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anonymous?

Gunwallace at 11:03AM, Nov. 26, 2014

Lucas's 'faults' with plotting and story writing were actually there at the start, but because Star Wars: A New Hope took so long to make it got edited. There was time to make changes. It got edited for running time, the lack of SFX influenced scenes, and just because there were people telling him "George you can't do this" and he listened. Many hands were involved in the script of the first movie By the time of Return of the Jedi you could see these things were no longer in place, and that was magnified tenfold in the prequels. Also Lucas is not just a big picture guy, he's a tiny details guy, worried about what each pod racer sounded like, which droids were being shot when in battle scenes, whether the Ewok's eyes blinked. He was awash in minutiae (I confess to having watched some making of docos) during the making of the prequels, and so the gaping middle between concept and details was somewhat ignored ... and that, as you so rightly pointed out, is where story lives.

bravo1102 at 8:09AM, Nov. 26, 2014

Even a film maker/screen writer as great as Francis Ford Coppola has had his rough spots where you just have to say "What an self-indulgent prick, just what is he thinking?" Sure there aren't any Jar-Jars but what the heck was up with Apocalypse Now?

bravo1102 at 8:05AM, Nov. 26, 2014

And then there's many novelists who when it all comes together it is all guts in a massive battle scene. I'd argue reality is rough as guts. I know it doesn't make for aesthetically pure writing but it does have a certain style to it that makes for good story-telling. And Lucas totally lost his way after the first trilogy. He forgot about stories and classic narrative simplicity ala Joseph Campbell and went into Cloud-cuckoo land. His best films remain American Graffiti and Star Wars: A New Hope. If he had stopped there we'd all be saying what a genius he was as opposed to a fool who tried to create an epic and only succeeded in making a mockery.

ozoneocean at 6:36PM, Nov. 25, 2014

Lucas isn't unique in that though, look at the very popular Michael Morcock: people respect him as a scifi and fantasy writer, he has an amazing imagination for setting, scenes, situations and characters, but when when it comes to putting them all together it usually as rough as guts. Like Lucas he's a good "big concept" guy and very talented as aesthetics but not great at putting it all together and giving it life.

ozoneocean at 6:27PM, Nov. 25, 2014

Ah, the Star Wars prequels... The main issue there is just clumsy, boring writing more than anything, with the clunkiness showing fully on the screen, getting worse towards the end of the series, full of needless, irrelevant complexity, and obvious hammy writing artefacts that even a TV soap writer would be embarrassed about. The only way to look at them is in isolation from the original films, because they're too utterly different to be considered in the same way. The amount the first of them grossed was purely down to the reputation of the original series, it's no gauge of success. And as for child aimed characters- kids don't like to be patronised. Besides, the needlessly complex midichlorians, trade federation wars, galactic senate etc were so far over any kid's head as to make the inclusion of Jar-jar-teletubbie a complete non-sequitur. Just more evidence of Lucas's bad writing skills. :)

bravo1102 at 5:54AM, Nov. 24, 2014

And the Hidden Fortress is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Changed for the culture and time period but still very recognizable even retaining some dialogue. Similarly Ran is an adaptation of King Lear. Lucas was also heavily influenced by westerns especially The Searchers. It would not be difficult to adopt both Star Wars trilogies into westerns with nearly all the elements intact and recognizable.

jamoecw at 11:34AM, Nov. 23, 2014

out and and the only real action left is the final battle that was stretched out already), and it showcased what made star wars mainstream in the past (innovative over the top special effects). midi-chlorians were a way of determining if one was force sensitive, and it creates a level of certainty for a story about mistaken certainty (they thought the sith were extinct) and centralized dependance. the political situation is similar to china and japan during the opium wars, and understanding of such events helps understand why a nothing back water might be important to a trade federation, as well as the politics and actions involved due to such. ultimately children love the new star wars, and episode 1 (largely considered the worst) did in fact gross quite well (highest of '99). fans and critics call it a failure, but the rest call it a success.

jamoecw at 11:11AM, Nov. 23, 2014

personally i try to take each movie or book as a separate story onto itself. as for the star wars thing (prequels), i had been fascinated by star wars (weren't we all?) and sought out things that gave lucas inspiration (like hidden fortress). when i saw episode 1, i like most, felt jar jar was a bit much, and the pod racing scene took up too much time. i reevaluated all i knew about lucas's process and came to the conclusion that he never really 'lost it' but that what he does is take aspects from other works and adapts them into his overall setting to create a new story. once you put aside what you want the prequels to be, and accept what he himself said he wanted the direction of the films before they were made to be, you find that he does in fact hit his marks quite well. jar jar is a funny character for little kids (5ish) and helps bring them into the story. the pod racing scene was a great special effects thrill ride to give some more action to a rather dull movie (cut it

bravo1102 at 6:27AM, Nov. 23, 2014

And just don't get me started on adaptions of real events into film narrative. If only screen writers could learn to leave well enough alone.

bravo1102 at 6:23AM, Nov. 23, 2014

An excellent example of a movie often made but a novel never actually adapted for the screen is Last of the Mohicans. Each film version was actually adopted from the screenplay of previous movie versions (the 1932 and 1936 productions) rather than the actual book. The story in the book is considerably different and has never been adapted faithfully to the screen other than a tedious TV miniseries. Another example is the Four Feathers with the film versions having radical differences in their depictions. Certain events and their results remain the same but so much is different they might as well be completely different stories.

bravo1102 at 6:11AM, Nov. 23, 2014

Back in the glory days of the Hollywood studio system they did tons of adaptations that ended up being nothing more than the title and others which were great translations to the screen if not faithful adaptations. Maltese Falcon, Treasure of Sierra Madre, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep were all great translations to the screen with tons of changes to make a good movie but not faithful adaptations. The Thin Man had the ending changed because Hollywood wanted a sequel and killing William Powell just wasn't done. I'd agree with usedbooks in saying outside of a few novellas (like Christmas Carol) you can't get a faithful adaptation of a written work into a 90 minute movie. Just look at the mess The Great Gatsby became in its four adaptations.

willgun at 3:07PM, Nov. 22, 2014

I was surprised they were able to do Lord of the Rings with out mucking it up. As in the second movie of the Hobbit, where elves are dancing on the noggins of dwarves bobbing in barrels down a river, while annihilating legions of orcs with perfect bow shots. I could go on...but I was most disappointed in adaptations of Starhip Troopers and Dune.

Jaggedclaw at 2:48PM, Nov. 22, 2014

I usually prefer to think of adaptions as separate works, like how most people just accept the marvel movies are a separate universe. One of the books I was most excited about the adaption of was The Giver, a childhood favorite of mine. The movie was still good as a movie, but it didn't have as great of an impact as the book did and kind of turned it into yet another teens against the government in a dystopian future movie. I still found it better than most teen dystopian movies these days.

usedbooks at 6:05AM, Nov. 22, 2014

Oh, and Hogfather is a great adaptation as well. As with anything, it lost a few things to make it work on the screen. The Discworld adaptations work fairly well partly because they are presented more as miniseries than movies. Most novels work better in that format. Only two books come to mind that are proper "movie length" in content, Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol. Maybe that's why they get so many movie adaptations made.

usedbooks at 5:58AM, Nov. 22, 2014

The BEST adaptation I have seen is Princess Bride. It was a complete movie, kept important elements and made for a wonderful film overall. It even cut the horrible tedious parts from the book that just annoyed the spit out of me -- the big block of history crap at the beginning, the trek through the zoo of horrors... Oh, and the worst-written sword fight ever to grace paper. I guess fencing was never meant to be in print, at least not a play-by-play of technical description.

usedbooks at 5:55AM, Nov. 22, 2014

The worst adaptation from a book I ever saw was Sphere. I have no idea how that incoherent mess of a film managed to be produced. They apparently cut crucial scenes and flubbed every detail.

usedbooks at 5:53AM, Nov. 22, 2014

I don't think Hitchhiker was an adaptation. The author specifically wrote different stories for different media. I honestly appreciate that approach. A good book does not translate directly to a movie. If it does, then chances are, it didn't make good use of its original medium. Books have more inner dialogue and painting with words. Words lose a lot if you try to make them purely physical representations. In that respect, a bad book can make a good movie, and bad movies are made from good books.

kawaiidaigakusei at 7:14PM, Nov. 21, 2014

Oh yes, I will be producing the screenplay that Banes is currently adapting from this post.

kawaiidaigakusei at 7:10PM, Nov. 21, 2014

Wonderfully written newspost, Oz! A Stephen King book to movie adaptation that I enjoyed very much was Rob Reiner's Stand By Me (based in The Body). It was such a good film that I wanted to read the novella after seeing the movie. I was pleasantly surprised because it contained a thought provoking short story called "Stud City" that did not make the film's final cut. @Ayes- I saw a documentary that said Stephen King was so let down by Kubrick's version of the Shining that he set forth to direct his own version on a made for television mini-series.

kawaiidaigakusei at 7:10PM, Nov. 21, 2014

There will be moments when I read a character and dream up the person's image in my mind that I get thoroughly disappointed when I see the film. This happened in Harry Potter when I pictured a Sleepy Hollow Johnny Depp and instead saw a middle aged, David Thewlis. Sometimes race comes into play that alters the entire story like when I was anticipating Ethan Hawke to cast a Lisa Loeb-type female lead and ended up with Catalina Sandino Moreno in his book to film, The Hottest State. One time I was in for a surprise when I discovered Morgan Freeman's character was the narrator in The Shawshank Redemption after I pictured it would be a caucasian man while I was reading the book.

meemjar at 5:59PM, Nov. 21, 2014

Sometimes faithful adaptations don't always work. SPEED RACER with Emil Hirsch and John Goodman was an example of a slavishly faithful adaptation of the Anime and it did poorly at the box office. Whereas The Lord of the Rings is actually a very pared-down adaptation of the books meaning what we got was the barest essentials. Because if they adapted the books page-by-page they would have gotten three movies that would have lasted eight hours each(!) and would have put people to sleep. So Peter Jackson just left out all the little side stories and side adventures that were good reading but would have slowed the movies down needlessly.

ayesinback at 4:13PM, Nov. 21, 2014

My vote for poor adaptation goes to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining". It seemed like a chocolate and peanut butter wedding: solid horror story, amazing director; and the film was a BIG disappointment. Thank heavens, Jack was not a dull boy. On the excellent side, I think BBC's update of Sherlock is, in a word, brilliant.

HippieVan at 3:24PM, Nov. 21, 2014

I forgot to say in my earlier comment that I actually really like the film version of Hitchhiker's Guide. It's one of those movies where I didn't know people didn't like it until I saw review years later.

Abt_Nihil at 12:50PM, Nov. 21, 2014

I like Tarkovsky's Solaris a lot. Apparently, Stanislav Lem, the author of the book, wasn't pleased with the movie at all. But I haven't read the book and am really not interested in reading it... not that I have anything against Lem (on the contrary), but I very much believe it's Tarkovsky's style and narrative which made me like the movie so much.

Gunwallace at 11:10AM, Nov. 21, 2014

I have a soft spot for Ghost World, which I thought was better than the comic (which will upset the purists). The Godfather book reads more like a potboiler than the serious and wonderful film it was turned into, just avoid the third movie. Lolita's an interesting adaptation (the Kubrick version, not any other) which changes the country, setting and time yet retains the essence of the story very well. The Bond movies, which are always responding to the changing times in their many flavours of adaptation. And all those Merchant-Ivory films, like Room with a View, were wonderful filmic versions of epic books.


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