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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?

Banes at 8:46AM, Nov. 21, 2014

Fantastic post! I'm adapting this post into a screenplay as we speak!

KimLuster at 8:09AM, Nov. 21, 2014

Worst Adaption I know of: World War Z - the book is like a documentary (or a periodical like National Geographic), articles and interviews about different people in various parts of the world, what the experience was like going thru the Zombie Apocalypse; What the post 'Z' world is really like. -- The Movie... Well, it had (super fast) Zombies in it... . One of the (modern) Best: Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. The Book is unflinching, makes you cringe even... I thought there's no way they'll reproduce some of those scenes in the movie (much less with the same impact), but they did... Including handcuffed facedown bed scene...*shivers* They did compact some of it but I thought it overall an excellent adaption!

bravo1102 at 7:32AM, Nov. 21, 2014

Best book adaptation ever is Gone with the Wind. The script is a phenomenal condensation of the book into one of best film narratives ever. And you wonder why it still has the highest gross of any movie in history (adjusted for inflation more people have seen it in it's initial releases than any other movie) If it was made today it would be a trilogy of movies probably. Maybe with all the characters cut from the book but probably not any better.

bravo1102 at 7:27AM, Nov. 21, 2014

The version of Phantom closest to the story is actually the Broadway musical. See also the flawed movie of the musical. I could go into a totally different genre with B'way adaptations of books and movies or even the Broadway Spiderman flop. Consider all the adaptaions of Les Miserables. It's a billion and half page book with tedious pages of endless character description and whole scenes that are obvious padding because the author was paid by the word. How do yo turn that into a movie at three hours let alone a stage musical? Cut, cut, cut. I'm a big fan of War and Peace and have seen most of the adaptations. The most recent European production is an excellent re-imagining of the characters and their relationships providing motivations for the characters missing form the book because Tolstoy just wasn't interested in that. The classic Russian adaptation from the 1960's is huge and sprawling but emotionally empty. The BBC one is small, with fantastic actors including Anthony Hopkins

HippieVan at 5:54AM, Nov. 21, 2014

Super duper thanks to Ozoneocean for doing this guest post! I try not to get too hung up on small differences when my favourite stories are adapted to a new medium, but it does bother me when something loses its "essence" in its reimagining. So for instance, movies that turn campy superheroes into gritty, troubled anti heroes often make me roll my eyes a bit. Sometimes it works, but usually not. The thing that I really hate, though, is when stories have to be toned down for their new audience. This is more the case with older movies, I think. I recently watched the old film version of Phantom of the Opera and I felt like the heart of the story wa missing. They had stripped the Phantom of his mystery and danger (no torture room?!) and taken away the strange kind of love that exists between the phantom and Christine, effectively turning it into a story about a crazy guy who kidnaps a girl for a little bit.

tupapayon at 4:33AM, Nov. 21, 2014

Obviously you can't expect an adaptation to have everything the original has... Battlefield Earth was one of my favorite books, but I didn't expect an adaptation to be as good and complex... I wasn't totally disappointed because I lower my expectation, IMO the movie fell short of the original story. I enjoy watching a movie that stand by itself, rather than trying at all costs to remain totally faithful to the original... I love Lord of the Rings, both the books and the movies... though mr Jackson and I had different visions on what it should look, I liked his version very much... It's a tightrope pleasing the fans of the original work while presenting the new work to a broader audience and getting approval from both... considering that making movies is a little too expensive and that the studios would like to have some profits, decisions aren't easy... but if you think you can do better than them, by all means do...

Peipei at 2:04AM, Nov. 21, 2014

I literally squealed in my seat when I saw Tank Girl in today's news post! :D


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