By Nathanael Griffis
I love Singin’ in the Rain and little else needs to be said, about anything. This masterpiece of film, not just musicals, revolutionized how dance, music, and film coalesce, but it was adapted from a single song. Now, that makes sense with a musical, but if you hear the story, it simply shouldn’t be so successful. Gene Kelly thought the song, written by Arthur Freed and composed by Nacio Herb Brown in 1929 (the original rights of the song are actually unclear, but these two men have the clearest claim), would make for a good dance routine. He got in touch with MGM and started writing songs. With no plot to speak of, but a whole slew of songs, they started production. Somehow, sheer talent and enjoyment with the craft of filmmaking and dancing gave us the best musical ever, a beautiful romance, and a striking critique of the changing landscape of film. This is, of course, my opinion, but it’s right and the American Film Institute agrees as it’s number five on their top 100 movies of all time, so I win.
The thing is that this will probably never happen again, and no one should try to make a film that way, but they have, as Staying Alive (the sequel to the decent Saturday Night Fever) proves, and it is awful. Let’s forget it ever happened. We can’t really count Sweet Home Alabama since it doesn’t fully utilize the song or use it at all really except in the trailer. Songs might make good material for adaptations for musicals, but Hollywood is willing to go stranger. They’ll adapt, toys, theme park rides, video games, and restaurants.
The main issue is that frequently, and let’s use toys as an example, the studio is only concerned with money. So, in the case of toys, it’s mostly just a chance to reinvigorate merchandising, hence why they have no problem hiring Michael Bay. Now, let me say this–he’s made the best toy adaptation yet in the first Transformers, although that his competition is G.I Joe at this point isn’t saying much. Does Hasbro care? Nope, they made money, because I was stupid and wanted to see things explode, and now kids think it’s cool and will buy toys. Maybe the toys are cool, so that’s a good thing, right? No, because it encourages films like the upcoming Battleship, and the Stretch Armstrong project which keeps trying to get off the ground. Thankfully the Ouija board movie was scrapped, but Monopoly still looms out there. If you want a really strange trip into this category, go check out the 1987 film The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, which was based on a satirical set of trading cards that played off the popularity of the Cabbage Patch Kids. The concept of the Garbage Pail Kids is as a funny collectors item–they’re worth a lot now actually–but as a film, it’s basically meant to generate press for the cards and the disturbing toys.
Now, sometimes a film like Clue comes along and uses the toy concept to good effect, and honestly I haven’t lost all hope for Monopoly, because a story about money-grubbing companies snatching everything up could work, but doubtful. Still, who’d have ever thought that Hollywood would try to adapt animatronic rides into film? Of course our mind thinks of Pirates of the Caribbean, but you have to go back further to a project that was initially in Gore Verbinski’s hands, ironically. Mission: Space at EPCOT, which might as well be called Mission to Mars, is about, you guessed it, a mission to mars. Gore Verbinski thought this ride made a simple premise for a sci-fi thriller. He rounded up Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, and Don Cheadle, the budget inflated, and Brian De Palma out of nowhere became interested, and poor Gore Verbinski was ousted (then proceeded in an act of transference to inflict The Mexican upon the viewing public).
Of course Verbinski would later go onto direct the highly successful Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which is a wonderful pirate adventure, that adapts the ride by basically using the song and a dog with a key. And that should have been the blueprint for how to adapt rides, make a fun adventure or comedy that uses the title. We were given hope. Disney responded by gifting us with The Country Bears and digging the knife deeper with the Pirates sequels and The Haunted Mansion.
If it seems like they don’t care about the quality of the film they make, it’s because they don’t. It is all about merchandising. Thankfully, ride adaptations have all but been abandoned, because only Pirates was successful. The studio thought to themselves that people will see it because it has an audience, which is something they’ve been doing with video games for awhile now. Tron is almost the first video game adaptation, and in some ways it might be the best, but it’s not based on an actual game. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, in my opinion, is the best, but it’s also not based on any particular video game. If you go by Rotten Tomatoes, the best is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Why are video game movies so atrocious? Because they don’t give a crap about story. It is about money, and it’s our fault.
I’m playing Resident Evil and think, hey, this could make a good movie. Somehow I forget the ridiculous plot, awful dialogue, and repetitive nature of gaming. Gaming is an interactive experience. Stories are getting better (see Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, BioShock, and Mass Effect, and these games may have films upcoming) but if we have to pander to fans of the game the film will fall flat. Fans want these movies done right, or so we claim, but I still saw Max Payne. Why? Because I’m stupid and I wanted to see what they would do with it. I had no expectations it would be good, but I still fed them my money, and they responded with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. As proof that it’s all about money, instead of finding a Persian actor, Disney went with Jake Gyllenhaal, because he’s a more recognizable face, plain and simple. He can be marketed. Saïd Taghmaoui, Amr Waked, and Alexander Siddig cannot (and also Omar Sharif is too old).
Hollywood will do anything if they think they can make money on it, even to the point of ripping off E.T. because McDonald’s wants to sell more hamburgers. There’s a simple way to solve this problem: don’t give them your money. Films that are built around merchandizing are going to be bad, because they’re adapting nothing into nothing. There is a rare gem here and there, but overall it’s a dangerous, sad, pathetic road that we as viewers keep getting suckered into.
And so with all my venom exhausted, I have finished my series on adaptations. Maybe not on a positive note, and truthfully, it’s more of a rant than anything else, but this is the Rant Pad, so it makes sense. Over these eight articles I’ve found myself wondering if I can somehow define what is the perfect way to adapt something. The answer is there is no perfect way and there are no rules. It seems to have more to do with the intentions and the talent surrounding an adaptation. If the film is made simply because there is a rabid fan base that wants it, quality will probably falter. It takes, like with any film, an entire group around it developing and creating a work of excellence. If I can leave you with one piece of advice, don’t see a film simply because you liked the original production (lest The Last Airbender be repeated). Demand something more of your adaptations. Money drives the buisness, so don’t give them your money unless they earn it.