There are no original ideas. Everything’s based on a book. Oh how the populace moans. We demand that Hollywood be the center of all creative genius when in reality they’re predominately effective adapters of other people’s writing. Writing that is probably based on someone else’s story or some series of historical events. If it bothers you that there are no original ideas in Hollywood, you’re probably going to contend with many a sullen and grumpy weekend because there are no original ideas. There’s nothing new under the sun. Story expresses the human experience, which hasn’t changed that much. We’re still born, live, and then die. What’s fascinating is how you tell the story, how it’s presented, how it’s interpreted. New is simply a way of adding to or building upon something else. Of course, what you add is probably just a rehash of a previous idea. Everyone, not just some, stand on the shoulders of other giants.
Alright, enough philosophizing, I’ve probably lost half–if not all–my readership, so for the loyal few who’ve dared to push beyond the first paragraph, I reward you with whining. Adaptations are hard to do, and a poor adaptation can be beyond frustrating. Why oh why does Moaning Myrtle get all seductive on Harry Potter in The Goblet of Fire? Why, Mike Newell, huh, tell me, why? It’s cool that the Elves fight at Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but that never happened in the book, and why not end with Shelob killing Frodo? That’s an awesome ending!
Should I continue? Yes, I should. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen–the whole film. Or, how about taking all the heart out of E.B White’s writing–see, or don’t, Stuart Little and the 2006 adaptation of Charlotte’s Web. Apparently, someone forgot that The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was funny. Or how about the decision to end The Golden Compass on a shot of an airship–really not the monumental cliffhanger of the book.
And Prince Caspian, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:
1. Eddie Izzard as Reepicheep.
2. Bad fight scenes stolen from The Lord of the Rings. (If you’re going to screw up an adaptation, at least adapt the right book so it seems like you tried.)
3. Prince Caspian and Susan making googly eyes and kissing, and bad pop music [insert expletives].
4. The stupid water nymph/Poseidon at the end.
5. The White Witch again. Did Tilda Swinton have a two movie contract and figure she’d bang the second one out?
6. Adding a whole castle “fight.”
Okay, I’m done. There are more, I’m sure–in fact, why don’t you complain about them in the comments section. It’s good to get our grievances out ther–that’s what the Internet’s for, you know.
In the end, we all know the book is better than the movie, with a few exceptions, so why even make the movie? Well, because they can, and sometimes it turns out good and actually helps the book make more money. Although, we do have to contend with lame new book covers with Ben Affleck or Will Smith’s visage plastered over it. I sound like a whiner, and it’s therapeutic to write some of this down, but a while ago I had to stop expecting things from adaptations in film. Otherwise, I would leave the theater each time sulking and kicking up invisible dust in protest at the villainous harm done to my beloved source material. Since you’ve read this far, I feel confident in giving you advice. You have to judge the two separately and not demand certain things be made a certain way. You’ll hate every adaptation if you do. Let it go. Let all the pain done by Akiva Goldsman, Matthew Vaughn, and Stanley Kubrick, the serial adapter, go. Forgive them.
Good, now that we’re in the right state of mind, I’m going to start presenting a more in-depth look at the different ways we adapt various things. I’ll look at loose adaptations that take characters and concepts only; straight adaptations that change nothing; the basic or common adaptation; adaptations of classic works; reworkings or modernizations of classics; remakes of older films; song adaptations; theme park ride adaptations; and the unique, like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. I won’t be looking at movies that are purely based on historical documents. For this series I’m simply exploring how someone takes one person’s interpretation or presentation of a story and makes it their own. For each article, I’m simply going to take a category (e.g., the classic adaption) and discuss it in the context of both a well-done example and a failed example (e.g., Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings vs. Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings).
Up first: the loose adaptation. (Of course, you’ll have to wait a week, unless you’re reading this after the fact, in which case, click away.)