Adaptation


Well, it has been a while since I posted a rant, so here it goes.  It seems lately that more movies seem to be “inspired” by novels/comics than original thought, and that is all well and good.  I admire the desire to bring to life on the screen stories that until know have only existed in the imaginations of their authors and readers, in fact there have been a number of books that I have cherished and would love to see up on the big screen.  My major beef however is that there seems to be no need for a director or screenwriter to use any more of the source material then its title.  I fully understand that when you’re going to do an adaptation that absolute fidelity to a book or graphic novel is impossible.  There are constraints to time and budget that must be considered and the fact that while certain ideas will work well in print they will not translate to the screen.  There is also the fact that when making a movie you will want to appeal to as many people as possible, not just those familiar with the source material and so steps will have to be taken so that someone coming fresh to the movie will be able to enjoy the story without having read the book.  I also get that anyone engaged in any type of creative enterprise will want to add their own interpretation of the work in question so that it is no longer solely the work of the original author but has something of themselves in it.  So I get that the movie is not the novel or comic, I really do, and I go into these films with the idea that I am not going to see a page for page translation of what I have read and loved on the screen.  I do however expect to see an adaptation of the work, and more and more that is not what I am getting.  What I do see is a film that may very well be a good movie in its own rights but that other than the title and a few of the characters has no relation to what it claims to have been inspired by.  I think this is somewhat on the verge of being deliberately deceptive, almost as if they had an idea for a movie, realized it had some connecting plot points to an existing work and so slapped the title of that work onto the project to add the fan base of that work to the potential viewers and just changed enough of their script to make it fit loosely with the “source” book.  Take for recent example the most dreadful adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes”.  I have fallen in love with this character and with Conan Doyle’s writing and when I saw what was done with it I wanted to be physically ill.  There were definitely elements of the characters present, and I will admit that Robert Downy Jr. did give the role his best and I can see he was at least passing familiar with Holmes’ character, but as for the rest it was clearly just made up with no reference to Doyle at all.  I am sorry but Holmes and Watson were not bloody ninjas and while Doyle does indicate that Holmes was a good boxer and fencer they seemed to have missed the whole point that he abhorred physical action and only resorted to it when he could not resolve a situation with his reason.  This could have been an interesting steampunk/Victorian action caper on its own merits but by associating it with such an iconic figure in literature I was expecting something completely different and really felt like I was sold a bill of goods.

I guess what I am trying to say with all of this is that if someone is going to make a movie from a novel or comic or video game, or whatever that they do in fact have some responsibility to both the creators of the work in question and the fans of that work to hold some fidelity to the work itself.  If you just want to make a movie of your own, than do that, but don’t call it something that it is not.  I constantly feel betrayed when I get my hopes up that I am finally going to be seeing something I have longed for only to have those hopes torn to pieces because some hack “re-imagined” the story, leaving nothing at all of what I loved from the source material and giving instead something that was entirely of their own devising.  When it comes to adaptation of a work I do think you have to be in partnership with the original author even if that person is long dead.  You have to think at least somewhat when you are making your movie would the original creator like what they were seeing?  I mean, someone else worked long and hard, struggled to create a vision uniquely their own, to tell a story only they could tell and it is patently unfair that this should be taken and shown to an entirely new generation who might not even have been aware of the original and passed of as the original author’s work.  Let’s even take this from the opposite point of view, let’s say that someone watches the movie having no previous experience with the original work but falls in absolute love with the film and because of this decides they want to know the original and goes out, picks up the novel and is completely disappointed when they find that what they saw on the screen is nothing like what they are reading.  Is this fair to them?  Is it fair to the author?  Could this person have liked the original work if they had come to it on their own but because they came to it with false expectations will never like it now?

I don’t know, maybe I am far to critical or expect too much from film makers.  I have been told many times that “its a movie, not the book” but that argument to me holds no water really as the movie claims, at least in some fashion, to be the book if it is going to use the title and claim to be adapted from it.  When I think of great adaptations I automatically think of Peter Jackson’s work on “Lord of the Rings” and I wonder why more directors seem unwilling to faithfully try and bring a novel to the screen like this.  Jackson did not follow ever single plot point and changed things to suit the medium and flow of the story on screen but even when he did so I felt throughout that here was someone who had a genuine love and respect for the source material and wanted to bring what he had always seen in his mind when reading it to the screen.  I felt that he was doing this both for fans like himself and myself but also so that others could see something that he had treasured so that they might find it and treasure it as well.  I think that is what a good adaptation should be and if things continue as they are in the film industry where there are nearly constant films “inspired” by X source then the minds doing the adapting do have a responsibility to play fair with the source and not just steal a title.  That is just my two cents, take it for whatever it may be worth.

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6 Responses to “Adaptation”

  1. I liked the movie, as you say for its own merit, since I have not as yet read the original story authored by Doyle. I have said as yet, because you have inspired me to give the original a read, and I am expecting great things. Thank you.

    • Well, to be fair, the original Holmes is quite a read, it consists of four novellas and 56 short stories but it is well worth the read. If you really want a good idea though of what the character is truly like, watch a few episodes of the TV show “House” which in my opinion captures far more the spirit of the character despite moving the setting and time. You may not like how “old fashioned” some of the author’s ideas are, but if you allow for him being a man of his times and writing as such his less than PC ideas can be overlooked. I really hope you do enjoy it once you pick it up. 🙂

    • blackwatertown Says:

      So did I – like the movie. It was far better than I expected. A rush.
      True – it didn’t stick to the book, but I can forgive that if the end result is spectacularly impressive – as I think this was. better to make a splash than cravenly follow the author’s intentions and come up with a pale imitation.
      Though I can understand the frustration with a much-loved book not being properly reflected on screen. Pater Jackson’s LoTR is a good example of doing it right. But Sherlock Holmes is so big, and has been so many times, that it can cope with a bit of an off-the-wall version without suffering.

      • but the question remains, why associate it with Sherlock Holmes at all? It would have made a fine movie all on its own without having the duo at its core named Holmes and Watson. I realize that Holmes has seen the stage and screens both big and small with greater or lesser success, but that film had nothing whatsoever to do with Holmes other than the names of the characters. Even the villain was an invention of the screenwriter, so why not just have it be some original crime fighting pair set in Victorian London, or even intimate that these two were Doyle’s inspiration for his fictional pair. If you are going to make a movie about Holmes, make a movie about Holmes, if you want to be completely original then do that but don’t try to pass one thing off as the other. The same could be said of “I Am Legend” or “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, an adaptation so foul the author refused to have his name credited with the end result. When all is said and down, the movie itself had nothing to do with what it professed to, which makes it a failure as far as entries into the Holmes canon are concerned. I stick by my assertion that this was done more to cash in on an existing fan base in addition to what the movie would have generated on concept alone which makes it complete cheapness in my opinion.

  2. There is no better example of this sort of cash grab than the upcoming Akira remake: set in New York, cast of white people, all “American” names, all grown-ups.
    Just a hint, but none of these things is remotely like the original.

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