About Sticking to the Source Material

Let’s be honest, everyone who loves anything does it. The crazed rant about how the adaptation you just saw was terrible. They left so many things out. That includes the best part where a character implodes on themselves. It was totally awesome, so how could it be left out?

It was left out because it didn’t serve the medium. This could be for a huge number of reasons maybe the original book had a complex internal struggle that just becomes a mess when trying to portray it on screen. Or maybe the original movie had a great chase scene with a bunch of nuanced beats and acknowledgements to other parts of the movie that just doesn’t have the same impact in the book.

The thing that needs to be remembered is when there is adaptation made, it is not the original. In some cases, an adaptation far exceeds expectations and adds more to a story than the original. Most of the time, there are a lot of angry fans banging fists against tables and anything in reach. When the person who decides to adapt a work, they do it not replicate the original in a new form, but to bring the story to life in a different way. This means sometimes changing things.

Shit Changes
Get over it. It has happened a million times and it will happen a million more. When you are trying to create something original, it doesn’t always come on the first go. Ideas change, things are redrafted. Slowly they become the original piece most people know. I bet if most people saw the first draft of some of their favorite things they would gag. This happens when things are adapted too. Sure there is a base off which a story is based, but it is not the be all, end all of what you will get in the adaptation. When a book is transformed into a movie, there is a lot of extra fat in a book as far as a movie is concerned. A novel of 360 pages, needs to be transformed into approximately 120 pages of script. It is simply impossible to get it all in there. The actors would bring a lot to the table, but if an event gets cut, its because it didn’t add enough to the story.

One huge example of the adaptation straying from the source material is The Walking Dead. For those of you who don’t know, The Walking Dead started as a comic. In 2010 it aired its first TV episode on AMC. The first episode of the series read almost directly from the comic. In fact, they have the panels animated that you can see line up against the episode. There were little changes, but nothing major. The rest of the series has strayed majorly from the comics. Some beats are exactly the same, other beats use different characters, and there is a lot of new and omitted material. Their reasoning is they want to keep it interesting for the viewing audience. They are able to keep people on the toes.  For a long, every-changing story like The Walking Dead, it works, even if it upsets fans of the comic at times.

Not every adaption is done the best is possibly can. Some things are better as movies, while others may be suited to be a miniseries. Some movies make for poor book adaptations. Or the book adaptation lacks the heart that the film had. there are a hundred different ways that an adaptation can go wrong.

What Makes Adaptations Successful
I fully believe that a successful adaptation comes from one of two places. The first is that the person who created the original is heavily involved. This is the case with The Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman is actively working on the show. Many of the changes in the show are Kirkman’s idea. He has mentioned in interviews that he sees the show as a chance to fix mistakes that he wished he hadn’t done in the comics. We’ll see if he cuts off Rick’s hand, considering he’s regretted that choice. Another great example are the Harry Potter films. J.K. Rowling was involved in the movies. Sure, there were great things left out of the movies. And yes, there were tweaks that didn’t always line up with descriptions from the book. But it was her book and she got to be a part of the adaptation. It benefited the films in the end. I’ll briefly mention George R. R. Martin as well. He’s already told the creators of the television show the ending that he intends, should Martin die, they can finish the show.

The second is that the person adapting the original is extremely, why is this guy so obsessed, devoted to the original. Pretty much, an uber fan. Joss Whedon is an example of this. He loves Marvel. He does. And it shows when you sit down and watch the Avengers. Having someone who loves the material they are working on keeps them focused. There is a nagging gnome in their head that wants to make the adaptation good because they don’t want to disappoint other fans.

Are they any adaptations you love, or hate?

7 thoughts on “About Sticking to the Source Material

  1. Good post.

    What makes an adaptation good or bad can be a very personal thing, so much so that our like or dislike of an adaptation is completely subjective, even if we have very concrete reasons for why we personally like or dislike something.

    “Where the Wild Things Are” bears almost no resemblance to the children’s book, but it’s one of my favorite adaptations because it picks up on some of the book’s extremely subtle notes and cues and turns them into a powerful, disturbing, beautiful story about the turmoil of being a child and growing up. It absolutely nails original story’s themes. I suppose it also didn’t hurt that the book was so short and simple that it demanded expansion and experimentation in order to turn it into a full-length film.

    Coincidentally, I just posted about one of my least favorite adaptations, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” It follows the basic framework of the novel, and it has some brilliant casting (Martin Freeman is perfect), but for someone who has adored the novel since childhood, and appreciated the novel for how different it is from Tolkien’s other Middle-earth writings, and loved that the novel almost completely focuses on Bilbo and Bilbo’s perspective, the movie is a complete miss. I appreciate that it may be a good, fun adventure movie, and that it may work very well for fans of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings,” or for Tolkien fans who just want to see as much Middle-earth on screen as possible, but it’s not a strong adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” I guess my desire to see a particular kind of “Hobbit” movie spoiled my experience of this one.

    And while I greatly appreciate the “some things just don’t translate well to the screen” argument, because it’ so true, I also think it gets used too often as a defense and excuse. Most of the changes made to “The Hobbit” had very little to do with making the story work for the screen.

    Sorry for the long reply.

    • You are absolutely right about the translation argument. It is so easy to latch on to, that it can be bandied about and the real issues are ignored. Yet, there are times that simply don’t translate to other mediums (well).

      I was a fan of The Hobbit, both as a novel, and shockingly as a film. However, from the beginning of the film I noticed how different it was going to be from the film. As an adaptation it strayed greatly from the source material. In some instances, I think it was beneficial. In others, it was detrimental. Namely the heavy focus on Azog, if you were wondering. But if you look at The Hobbit purely from the basis of an adaptation it was horrendous. Still an enjoyable movie, but far astray from the book.

      The Great Gatsby, in my opinion, was a faithful adaptation. Sure, it may not have hit on all the nuances and undertones the novel had, but it wasn’t entirely lacking either. I felt the decadence. I felt the amorality. I felt the stratum between classes. I saw the hope for something more than what is. Could there have been more, yes, but I didn’t feel jipped.

  2. I actually dislike TWD tv series. I didn’t know Kirkman had a part in it, but for me, the tv series sucks (I still watch it though.. I mean, its zombies after all). The comics are way more fast paced with less annoying characters.

    • Yes, Kirkman works on the episodes and he has been the head script writer on a few of them. I like the show because of the emotion it elicits. My heart races and that’s more than I can say about most tv. You are completely right about the likeability of characters. The characters agitate me, except for Daryl.

      The pace is the only thing I have to disagree with. May it was because I came to the comics late. I ready the first 60 issues at once before I was up to date. The comics have always felt painfully slow. In fact, to combat the slow pace, I don’t read the comic or a few months at a time, so I can read them at once.

      • I thought the comics was fast paced in comparison with the series. Something always happens, and more often than not, theres a cliff hanger.

        Maybe because one has to wait a month before getting the next issue, hence it feels slow. But in comparison with a comic issue and a tv episode, I felt like the tv episode was just draggy.

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