Amicable Adaptation?

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What do Superman, James Bond, The Avengers, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, The Great Gatsby and Sherlock Holmes all have in common? They’re all interesting? No, I daresay one man’s bread is another man’s poison and my girlfriend for one rather watch The Great Gatsby than Superman (or should we call him the Man of Steel?). The one thing all these popular titles all have in common is that they’ve all at on point or another or several times in history, been subject to that dreaded (or blessed) ‘A’ word-adaptation.

So before we begin to have a look at how artists with vision took a work of art and made it something more (or vice versa) let’s have a look at what adaptation actually is.

Adaptation is taking a work of art from one medium to another and ending up with a completely new work of art that gives a nod to its former or simply tries it’s best to mirror it. Harrison Demchick author of The Listeners says “Adaptation isn’t copying it’s an art in and of itself”. On online encyclopaedia describes the process of adaptation quite aptly as a composition that has been recast into a new form.

That last definition of adaptation is where fans of the sacred source material get very touchy feely over what is left in, what is left out and what is completely transformed. There are many transitions of adaptions. There is book to film (The Great Gatsby, Man Of Steel), film to book (movie accompanying books mostly), play to film(Phantom of The Opera, Les Miserables), and almost never a film to musical (but hey they have Spiderman on Broadway don’t they? And did someone say ‘The Bodyguard’?).

So why the need for adaptation anyway. What’s that you say? Apart from making money? Fans. Yes those faithful fans are a vicious clamouring lot who are as insatiable as the Cracken from Clash Of The Titans (another adaptation albeit one that tried imitating its more respected and aged senior of the same title but with Ray Harry Hausen at the helm of special effects. Weird how that works isn’t it? A twenty something year old film manages to still seem better than its ‘reboot’.

I remember as a boy when I watched Clash Of The Titans and was impressed despite the cartoonish special effects. The story and how it was told, the mythology and the score of music tied in well to deliver me an unforgettable experience. Fast-forward to handsome and older me and Clash Of The Titans comes out and I’m getting goosebumps watching the trailer…only to be disappointed. As a screen writer myself I couldn’t help but feel it was slow a day at the office for the screen writers who came up with the script. The sound track was there for the sake of it, it never slotted into the scenes and the acting was…bog standard. Maybe I’m being mean.

Clash Of The Titans made a lot of money despite being boring sadly. So how did this happen? Well it’s simple. I remember my first play when I wrote it. I had a beautiful picture in mind of how it would appear on stage, it would be fantastic. The director told me my job was over now and I should let her ‘take it from here’. Well I allowed her to and she turned my serious yet reflective play into exaggerated farce. It became an oxymoron. I remember being highly pissed off but happy I was getting a play staged.

Fast forward two years and I was at university studying screen writing as a module when my beloved lecturer tells us after we’d read a ‘classic’ Roald Dahl (Mr Hoddy) story to adapt it and ‘do with it what we will’. Well I turned what was a quiet story about a man coming with a good fat lie to tell his father-in-law-to-be into a Mission Impossible type action packed thrill ride…whilst still managing to keep the baseline of Roald Dahl’s story.

Needless to say my screen writing lecturer passed me with flying colours…after failing that particular piece of work. It needed to be ‘toned down’. Apparently I’m a bit Zack Snyder on acid. It was then I realised just how easy it was to destroy a piece of heritage observed and beloved by many. All it really took was screen writers who didn’t care as long as they were getting paid (or who think they are genius) and a director who has absolutely no vision or respect for source material.

Movie goers and fan-boys alike also need to appreciate a good reboot when they see one. No it isn’t like the book you twizzler because the form and medium is different. It’s like cooking a whole chicken in the microwave and expecting it to be the same as the one done in an oven. There will be differences. If you want character development television series are perfect but movies have 2-3 hour slots usually, in which to wow you and they have to make it work. Adaptation also happens to bring a character or series into the 21st century. The long and short of it is that there will never be an amicable adaptation because no one is ever 100% happy with the finished article – no one I tell you. And in many ways maybe that’s what Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood (the Nigerian equivalent of the first two) and (all the other forests out there who make films) deserve. It’s a reminder that you either make the best film you can or don’t bother.