If we look at the slew of blockbusters that have come out in the last decade we can see that many of them are adaptations. Though, this is nothing new. A quick search on Google will show that adaptations have been an integral part of cinema, well before the Katniss’ and Muad’Dib’s of recent films. Wonderful examples of this are Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 masterpiece, Greed, which was based upon the 1899 Frank Norris novel, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco and the 1912 adaptation of The Last of The Mohicans, starring James Cruze.
Why then, after such a long history of adaptation from the literary medium to film, is there so much contention between the people who love these things?
In my house, the line is clearly divided between these two camps. My wife is frequently disappointed that films generally incorporate so few of the details that she feels are vital to the story in the books, while I feel that it is impractical to worry about minor details when it’s more important to focus on moving the plot along with fluidity and trying to maintain the spirit of the source material. After all, unlike with a book, you only get your audience for three hours at best.
I think, as they say, the devil is in the details. It’s not a matter of who is right or wrong. It is a matter of depicting these beloved and powerfully moving stories. After all, it’s the tale itself that we are all interested in. I have found myself to be in the minority when discussing a recent adaptation and that nature of its ending. If any of you who are reading this have somehow managed to not see 2013’s Man of Steel, read no further.
I’m about to spoil something for you.
Superman kills Zod.
Famed comic book writer Mark Waid was livid about this ending. He posted a thorough and intense review of the film to his blog. And while many people feel that he has some right to complain about this decision (Waid has a great history writing some outstanding Superman comics,) he still manages to get a bit off track in the end. Man of Steel was a grand “first contact” film in which the world’s first superhero must make an unthinkable sacrifice to safe both the earth as we know it and the human race. Through this action Superman becomes an approachable character that we can relate to, and thus is able to grow into a role model who will show humanity how to try to be better than their baser elements, no matter where we come from or what race we might be.
Fans of many book series, television programs, and comic books get so hung up on the minutia of a characters makeup that they fail to see that the character reflects who mankind is collectively, so we can share in another human’s experience. It’s how we determine what we think and who we are. Every hero and villain serves as a guide through human experience and has the potential to shed light on what it means to suffer or triumph.
To see the importance of great divergence from an adaptations source material, we simply need to look at Barry Lyndon. Many people consider this to be the greatest film ever made. Yet the film and the novel differ in so many ways, such as tone and comedic overture (or undercurrent in the case of the film). Yet, rarely does one have a negative thing to say about the film in comparison to The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon. It is, clearly, a masterful translation from page to screen is of great importance.
Kubrick does what many cinephiles, film makers and film critics consider a perfect job of turning a novel with a highly subjective method of narration into a film that that takes a hard turn at objective narration. The novel is considered largely a comedy, yet Kubrick manages to turn it into a somewhat tragic tale with an underpinning of his signature satire and thoughtfulness.
While these two examples are very different movies, they both manage to teach us some important lessons.
Firstly, by getting caught up on mundane details such as a characters eye color, or the style of their costumes; we ultimately miss the point of their story which is a journey of growth and emotion. The chance to grow as a person and escape the tedium of our lives is missed. We are only left with undue negative feelings.
Secondly, if a director and his crew are given true freedom with the adaptive process; we could get something really special. We get the chance to experience another person’s perspective on something we already love. Barry Lyndon is a prime example of this. Kubrick’s view of Barry’s tale is darker and much more human than that of its literary counterpart. Yet, it manifests its protagonist in form of the antihero, or even as not a hero or villain at all, but simply a human being. And as any good story lover knows, those are the best heroes and villains.
They’re the best type of character because they are real and reflect who we are back at us like some kind of fantastic mirror.
So if a small detail here or there has to be skipped over, so be it! It is better to focus on getting the message and spirit of that story out into the public so that it can start to have an impact on others and move them towards seeing things from another person’s world view.
When you find yourself on the business end of a rant about a film adaptation of Holes and how Stanley Yelnats is too skinney… Why not try to politely point out to this person the great things Andrew Davis did with the film and that the author of the book is the one who wrote the screenplay? The film was good. It shows us that bibliophiles and cinephiles can be friends. Which is what adaptations really do; they bring people together.
That is the importance of adaptations.