So: remakes and adaptations

They’ve been on my mind recently. Everyone’s coming to the realization the Watchmen movie is actually coming out; the gears for The Spirit‘s media blitz have begun churning in earnest; the latest Star Trek film might count depending on how you look at it; and…I guess there’s that Chun-Li movie.

Anyway, it’s not like this is a new phenomenon. Old timey Hollywood would make the same film three separate times in the space of a decade. Shakespeare was never above stealing other people’s stories and based Romeo and Juliet off a poem by Arthur Brooke. Which was based on a poem by Pierre Boaistuau. Which was based on a story by Matteo Bandello. Which was based on a story by Luigi da Porto. Which was based on a story by Masuccio Salernitano.

Still, nothing gets the blood of fans boiling quite like the idea of their favorite intellectual property being thrown to the insatiable wolves of Hollywood. And it’s always Hollywood. No one ever gets upset that their favorite radio play is going to be molested by the New York suits at the publishing companies by making it into a novel. Novelizations, licensed games, and theater adaptations based on preexisting stories never quite coax the same kind of ire film adaptations do. It’s an unconscious affirmation of the idea that movies occupy the top spot in the media hierarchy. Turn The Karate Kid into a musical? That’s cute. Harmless. Produce a remake? KEEP YOUR GODDAMN HANDS OFF MY CHILDHOOD!

It’s hard to articulate exactly why people care so much that a toy line they played with as kids is being turned into a summer blockbuster. Okay, sure, the detailed, rich narrative of your favorite graphic novel is going to be bastardized all to hell by some hack with an inflated shooting budget. So? Is this a problem? The studios aren’t going to knock down your door and confiscate your book. You can still read it. Trust me. Hey Max Payne fans, your series was turned into a crappy movie starring Mark Wahlberg. That’s too bad. But I can sympathize; the exact same thing happened to my favorite movie. And you know what? I don’t care. Never have. Don’t plan to.

Okay, so maybe more people will know about a story through the movie version. Once again, what’s the problem? If you’re arguing the merits of a piece of art and someone can’t separate it from the film adaptation then they’re not worth winning over anyway. There’s a slim, non-zero chance the Watchmen movie’s quality will approach that of the comic. There’s a larger chance it will blow chunks. But does that matter? The comic’s still right there for everyone to read, appreciate, and debate. Then we get to say “The book was better,” which is really all we want anyway, isn’t it?

16 thoughts on “So: remakes and adaptations

  1. I’ve thought about this as well – why do people have violent reactions to adaptations of a work they love? If it’s bad, it doesn’t retroactively erase the existence of the original.

    For movie adaptations of works from other mediums, I think it’s largely a result of how visceral movies are. You’re watching and hearing it happen, so there’s a sense of reality to it. Something you love has been made REAL, and you want it to be as you know it. But it’s still an irrational reaction.

    The other dimension is disappointment. I like the Harry Potter movies, but some of my favorite scenes in the books played out differently enough in film that what I loved about them was lost. The movies aren’t bad, but I was disappointed I didn’t see what I wanted to see: my imagination on screen. Which is an unrealistic expectation.

    For adaptations and remakes, I think it’s important to appreciate them as works unto themselves. Slavish adherence to the original may not work in the new medium, and the creators of the adaptation would probably be bored by it. It’s valid if they want to interpret the original in a different way. We may not like the result, but it’s artistically valid.

  2. The resistance is because Hollywood is so bad at adapting things. I don’t think most people hate adaptations in concept, but the fact is that everyone would like to see a thoughtfully made adaptation that gets to the heart of the source material, which the film industry is largely incapable of accomplishing. It’s not that adaptations are inherently bad, but bad adaptations are what we’re almost invariably given.

  3. If these posts get any more highbrow, they’re going to need academic citations (that’s a compliment).

  4. I just tend to think of a girl I worked with once who went “Oh that Will Smith movie right?” when I, Robot was brought up.

    My main beef is that the new adaptions and remakes are all that most people know, or care to know about. Looking up old-school Joker versus Heath Ledger movie Joker can be a right pain, for instance. More and more folks can’t be bothered to check out the source or original versions, and are content with whatever new shiny thing is fed to them.

    I may just be in a bad mood at the moment because I saw a trailer the other day for a remake of ‘Escape To Witch Mountain’ that was super-duper Serious Business action and drama and more action that starred The Rock. Urk.

  5. I’m okay with only getting one Lord of the Rings for nine Max Paynes. (I loved the LotR movies; others didn’t and I recognize that’s a topic unto itself.) Mainly because I usually find out something is bad before I subject myself to it.

    (Bonus analogy: 1 The Departed / 9 Bangkok Dangerous)

  6. Adaptation decay is far below “casting cult-favorite actors in total garbage” in my list of concerns- I know John Turturro and Dominic West needs ta get paid, but seeing Barton Fink/The Jesus in Transformers and McNulty in 300 was a far bigger travesty than adapting those sources for Hollywood blockbusters in the first place.

  7. My favorite moment in adaptation history would have to be Tank Girl, as the lousiness of the movie lead to an entire plotline (sorta) for one of the Tank Girl comics.

    While I agree that the movie should be criticized on its own merits (not criticized for how closely it adheres to the source), it does seem that filmmakers really struggle with the problem of authenticity, especially with video game adaptation. I mean, how do you properly capture “goomba-ness” on-screen?

  8. Movies supplant all other media. When I have to defend my appreciation for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic the majority of people only familiar with the film, it upsets me probably only a little more than most people who’ve read LOTR get when I stare at them blank-faced at the mention of Tom Bombadil. For better or for worse, the movie becomes the public face of the story. It’s damaging to the reputation of the brand and reflects poorly upon everyone involved, creators and fans alike.

    That said, I’m resigned to having to explain why Sandman killed Uncle Ben to family members. Though it’s amusing to me that my ex-roommate got most of her Spidey-lore from the 90s cartoon, so she wanted to know when Hydro-man was going to turn Mary Jane into a water-clone. I actually had to look that up when she asked.

  9. McNulty is also in the crappy-looking new Punisher movie. What the hell, Hollywood? Does starring in The Best TV Show Ever count for nothing?

  10. @ carpboy:

    That’s a natural attitude, but I don’t think we have to think of media series like baseball players where their average sinks after a bad performance. If a film adaptation of a book is bad, I don’t think it reflects poorly on the author. If anything, it shows how he or she was able to get more out of the same premise.
    As far as a movie becoming a public face for a franchise, it’s true, but I don’t think fans should let that get to them. It might be a sore spot for comics fans especially, who are used to the masses looking down on their medium of choice, but you can’t worry too much about what other people think. If people can’t appreciate something on its own merits, it’s their loss. They probably wouldn’t have looked into the source material anyway.

  11. Wrong, sir! Poor movie adaptations of, say, my favorite comic, can give the comic a bad name. There IS reason for fans to be concerned, and that’s the reputation of their favorite [whatever]. As an Alan Moore fan, I would be concerned about movie adaptations, especially when so many crappy ones have been made (see: From Hell, LXG, V for Vendetta, probably Watchmen. on second thought, don’t ‘see’ them) So many of the same cases could be made – at the time of Daredevil’s release, Bendis was having a pretty great run (well, for Bendis), but how many people decided to overlook the comic because of the Ben Affleck trash?

  12. @J. Driggs

    I can absolutely appreciate your stance on this, because really — it’s just entertainment. But what you’re discussing encompasses a lot more than can be handled intellectually. Pop culture is one of the foundations for interaction in modern society. Thanks to social networking sites, I can choose who to pay attention to based on their tastes in movies, music, etc without ever talking to the person directly. So our interaction is dependent upon the reputation of the things we enjoy.

    “Who cares what other people think” (not your words) is a great sentiment and it’s applicable in most situations, but it’s a lonely life.

    As for why this seems to be most prevalent in comics, I think that’s from comics only recently getting film interpretations that aren’t rooted in camp or old movie serials. Also, the (mis?)conception that comics would appear to be the easiest to adapt. It’s already a storyboard! Perfect source material! How could they possibly mess it up?

    Also, you know, nerds.

  13. I think some of you have an irrational concern for the “reputation” of something that you like.

    You’re not what you like. Your self-identity should be separate from works of fiction that you enjoy.

  14. I’ve always had that trouble separating a film version from a book (or game, or whatever). I’m not sure why. I just keep trying to reconcile the two, and it ruins my enjoyment of one if the other is bad.

    Then again, this could also be a symptom of me taking entertainment WAY too seriously.

  15. I just wanted to chime in to say that I would not be reading Watchmen (which I am loving) if it wasn’t for the movie. The trailers peaked my interest, so I decided to read the book. Even if the movie turns out to be utter garbage I am happy that it introduced me (and my wife) to such an awesome comic.

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