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Movie Adaptations: Why They Succeed Or Fail & The Direction They're Headed

July 15th, 2008 8:46am EDT favorite Add to My News
A History of ViolenceJaws. Ghost World. Eyes Wide Shut. A History of Violence. Road to Perdition. The Crow. Planet of the Apes. What do these seven movies have in common? It's a lesser known fact, in some cases more than others, but none of these movies were movies first. These, as with many other films, were adapted to the screen from other media.

Film adaptations have been made since the early days of cinema, but the last decade or so has seen a definite increase in their popularity, with the growing success and popularity of comic book adaptations to the ever quickening transition of best selling novels from the book shelf at Borders to the silver screen.

Unfortunately, in too many cases a film adaptation can be done poorly, leaving audiences puzzled as to why Hollywood felt the need to trample all over someone else's beloved story. However there's no denying the appeal behind adaptations, nor the fact that when they're done right they can yield some entertaining, memorable, and lucrative artistic achievements. The benefit of any adaptation, especially adaptations of popular works, is that they already have a foundation of fans. This can also be a pitfall though as expectations for a film adaptation can run very high, setting a movie up for huge success if it delivers and massive failure if it doesn't. Just look at the Razzie worthy The Da Vinci Code, slammed by critics almost across the board. Still, despite that fact it was the second highest grossing movie worldwide of 2006, a feat that surely would not have been accomplished were it not for the buzz attached to the film before its release due to Dan Brown's book of the same name.

The Da Vinci Code



Sometimes the movie overshadows the popularity of the book it's adapted from, as with "Jaws," which can be either a merit of the film or a flaw of the book (in the case of "Jaws," it's a combination of both: an excellently crafted movie adapted from a very average book.) When this happens it's a beautiful thing, but most often a successful adaptation mirrors and builds upon the success of the adapted material, as with The Lord of the Rings: a very popular fantasy epic turned into a hugely successful film trilogy. And no matter what the purists might say about the intimacy of one text and one person's imagination, one thing that can't be argued is that a film adaptation, even for something as widely read as "The Lord of the Rings," reaches so many more people than a book in our age, and consequently can incite people to go read as well.

The Lord of the Rings



The general rule is that a film adaptation is most successful when it's most faithful to the original source, be it a novel, comic book or graphic novel. 300 and Sin City, for instance, were strictly faithful renditions of Frank Miller graphic novels. What made these movies appealing is their innovation, fresh visuals and intriguing storylines that, because the directors chose to be so faithful to the original works, weren't butchered by the Hollywood machine. Novelists, and particularly graphic novelists with their mass but limited readership (the most popular graphic novel of 2007, "Naruto," sold only 80,000 copies) have a lot more creative license and can take greater risks with their writing than moviemakers, who are often slaves to formula and commercial interests. An adaptation that is well directed and attempts to be true to the spirit of the source will capture that sense of originality, daring and beauty that comes through in the work of writers who create their art as a complete and true vision.

300



This, however, is as good as it gets. The components of a good novel are not the same as those of a good film. A writer's command of language cannot be faithfully reproduced as images on a screen and dialog. What can be reproduced is the spirit of the work, the story, and characters. When these things are spot on, more often than not it'll make for a good film. When the moviemakers stray too far from the spirit of the source, as with the 1995 adaptation The Scarlet Letter, among many others, it will usually result in a bad adaptation. Of course an adaptation can fail for several reasons, as many reasons as any movie can bomb. Additionally, some things simply can't be adapted. Many modern novels and short stories in particular where the internal action of the characters can't be replicated in film (today's audiences are less tolerable of a narrative presence in film, a la Blade Runner).

This is one of the reasons why graphic novels have become particularly attractive lately; they have such great potential to be freely and easily adapted given the nature of the media: text, images, compelling characters, settings and original storylines. "300" paved the way, and with some graphic novel adaptations showing success now and several others on the way this seems to be a trend that Hollywood's going to ride all the way. Disney's taking it one step farther with their announcement of their recently established publisher Kingdom Comics, headed by Ahmet Zappa, which will have the specific goal of creating new graphic novels that will be the basis for films - a bold endeavor that may yield mixed results. On the one hand it'll give Disney a fresh corner on the market that other studios have snatched up. On the other hand it's an attempt to invert a process that gets its magic not from the clumsy hand of Hollywood, but from the imaginations and autonomy of the writers who create the original stories, and the interpretations of, thoughts on and attention paid to those works by the movie makers who bring those visions to the screen.

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-Graphic Novels We'd Like To See As Films


Mikal McLendon
Story by Mikal McLendon
Starpulse contributing writer


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