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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Show Me The Money: Adaptation

I've always been interested in adapting a novel for the screen, but am constantly frustrated by movie-goers' moan: "It's not as good as the book!"

Argh! A movie is not a book and a book is not a movie. Durr. Everyone knows the difference - you'd have to be half mad, surely, to think a visual medium and a psychological medium are one and the same? However, yet again and again you hear people say "Well that wasn't in the book", "They changed this or that or the other" or my absolute pet-hate, "It's just not the same, the atmosphere's changed"!!!!

It seems, to be deemed "successful", an adaptation must follow the same events as the book these days - yet we've seen again and again that these so-called "transpositional" adaptations are not the best kind of movie. Take Harry Potter for example. I'm not a fan of the books, they're too reminiscent of "The Worst Witch" for me as an eighties' kid, however, hats off to JK Rowling: she's got her market well and truly pinned down and movies of her books was the next logical step. However, the pace of the movies are long and arduous, the dialogue highly expositional with Deus Ex Machinas all over the place and nearly every single one finishes at the end of term Mallory-Towers-style. Yuk! For me, it's the ultimate screenwriting nightmare.

There are two other kinds of adaptation that are largely ignored by screenwriters at present in favour of the "transpositional" style and these are the "Commentary" adaptation (where the story is taken from the book, but a "new slant" is spun on it, so new audiences of a different generation and/or original readers might enjoy a different interpretation) and the the hardly-ever-seen "Analogical" adaptation, where only the "seed of the story" is taken - its inner theme and meaning/essence, so that entire characters, scenes, events etc can be rewritten or even dispensed with altogether.

Both involve risks (will an audience like it?), so of course there is no wonder - most movies after all are adaptations; why risk money on an original screenplay when you have a "trial run" as a novel first? (That's just my own twisted and cynical view, but I have no doubt it's true. So there.)

Audience goers are not passive; anyone who says the only choice cinema-goers have is buying a ticket or not is mental in my book - not least because males aged 15-25 years are still the main target audience for theatres. What about the women, the children? I've lost count of the number of children's movies I've HAD to take my children to because I've promised - and then spent two hours biting the back of my hand to suppress a scream (Harry Potter a case in point). As well as this "rabbit in the headlights" approach on whether you're a good parent or not due to your ability to not die whilst watching such drivel, market research in the form of past DVD and video rentals, novels bought, web forums and sites visited, movie books like Halliwell's film guide consulted, even children's games seen or people overheard talking in the street by potential and established screenwriters all have a part to play in whether a movie is written, optioned and/or sold.

So... If I obtained the rights to a novel for its adaptation, or was commissioned to write one on behalf of a production company, would I stick to my guns and say "Well, ONLY if it's a commentary or analogical adaptation, give me some artistic license, please".

Yeah, right - I'd probably be shown the door.

I think it would be more a case of "Show Me The Money", Jerry Maguire style. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Works for JK Rowling ; )

What's YOUR favourite adaptation and why?


Anonymous said...

I am adapting a famous piece of 1800s era literature from one of the classic authors in the public domain, doing the modernixation thing

Lucy said...

Sounds intriguing MQ, but is it a commentary or analogical adaptation???

Good Dog said...

Read the first couple Harry Potter books, eventually saw the first couple movies. The pace was so uniform I'm surprised they didn't use a turning page for transitional wipes. Not great. But them I'm not some mewling sprog.

Favourite adaptations... Well, there's a few.

Love was Dick Lester did with Dumas' The Three Musketeers in the mid-1970s. The humour had just the right touch - adaptation by George MacDonald Fraser helped - and making two films out of the novel meant the text didn't have to be gutted with a chainsaw.

Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson's adaptation of Ellroy's LA Confidential is an absolute masterpiece when it comes to keeping the main thread of the character's stories and shaving off some of the novel's subplots as well as substantially altering the novel's 'third act'.

All time favourite: Michael Mann's version of F. Paul Wilson's The Keep.

Ditches the hokey vampire crap and borrows heavily on not just the styling but, more importantly, the themes from the German Expressionist Film movement. (Instead of a vamp the creature unleashed feeds of the twisted psyches of the SS officers and Wehrmacht soldiers garrisoned there).

Of course the fans of the book hated it, the public didn't get it (moronic rabble) and the film virtually sank without trace.

Goldman, typically, talks about adapting a novel in Which Lie Did I Tell?. It's the chapter on Stephen King's Misery.

BTW, best adpatation of a comic book, ever: Rocketeer.

Lucy said...

Wow, quite a list there, thanks Good Dog.

Totally agree on LA CONFIDENTIAL - as for the rest, haven't seen them I'm afraid! But since they come so highly reccommended from a source so trusted, I'll seek 'em out! ; )

I've always liked Kubrick's version of SHINING - more commentary than analogical, it gives the audience the idea it's more Jack's madness than the hotel when it seemed the other way round in the book in my view.

Always loved Ira Levin and thought they *should* make "good" films. Loved ROSEMARY'S BABY. Hated A KISS BEFORE DYING. Totally destroyed everything about the book whilst trashing everything that could have been good in a film. Totally bizarre in every way.

Always wondered why Clive Barker never had a go at some more of his stories - though HELLRAISER is one of my faves, I always thought IMAJICA and WEAVEWORLD would be fab on screen as long as they were pared down MASSIVELY. Perhaps that's what he DOESN'T want, they are massive tomes - and I do have one screenwriter contact who was commissioned to do Weaveworld but the project never got off the ground. He wouldn't say why...

Lara said...

What I would do to see the adaptations of Weaveworld and Imajica and what a job that would be!

I always thought The Great Gatsby (1974, W:Francis Ford Coppola) was a good adaptation. True to F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel but still had it's 'own voice'.

Good Dog said...

Ah The Shining. Really creeps me out, which is a good thing. Love the fact that the mundane is made so utterly scary. (Can’t stand the rancid horror flicks that have useless twonks fannying about in some remote part of nowhere getting picked off one by one).

Didn’t mention it because I hadn’t read the source material. Only come into contact with one Stephen King book - Salem’s Lot and that was quite enough.

Of course if you’re talking about books adapted into films you have to mention the late great Stanley K.

Peter Bryant’s Two Hours to Doom turned into Dr Strangelove – which certainly was a departure – Nabakov’s Lolita, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Thackery’s Barry Lyndon, Gustav Hasford’s The Short Timers turned into Full Metal Jacket and Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle adapted into Eyes Wide Shut.

Full Metal Jacket worked better transferred to a devastated urban environment rather than finish up in the jungle as it does on the page. (And for all the wieners who bleat about how they didn’t “get” Eyes Wide Shut, the book’s title translates as Dream Story. Do you get it now?

...And relax. ;-)

Of course adaptations of short stories work a lot better. Rather than have to hack and slash the existing narrative down to a manageable size, with a short story it can be used as a starting point and expanded upon, fleshing the characters and story out. Which brings us to...

John Huston’s excellent version of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, King’s The Shawshank Redemption and Conrad’s The Duellists. And of course 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s story The Sentinel. Yay, back to SK again!

Of course there’s also Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which became the over-rated and overblown Apocalypse Now. Both of which could have been shorter. Oooh, controversial. ;-)

Oh, and two other books that made great adaptations – Jaws, which cut away all the melodramatic soap-opera subplots and cut to the meat of the story. And Mingella’s remarkable adaptation of Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

Time for a lie down in a dark room.

But before I go...

Was Weaveworld the one Frank Marshall was going to turn into an animated feature? Or am I getting my Barker books mixed up?

Lucy said...

Too true Lara - that's what it should be about; not selling the book out, but having its "own voice", defo.

GD - I believe that was the one my contact was working on, yes. But i could be wrong.