Adaptation Doesn’t Kill Movies, Movies Kill Movies

Adaptations are hardly new to Hollywood, and a lot of great stories come from adapting other mediums to the big screen. I would love to see the numbers just to see how many movies are adaptations of novels, comics, shortstories, or tv shows versus original screenplays written specifically to be movies.

But there seems to be a lot of confusion going on about adaptations. Most times, instead of just judging a movie by the movie, there are always people who criticize the film because it was CHANGED from the source material.

Lets take a moment to consider a few things. When something already exists in some medium, whether it be a book, comic, cartoon etc. When they make it into a movie they call it an Adaptation. So lets get real technical

Dictionary.com says:

Adapt:
–verb (used with object)
1. to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly: They adapted themselves to the change quickly. He adapted the novel for movies.
–verb (used without object)
2. to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.: to adapt easily to all circumstances.

Just so we are on the same page.

An Adaption means that things are being changed to suit the new medium. So right off the bat you should anticipate change.

Now before I carry on, if this sounds like I am targeting you then undestand this. I am not. I WAS ONE OF YOU!! I am not writing this in some effort to bash people who form their opinions in this manner, I just wish to share why I feel this is not as big of a deal for me. I used to jump at any change to hang the label of “flaw” on it and then that sign was so glaringly obvious that I failed to see past it.

That being said, I believe there is merit in how some adaptations change too much from the source material and it becomes detrimental to the film. I am not discrediting this, I just feel that some people sabatoge themselves into not enjoying a movie over something they already know is going to happen. They are going to change stuff.

I am reminded of a discussion that John and I had a few months before the release of Transformers. John was all for Transformers and I was groaning and complaining because I had heard that Bumblebee wasn’t going to be a VW Beetle, and that Optimus Prime was going to be a Conventional Rig instead of Cab-Over. UNACCEPTABLE!!! (John and I disagree on more than people think)

But then John shared something with me that gave me pause. Allowed me to rethink my stance. It went something like this:

Ok, What is the original Transformers cartoon about?

A warring alien race of robots bring their battle to earth and befriend some humans. And at its core we have some really cool robots that transform into vehicles and get into fights, right?

How is Bumblebee being a Camero change any of that? As long as they get the essence of the orignal material, I don’t care what colour the robots are or what they transform into. As long as we get big robots fighting and transforming into cars and stuff.

John didn’t say I was wrong to care that Bumblebee wasn’t a VW. But he didn’t want me to ruin the whole experience over it. Relax. View the film as a film. Try to enjoy it. If it still fails to entertain, then it won’t be because I was trying to dislike it. Transformers had its flaws, and it wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed myself.

If you go into a movie EXPECTING to hate it and determined to, no matter how good it is, you will hate it. You are trying to.

But adaptations mean that there will be changes. When attempting to make these changes, the screenwriters and producers will make their very best efforts to make changes for a reason. Believe me, they don’t take something out and giggle to each other over beers how THAT thing will just make the fanboys rabid. Each change is carefully calculated and thought out. Sometimes these changes are required (Bumblebee couldnt be a Beetle because VW wouldnt let them) but I have faith that changes made are done with the best interests at heart.

In X-Men, despite the insane following Gambit had among comic book fans, they chose not to have him as a member of the X-Men as his archetype was too similar to Wolverine (Loner, rebel, mysterious hidden past) and the choice to include Rogue lead them to leave out Kitty Pryde (as a core character). Wolverine and Kitty always had a father figure crush going on, so instead they made Rogue and Logan have this dynamic. As the series grew, they made room for other characters. But they had their reasons for all the changes they made.

Sometimes I hear people dwelling on the changes that they fail to see what is similar. “They ignored everything about the book/cartoon/novel”, well if they had, then I could understand the distaste. But with a number of little changes the nose turns up and there is potential to overlook the core essence of the source material.

More recently there seems to be a shitstorm rallying around the Dragonball film. It is deserving of the poor reviews it got as it is a terrible movie. But as an adaptation I don’t think their decisions were poor in adapting the film, but rather they failed to make the film a good film. The characters acted similar to their cartoon counterparts, almost to a flaw. And the premise was at its core the same. A struggle over the collection of the mystical Dragonballs.

However, without considering any of the Dragonball history, the film still fails. Was it because Goku went to highschool? Was it because they left out minor characters like Krillin? No. It failed because it was a bad movie. Unconvincing drama, mediocre action, and poor acting. The film didn’t suffer because of the changes they made from the original source material.

If the movie was entertaining as hell, people would say “I didn’t like that Goku went to highschool or didn’t have a tail. It was still a fun movie”

See the difference there? I didn’t say you couldn’t notice the differences, but at least call it what it was. The movie was bad, and it had nothing to do with the changes.

Accept that there will be changes with any Adaptation. Try to see past them. Hope they don’t ruin your movie going experience.

This is what I try to do, and its worked out ok for me so far.

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39 thoughts on “Adaptation Doesn’t Kill Movies, Movies Kill Movies

  1. As a screenwriter, I tend to have to make sure I’m not drinking something when I read comments about an adaptation’s quality..or at least print out the message board and take it outside with my coffee or DietCoke.

    Going back to one of my longstanding beliefs (read that: ‘soapbox subjects’), the proprietary attitude many filmgoers take towards movies muddies the waters…as does the fact that people generally don’t understand the process of idea -> screenplay -> film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most people don’t really understand the medium itself…no matter how many films they’ve seen (in cinemas or on tv or on their computer screen). They might know what they *like*…but an understanding of the medium might very well be something they never attain. Moreover, few understand the differences between mediums, the strengths, weaknesses of each, how this one affects this part of the person reading, watching, listening, while that one takes an entirely different tack, eliciting a response in a completely different way. (Nor, I must say, do people ‘get’ how the film business works…no matter that John has provided some decent primer editorials right here on this very site.)

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But there’s a difference between a qualified and an unqualified opinion. (Ohh… Look at the hackles going up!) So here’s a suggestion that diverges from the basic tenor of this post and its comments: give it a try.

    Seriously: adapt something. See what it’s like, see what roadblocks you run into, see what the limitations are, what the liberating elements are…see what you end up with.

    No matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the result is, I guarantee that the experience will be an illuminating one.

  2. Normally I’m happy with an adaptation and whatever it changes as long as it still examines the main themes and stays true to the core concept.

    I draw the line when adaptations completely miss the point of the source material, or change the core idea behind it (‘I am legend’ being a prime example).

  3. I agree with most of this however…

    There is at least a small percentage where the adaptations from other mediums to films are not only shoddy but where the adaptations are bad themselves. I’m not talking about a superhero costume change or why Spider-Man has organic web shooters, what actor for a role is too tall, who is short blah blah blah.

    I’m a huge Michael Mann fan, for example. Back in ’83 he made The Keep which starred Scott Glenn and Ian McKellan. If anyone ever read the F. Paul Wilson novel of which it is based, you’d flip on how different it actually was. The Keep was a bomb, by the way.

    8 Million Ways To Die from, what was it? 1986? Based on the Robert Block novel. Bad adaptation. Box Office dud.

    Hideaway based on the Dean Koontz’ novel. Bad adaptation? Yes, of course. Box Office Turkey? You bet.

    Since that was directed by Brett Leonard…let’s have another…

    The Lawnmower Man It’s funny because I did sort of like that director’s cut. But…with less than a minute of Stephen King material? And having Stephen King’s name to it originally? Terrible adaptation. Oh, it bombed.

    To be fair, Stephen King once was asked what he thought about “Hollywood ruining his novels” he pointed to the bookshelf behind him and said ‘The novels are still there”

    Some “Bad adaptations” tend also to be bad movies. Don’t forget that. How about “Howard The Duck”?

  4. I totally agree however, i disagree with the points. Bitching about flame on Optimus Prime is r-tarted. Their is no difference in the characters personality, or visual iconicism. Lets say I wanted to make Wolverine Origins but I wanted wolverine to be 6 ft3 and have no claws from Norway with a norwgin accent. Now the character has lost his visual iconicism because he is no longer who that character was orginally. That kinda “Adapting” is bullshit.

  5. I agree with the article. Change is needed for adaptions, what works on paper (or other non-film mediums) doesn’t always translate so well on screen.
    What matters is if an adaption keeps the spirit, heart and core of the characters and the story. Comic book adaptions have been successful at this by adhering to the principles of the characters and story to formulate brilliant tales for the big screen.
    Other films such as Dragonball Evolution go so far as to change everything which made the characters memorable in the first place. Adaption failures such as DBE altered the entire personalities of it’s characters, more obviously Goku to the point where it was not even the same character.
    Adaptations don’t have to religiously replicate the source material but they do have to bear some recognizable semblance to it.

  6. Great article. I agree, whether a movie is good or bad depends on the movie itself, not the changes it made from the source material. Especially, if there’s good reason for making those changes.

    My favorite example is from the “Spiderman” movies. In those, Spidey has organic webs. It just makes sense. I always thought it silly that in the comic he was given all the characteristics of a spider except the ability to create webs and had to make them.

    1. The organic webshooters also allowed them to avoid the whole issue of how Peter’s able to discover and fund his webshooter technology.

  7. I do know that nothing in film offends me quite as much as when something is changed, or ‘adapted’ if you like, so much that it starts to feel like the people making it have simply stolen the name of the material they are supposedly adapting so there is some brand recognition but are actually just making their own, completely different, piece of work.

    I remember that god awful ‘Thunderbirds’ movie from a few years back where that’s exactly what happened. The studio made a ‘Spy Kids’ rip off, stole the name ‘Thunderbirds’ and slapped that on their product hoping to lure fans of the show to see it.

    Then again, I really think that if, when all is said and done, a damn good film has been made, the majority of fans no matter how attached to the source material will forgive a lot of changes.

    Look at ‘Superman the movie’, heralded as the template for the comic book movie for decades and as a definitive interpretation of the character. Now imagine if that exact same film were being made today and we heard on the internet how Pa Kent dies after ten minutes on screen, Lex Luthor is not a businessman who owns half of Metropolis but a wig wearer who lives underground with two bungling sidekicks, there’s no superboy, Lana Lang is on screen for two seconds blah blah blah…

    The fans would hit the ceiling. Then they would actually watch the film, see how the spirit of the source material is up on the screen, the characters well written and well played, and how the character has been treated with the upmost respect. Then suddenly, all of those deviations don’t seem like a problem.

    As another example, who is complaining now that the Joker’s face wasn’t bleached white by acid in ‘The Dark Knight’? I could go on and on.

    1. Manga/anime doesn’t translate well imo:
      1) the look – may be hard to film without cgi
      2) Japans spirtual beliefs are huge in those stories but fall flat with most American viewers.
      (note: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within)
      You go expecting a cgi sci-fi fest and it turns into a story about spiritual rebirth. boo.

    2. The only people that translate manga properly are the Japanese. See Death Note, Yatterman, Cutey Honey. Perfect examples of well made live action manga films.
      But I guess they are too far out for westerners to make any difference.

    3. If people acted they way they do in anime they would look silly. And most audiences don’t want to see anyone looking silly.

      Oh wait. They went to Jackass the Movie.

      Nevermind.

    4. Japanese anime and manga are like video game adaptions, they just never seem to work in live action.
      I think comic book adaptions are more successful because they tend to base themselves in some sort of reality or probable concept. Anime/mangas usually don’t even attempt this and work with fantastical concepts with little to no root in some sort of realism which may be acceptable in Japan but is confusing in western countries.
      Cultural differences are one of the main problems. Many anime/mangas are based in Japanese cultural concepts. When translating anime/mangas for western countries, some adaptions choose to eliminate these cultural aspects which alientates fans and makes it even more awkward for non-initiated audiences.
      Comic books and superhero stories have been a part of North American culture for decades and are kind of like our modern day mythology. We’re accepting of a man jumping off of buildings in a bat suit and a man with claws in his hands because we’ve grown-up with it and it’s an integral part of our culture. Anime/mangas are more foreign and are usually not as widely known or watched/read. This is why we often accept a man shooting webs out of his wrists but not a man who can shoot beams yelling “Kamehameha!”.

    5. great points guys thanks, i just never understood that, but as long as they dont touch Neon Genesis Evangelion,Inuyasha, or Bleach then im fine. Yes i know they are planning live action NGE but lets get real i doubt it will ever happen and most likey stay in “developement hell”

    1. Sometimes a remake of film of an adaptation can result in something even better than either of the interpretations which preceded it. Just look at John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’.

      If the basic concept of the source material is strong enough, it is open to wildly different interpretations. That’s why I’m very much looking forward to any remake of (sticking with horror films) ‘Hellraiser’ or ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ because the concepts are so strong that there is room to play, to veer way off the original films and maybe even make something better as long as the basic idea is the same.

  8. Hazmat is right, adaptations sometimes do kill movies, look in Hollywood there is a lot of original material, yet a lot of original material too. But some adaptations are great, Transformers was one of em. Now say they made a Need For Speed movie, of the original game, that might turn out to be a great movie if they did it, because the first one has no story line and they could do whatever they want with it

  9. I had read the Wanted comic before I saw the movie. The movie was very loosely based off the comic mini series. I was mad that they changed so much of the story (Assassins in the movie instead of super villains). However, I had a very good time and now I love the movie. I accepted it for what it was. They may have changed a lot of the original story, but it was still an entertaining movie.

  10. Great article! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I really don’t like it when people hear that something has changed (especially when it’s minor) and instantly, its a terrible movie that no one should watch. I think this will be true for the upcoming Star Trek as well. If I had a dime for everytime someone complained about how Kirk isn’t wearing a gold shirt, well, I would have quite a few dimes, but it doesn’t mean the movie will suck. Judge it based on the movie, not on the color of the shirt.

  11. Most people fail to understand that what works on paper, be it written or in comic form doesn’t work in live action. Like super hero costumes, there is a reason most of them are changed for films, aside from a handful, because they would look ridiculous on a human being. Also when transporting material to live action you have to change logic that works in comics but not in a live action environment.

    Let The Right One In is a great example on how to successfully adapt a novel to the big screen, they changed and removed large chunks of the original story but stuck to the core material and also removed many of the more supernatural elements to make it more believable and grounded in reality. Both film and book are great and stand proudly besides each other as fantastic works of fiction.

    1. Exactly. No one complains that the X-Men were not wearing spandex outfits, because that makes sense and adapts well to the new medium and doesn’t change the point.

      But make Kingpin a black man and there is hell to pay.

  12. Some film makers just try to sell their movie based on a popular comic or a book or some game but they FAIL because that’s all they think about! leeching off the popularity and they dont make an effort to make the movie a GOOD movie, they become over reliant on the source and THEN edit the best parts because of a budget problem.

  13. I disagree.

    I say they make a movie where Bumblebee is a VW and he looks like a lego toy where his chest doesnt movie.

    Oh yeah and give the fans what they want…Do the Deadpool movie JUST like it is in the comics and have it break the 4th wall!

    ___Sarcasm over___

    Adaptations DO kill movies…But they do more good then they do bad.

    The Dragonball adaptation= BAD
    The transformers adaptation= GOOD

    You cant say adaptations kill or dont kill the movies…it always depends on how you do it

    If you make piccolo brown people are going to ask what he fuck you were thinking and why didnt 20TH Century Fox fire you when you told them that idea in a pitch meeting

    If you make wolverine wear the clothes he wore in X3 instead of the yellow tights with the baby blue stripes…people will be relieved

    It all depends

    1. See Haz, you are proving my point.

      It wasn`t the adaptation of Dragonball that killed it, it was the bad movie. If you watch the movie knowing nothing about Dragonball you would still think it was a bad movie. If Goku didn`t go to Highschool and had a monkey tail this movie would have still sucked.

    2. No I agreed with you…

      The “I disagree” part was a joke

      Um…I think that Dragon ball HAS to be adapted in order for people to take it seriously…so the adaptation itself is a good idea…but they went about it all wrong.
      Im telling you, a dragonball movie could be great but they fucked it up. If I were the king of the world and I were to make this movie I would have made a fucking amazing movie

      My point is: You can never blame either one..it always depends..some adaptations suck some dont

      If they would have taken this movie seriously im 100% sure it could have turned out amazingly well…but they made a goofy ass stupid movie and they screwed up…I dont know why no one told them “you should burn this and start from scratch” when they saw a screening

      And yes, youre right, if no one knew jack about dragonball they would have hated this even MORE (I think)
      But if they would have done it MY WAY it would have ruled….no stupid jokes…more gore like in the cartoon…more depth to the story, more violence, and deeper characters…this goju was shallower then a kiddy pool, it was painfull to watch and I know you know what im talking about Rodney, I think this kid looks perfect for young Goku but..god watching him BORED me

      Stupid flying jeeps and goofy effects…

    3. they shouldnt have started this movie with goku saving the earth, a world matrial arts tournament, would of made more sense, then this could have introduced yamcha better, tien and possibly krillin w a battle between rival clans, masters roshi’s turtle clan and tiens crane clan, a battle of dominance and respect between the clans, this could add the whole martial art to the movie, and more action, and add a little gentle comedy like from iron-man, not too much tho, i think this would make a good movie, if agree give me a who wahhhhhh

    4. You still barking about your “they left out useless little Krillin? Waaa!!!” thing?

      It didn’t work in the other post, and it wont work here.

      The movie sucked because the movie sucked. Having it about Krillin and making the story less epic.

      Yup. You know better.

    5. im not saying adding krillin into the movie would make it better, your not reading it, and i already said that i gave up on that arguement, im just saying going in the direction of a martial arts tournament “COULD” have been better not “WOULD” have and that making goku save the world was a bit too soon, im just saying this way they could have introduced more Z fighters into the mix, this “COULD” make a better adaptation for the franchise, do u get what im trying to say now?, did i make it clearer?? not “WOULD” but “COULD”

    6. Yes, everything in the world COULD have been a better movie. The movie itself could have had the exact same plot in and STILL could have been a good movie.

      IF IF IF.

      Oh, and make sure we dwell on everything irrelevant it wasn’t so you can say if again.

    7. since they were planning a sequel or trilogy from which i read, they could have saved goku saving the earth for the second or third installment, u know, im a huge DB fan and how much i like and probably other people like who would want to see goku saving the earth was a tad to soon, u know what i mean, u dont agree with me or ne one else who might have thought of this? surely u must, or how would u have gone with this adaptation? im stating who knows better me or you, im asking for your opinion on which way you would have taken if you were given the keys to this franchise??

    8. i know , it doesnt state in any of the episodes or movies that they’re in asia or on any known continent, i didnt mind that, and they’re outfits i’d like to see different, like superman from smallville, casual clothes but with colour similarities, a non-perverted roshi, more martial arts without horrible wire acts

  14. You should also explain the dangers of “Based on a true story.” That usually cracks me up.

    Great example is that movie “The Strangers.” Said it was based on a true story. The true story behind the film was when the director was a kid, some people rang his door bell looking for someone. Over the next week there were a handful of breaking and entering incidents. No one was killed, no couple was tormented.

    It’s hard with comic book movies though. I know people haven’t seen the new Wolvie movie. I did, legitimately mind you. It was rough, because they change so much, and make so much crap up, that it’s really hard to get past.

    I’m not going to go into any specifics, but yeah. It’s a little rough.

    I went into Transformers expecting garbage. I walked out with a new movie to add to my favorites list.

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