Dec 30 2013

Discussing Adaptations and Their Fidelity to the Original

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials

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When it comes to cross-platform adaptations, I’m pretty flexible.  Sometimes I prefer complete fidelity to a source material, while there are times wherein deviations are welcome. When J.J Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise, a group of Trekkie purists were up in arms over his adaptation.  On the other hand, fans warmly received the film translations of the Harry Potter series.

 There are also adaptations that have hugely deviated from the original like Troy and World War Z. The former had mixed reviews, but it was still an enjoyable film for many who weren’t too well versed with Homer’s Iliad. While numerous critics pointed out that the latter wasn’t too faithful with the original novel, the film was still considered to be an enjoyable thriller ride.

Does fidelity with the source material really matter when it comes to adaptations? Can they still be enjoyable if they are at least faithful in essence or spirit instead of simply being literal?

Clash of the Titans movie image

 I started thinking about this when I watched the films Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans starring Sam Worthington. I am a big Greek Mythology buff and I was able to spot all the inaccuracies the film made about Perseus’ story right away. However, I still enjoyed the film in spite of all the differences. I know that the films’ reception is equivalent to a Michael Bay action film, but it’s not terrible. It didn’t have cheap B-movie quality, so I wasn’t really complaining.

 When I first saw Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, I probably was the noisiest person in the audience. You could hear me repeatedly say “Hey, that’s not right” or “That’s not what happened.” I was mostly miffed by how much the film made Paris so likable in addition to the casting of the Orlando Bloom. Paris was a wuss in the Illiad. I think that it’s understandable that people would expect more from this film since it had a vibe of seriousness more than the Titans series.

 Of course, I ended up talking about the film with other people. I realized that most of my friends who have never read Greek mythology enjoyed the film. So I watched it again, but this time I tried my best to just leave all the extra details behind and just remember the main idea of the story. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the film and I guess that’s why I didn’t mind the Titan films so much in the future.

 Perhaps these adaptations won’t be a problem if you simply enjoy immersing yourself in the world of the Greek Mythology regardless of how the story was told.

Would you believe that I never read a Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones novel? I bet I’m not the only one and I know that there are tons of people who didn’t even know that The Walking Dead was originally a comic book.  Anyway, I still enjoyed the adaptations of the first three even if I was never aware of the source material. I have to admit though that hardcore fans do seem to agree that these novels were translated well.

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 However, I don’t think that all adaptations need to be completely faithful… just don’t totally disgrace it. I think that’s where most film adaptations of video games are at fault. One of the biggest offenses would have to be the recent Tekken. Where do I even begin with that one? A lot of people have also been criticizing the Resident Evil films, but it’s surprisingly still making a lot of bucks for it to spawn more and more sequels. I’ll admit that I’ve seen all of the films in the franchise in the cinema. I’ve long accepted that it will never be as horrifying as the first Resident Evil games. Why do I keep watching it then? Like what I said about Greek Mythology, you’ll enjoy it as long as you want to experience more of the universe.

 I really liked what J.J Abrams did with Star Trek. I was never a fan of the franchise before he made that movie. He made those changes to accommodate newer audiences. I know it sucks for long time fans, but they’ve had plenty of Trek content way before. Isn’t it a good thing to attract newer generations to keep the popularity of the franchise alive?

 I do understand that a lot of studios simply buy the rights of a particular material just because they know a lot of hardcore fans will check it out. The movie ends up being something totally foreign to what loyal fans know. Now, there’s a difference between being a total knock off with popular name simply slapped on a product and an adaptation that simply has a different interpretations.

I know that I might be eating my words when the Mass Effect movie comes out because I’m Unreality’s biggest BioWare fan. I was quite wary with how it will turn out since everyone has his or her own version of Shepard. However, I’ll probably watch it anyway because I can’t get enough of Mass Effect. I’ll also give it the benefit of the doubt and try to free of myself of any pre-conceived notions.

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 I remember reading an interview with BioWare earlier this year. Someone from the company said that the next Mass Effect game said that it won’t feature the characters we know, but it will still feel like Mass Effect or something along those lines. For me, I think that as long as it captures the “feel” of Mass Effect… it could be a decent movie.

 Back in High School, I used to write modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Poe’s Telltale Heart, and Alighieri’s Inferno for school plays. I never made literal adaptations of the source materials. As much as possible, I tried to stay true to the spirit of the works while making the necessary changes that would accommodate a specific kind of audience.

 It’s hard to please everyone in the world. Wait, it’s impossible to make everybody happy. When it comes to adaptations, it’s a familiar sentiment. Sometimes people look for fidelity, while others just want to be entertained. It’s sad how some people bash films that are perfectly enjoyable on its own simply because of its infidelity to the source material.

Next time you watch, play, or read an adaption, try to filter out some biases that will hinder you from being entertained. You never know, you might enjoy it if you filter some feelings out.





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4 responses so far

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    Agreed on all counts. Classical mythology should not be adapted literally. That stuff is just too loopy from the get go. The core concepts are what matter in that case, although with most fiction I think staying as close to the source material as possible is the best way to go.

    The animated version of Beowulf had the right idea about adapting mythology in that it portrayed it as a story that got twisted with time. Have you seen the extended version of Troy, BB? It’s way better than the theatrical cut.

    • E. Lee Zimmerman

      Well, we disagree. I think that there should be honest attempts made to capture the fidelity of any book used as an inspiration; if not, then what’s the purpose really of adapting it? Why not simply create your own universe and run with it and leave the original source material alone for the adults to play with? But I’m the first to admit I have an awful time filtering my biases, especially when it comes to films that try to portray history (which I’ve raised here a few times in chatbacks and the like).

      It’s kinda/sorta like my take on PRESUMED INNOCENT, a bestseller that had a respectable (but heavily flawed) film adaptation starring Harrison Ford. What made the book so prescient (for me as a reader anyway) was that moment when we learned that Rusty Sabich had been lying to us for all of those pages — the heartache you feel for having been duped by this accomplice — when, in the theatrical, Ford and company put it together like the man had absolutely no idea his wife had killed his mistress. One cheapens the other, if not jumping completely off a cliff in another direction. In the book, he was complicit; in the film, he was a victim. Those are polar opposites in my worldview.

      BEOWULF was crap, too.

      Yes, agreed on the extended version of TROY being better, but I’d still pay good money to see a faithful adaptation of THE ILIAD or THE ODYSSEY before I’d watch anything with Brad Pitt twice.

  • EarthDragon2189

    You pretty much nailed it with “not all adaptations need to be absolutely faithful…just don’t totally disgrace it.” To me, “disgracing” a piece in this context doesn’t necessarily mean making a bad piece of fiction, just one that wanders too far from the core of the source material for reasons that aren’t clear, unnecessary, or outright sleazy.

    Take World War Z, for instance. The original book is an amazingly poignant, thoughtful, emotionally-charged work of suspense and social commentary (one of my favorite books ever). The movie? A fun B-grade action flick. Now, there is nothing wrong with fun B-grade action flicks. I enjoyed the movie, but comparing it to its source material is like comparing a candy bar to Thanksgiving dinner. There was literally one scene that was reminiscent of the book throughout the entire movie. If that scene and the movie’s title had been different, the movie and book would have nothing in common. This makes fans wonder why the studio even bothered to secure the movie rights for a property they weren’t going to use except in name. The only apparent answer is that slapping the meaningful World War Z title on a generically decent zombie
    movie was meant as a cheap ploy by the studio to cash in on the
    book’s success (without putting in the work a more faithful and
    therefore more complicated and less mass-appealing adaptation of the
    novel would require).

    I agree that people need to loosen up a little when it comes to judging adaptations, but there do need to be some standards.

    For instance, Benny, Imagine the Mass Effect movie comes out. Imagine It’s a decent and well-reviewed movie, on par with the recent Abrams Star Trek flicks. However, the movie isn’t quite what you were expecting. It’s about a guy named Commander Shepard who flies around the galaxy in a ship called the Normandy, but that’s where the similarities with the source material end. The Reapers are now a race of giant octopuses who just like conquering other species for fun. The Normandy is crewed exclusively by humans. The movie doesn’t have any political intrigue or underlying themes of prejudice, choice, sacrifice, and unity, and instead focuses its energy on gunfights, explosions, CGI space graphics, and the Shepard/Ashley/Miranda love triangle. You’d find yourself wondering why the studio even bothered to use the Mass Effect name when it could have just made a generically palatable sci-fi flick with the exact same assets and footage. And then you realize: The ME movie rights were purchased solely to get fans like you in the theater, not because they actually WANTED to make a ME movie as beautiful and complicated as the franchise deserves.

    That’s what happened with WWZ: The vision of the source material was cast aside in favor of mass appeal and marketing trickery.

    • E. Lee Zimmerman

      Sorry. Epic book. Awful movie (in my opinion).

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