Adaptation is Distillation, Not Reproduction

by on 25/03/2013
 

You may not be aware of this but the Geek Pride writers don’t operate on honour or respect when it comes to divvying up articles but on the ancient rule of ‘Baggsie Mine!’ This allowed me to claim the role of Game of Thrones correspondent for Series 3, something I’m very much looking forward to.

In the thread where I claimed this most precious of Preciouses, people started to talk about the adaptation and differences between the books and the show. I was once very much of the opinion that an adaptation should be as materially close to the source as possible, that what made the original great was the whole and it should be reproduced as faithfully as possible. I think it’s quite a Geek thing to believe and thus a somewhat prevalent opinion.

But I also think it’s wrong.

This is going to sound dense but one of the key things about an adaptation is a change in medium; you are going from book to film, from comic to TV series, and as such you are aiming for a different audience, tone and aesthetic. The kind of person who massively enjoys the Walking Dead comic books has never been the main target audience for AMC’s The Walking Dead; it’s the larger geek, even non-geek, world. The same goes for any adaptation, such as comic book to rather injurious Broadway musical. It is assumed that the core, original audience will be coming with it, at least to give it a try.

There are also different tropes, budgetary constraints and requirements for different mediums. The Lord of the Rings films display this well; Tolkien only donated a few pages to some of the battle scenes but a film must spend more time to not be seen as glib and downright weird. And American audiences would have been weirded out by a Liverpudlian Constantine through a lack of exposure to that particular lilt.

Constantine is actually a good example of distillation. When I first watched it, I’d never even heard of Hellblazer; I just thought it was an amazing concept, a solitary and broken person fighting demons through trickery and rough magic, and really wanted to see it. I actually love the film and, as a result, have read a number of Hellblazer comics. And that was because the essence, the core, of Hellblazer was present in Constantine, albeit somewhat diminished. I would have loved to see Keanu Reeve’s Constantine being a bit more of a git but it wasn’t to be. Another excellent example is American Psycho, a much-heralded classic of the film genre. The violent and gory scenes in the book were curtailed to allow the film to be made at all and director Mary Harron worked with fellow screenwriter Guinevere Turner to bring across the core of the book, the satire and the dark comedy, to brilliant effect.

The adaptation of a work from one medium to another is the act of transporting its core across. This will mean changes. Sometimes these changes are awful, as with almost every video game movie in history or with the Golden Compass horror show. Sometimes they are brilliant. But you cannot expect that bringing a new voice, or voices, to a piece of art will result in the same work being reproduced. And if it does end up like that, you should watch out; a die-hard fan is one of the worst people to make a sequel or adaptation as they won’t be honest about the flaws in a work, could even end up multiplying them, such as with the more recent Monkey Island games.

My final point to you, my fellow Geeks, is this; if you see that a favourite book or comic or video game is becoming another thing, a film, for example, then you shouldn’t decry the differences. I only read Hellblazer because of a massively-altered Constantine. I only read Lord of the Rings because of the films. I’ve only bought The Walking Dead because of the TV series. An adaptation brings in a new audience and new people you can geek-out with. And that can only ever be a good thing.

Even for Batman and Robin.

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