Here’s a fun exercise; go to your nearest cinema (or IMDb, for the lazy), and check out all the upcoming movie posters. Count how many contain the tagline “Based on…”, or some derivative thereof.
Are you back yet? No? I’ll wait.
Okay, so if I’m right, you should find quite a few of them. Adaptations landing on the big screen, from any medium, seem to grow in numbers every year. A simple search will yield many results, for novels alone.
So why are there so many adaptations on the horizon, compared to 10, 20, or 30 years ago? Is it a lazy way out to grab existing content and film it for the masses? Is it all about the easy money? And more importantly, is it doing justice to the original pieces?
Ever since there has been another creative medium, film and television has used it. To Kill a Mockingbird, Psycho, The Godfather; these earlier films were all adapted from well-known books at the time (although for Psycho, you wouldn’t know, due to Hitchcock’s crafty methods). The list of books that have at least one movie tied to it has increased over the years.
Then comic books came along. Sure, they didn’t take off as quickly, and the adaptations were in no way serious (I’m looking at you, Adam West), but they were there. Only in the last 15 years have they exploded into massive franchises such as the Marvel and DC universes. The Avengers movie has settled nicely as the 3rd highest grossing film of all time.
Around that same time, video game adaptations were born. Double Dragon, based on the popular 2D fighting game, started it all in 1994. I am, of course, choosing to ignore the Super Mario Bros. movie released in 1993, because oh god why does it exist.
Now, if you check out the list of films based on video games, you’ll see the numbers increase over the years. There are 14 of them currently in development. There is even an Angry Birds movie listed for release in 2016… I guess the incredibly deep and heart-warming tale of birds smashing into strategically-placed blocks could transition well into the big screen.
Finally, and I’m not sure if this counts, but since Battleship was released, several movies inspired by board games have resulted. Adam Sandler, in yet another desperate attempt to make money/people like him, has rumoured to sign on to Candyland. Monopoly is also in the pipeline, as is Hungry Hippos (why… just why).
Looking at these types of adaptations, you can gather why they are being made more frequently. First of all, let’s get this on the table; Hollywood is just a big company. Its primary goal is to make money. It has to realize where the big profits lie. The best profits come from sequels, because you don’t usually need to convince the potential audience of what the movie is about. For the most part, they are on board as soon as they hear about it.
Adaptations are very similar; the portion of the audience that is familiar with the original piece doesn’t need convincing. Quite the opposite; curiosity always wins. Regarding novels, you imagine the characters. Everyone crafts a different image in their mind. And you want these characters to be portrayed correctly on screen.
It is a fun game to think of casting choices during an adaptation’s development, to compare with others in an online forum of what you held in your mind, or at least the actor that closest fits the profile. Essentially, you have an unlimited casting budget for your perfect adaptation.
I certainly do, when it comes to the ever-in-limbo adaptation of The Dark Tower. Viggo Mortensen as Roland, Aaron Paul as Eddie, even Stephen Colbert as Randall Flagg…
Realistically, though, it is never going to happen that way. Movies have a budget. However, fanboys can get violent when, in their opinion, the casting is dead wrong. Tom Cruise played the badass Jack Reacher in the film of the same name. The books quote Jack Reacher as being 1.95m tall, about 110kg, with blue eyes and blond hair. And it’s not like it is an underground series, it’s very well known. I’ll side with the violent fanboys on that one.
But here’s the thing: adaptations don’t have to be an exact copy of the original. As long as they get the fundamentals right (unlike the entire message of I Am Legend), they can make as many small changes as they like. That’s what having an artistic license means.
Think of it as an alternate universe for the same premise. The adaptation is the result of what would have happened if they never met a certain character (script length limitations), or took a different path to reach the same destination (shooting location limitations), or passed a random old man in the street who had some witty remark (Stan Lee in general).
Stephen King reminded us of an important quote when there was a backlash to his tweaked Under the Dome adaptation. When James M. Cain was complained to about how Hollywood had changed his books, he replied: “The movies didn’t change them a bit, son. They’re all right up there. Every word is the same as when I wrote them.”
I say; if you want to experience the book as it was written, read the book.
That’s what it was intended for.