The trouble with adaptations

One of the joys of my current class (Writing for Comics and Animation) is that I get to talk about adaptations and the art of doing one in comic or graphic novel form. As fans of popular properties, we’re always excited about the aspect that something we really enjoy will be presented in a different format: when we’re a fan of a book, we want to see the movie; when we’re a fan of a game, we want to read the comic. The problem with adaptations is that there is no possible way to make everyone happy. Let me ‘splain.

Most writers, when tasked with the responsibility of an adaptation want the freedom to make changes, most of them subtle, but changes nonetheless. Most of the time writers are forced to make changes of some sort simply to fit the medium. Since I’ve only ever done comic adaptations from other formats (I’ve done film, game and novel all to comic), the biggest challenge is fitting it all in. So the writer has to take the number of pages allotted by the publisher, and figure out what parts are vital and what parts can be cut or reduced. There’s a lot of work in that the writer wants to be true to the original…but there are only so many pages. In comics, the pictures don’t move!

The problem with changes, though, is hardcore fans of the property don’t want you to change it in any way. They’re hardcore fans because they love everything about it. They love it so much they just want to see the exact same thing but in a different way. Trust me, if you fiddle with their beloved story, you’ll hear how wrong you were to do so!

Don’t believe me? Think of recent films that have been released based on novels or games or comics. How many times did you hear someone commenting on the “changes” made? I heard people talk about the recent Ender’s Game adaptation and how it made changes at the end. Some liked it, some didn’t. Or what about the superhero movies? Just spend some time googling (what a cool new verb!) them and you’ll see endless debates not only about how good or bad the films are, but how “true” they are to the original (I personally hated the fact that the web in the Toby Spider-Man was biological—I thought it changed the character of Peter Parker too much!). I also remember seeing Starship Troopers when it hit the theaters. At the time I was so mad because it was nothing like the Heinlein book on which it was based. However, I saw it a few years later (it a group setting where the group wanted to see it, not me! So I just went along like a good guest!) and—knowing that it was nothing like the book, I thought it was a decent sci-fi movie. It was NOT the Starship Troopers of the book, but it wasn’t a horrible movie (this is in reference to ONLY the first film, fyi).

Then there are those fans who want to have something different, who prefer to get something that adds to the original so they don’t just get the same thing. Stray too far, though, and it ceases to become an adaptation. If you remain close, it’s “based on.” However, when you write completely original material simply in that setting (as I did for Planet of the Apes: Blood of the Apes), then it isn’t an adaptation at all. Those, from a writer’s point of view, are fun to write.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The trouble with adaptations

  1. While reading your post, I couldn’t help but think of the Hunger Games. Overall, I thought the Hunger Games movies were pretty true to the book. However, I didn’t like how in the book Katniss got the pin from a friend, but in the movie, they make it out like she got it in a trade. The mockingjay pin is powerful symbol, and I think it loses some of its power that way.

    But it’s true…you can’t please everybody.

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