Is Adaptation The Way To Make A Film?
by Josh Green
March 15, 2007
300's opening weekend box office domination was so successful for many reasons. It would be easy to argue that one of the biggest reasons for the $70 million opening weekend is due to the fan base already built from the Frank Miller graphic novel. It is difficult to make a film adaptation of any source, however there are many advantages, and disadvantages, of "adaptation".
An adaptation is the retelling of material in cinematic form. Adaptation can include borrowing from a source and inserting an original idea from a source. Not all adaptations come from a novel or a comic, some come from plays, television, and even other films such as Vanilla Sky.
There are many benefits of adapting. As far as publicity goes, an adapted film already has name recognition and literary prestige if the source comes from a written source. A good example would be last year's Da Vinci Code, which was based on the best selling book by Dan Brown. While the movie was lackluster at best, the film was able to bank in $77 million over opening weekend.
As far as the creative side goes, adaptation gives screenwriters and directors a ready-made plot and structure. It's also easy for the screenwriter to have a complete developed character storyline from the adapted source. Examples would include the Bourne films, Harry Potter, and some of the James Bond Films.
Kurt Russell in Vanilla Sky
Everyone has their picks of what they think the best film adaptations are. The basic element that makes a good film adaptation is how close the film can stay to the spirit of the original source. The best example of an adaptation that was the next best thing to reading the original source material has been Sin City. However, there are many other great films that have stayed close to the spirit of the original source without being an exact clone of the material.
I believe that the worst adapted films so far have come from adapting television series. The biggest problem is the restricted and limited material a television series has to offer for a feature film. Such examples of cinematic disasters created from adapting television series are The Dukes of Hazzard, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Flintstones. There are some exceptions - South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Borat, and Miami Vice - however, there are more bad films than good.
So is adaptation the way to make a film? Financially, yes. With 71 comic book adaptations that have made their way to the silver screen, the combined lifetime gross has been over $5 billion dollars worldwide. And that's just comic book films. As I said with the benefits to adapting something into a film, the studios already have more than enough momentum behind a well-known source to make some serious cash.
Creatively and artistically, I think that adaptation is not the right thing to do. While the recent 300 was a visual splendor to behold, was it really a chance for director Zack Snyder to be as creative as he could with an original piece? We will probably never know. For now Snyder has only made two feature films, both of them being unoriginal pieces. I think Snyder is a very talented director and knows what he wants visually, but I wait for him to make an original film that's just as good.
Pulling away from Snyder, I feel like all of these adaptations are causing everyone to think that Hollywood isn't original anymore. That's why it is important to support creative mainstream filmmakers like Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro (with an exception of Hellboy and Blade II), and Robert Rodriguez, to name just a few. These guys are out there making really great original films. I know there are many more original directors out there that I am not listing, so if you have any that you think should be mentioned, let me know and comment.
As for adaptations, I think that while they may be commercially successful, I wish that we could see more original films coming out of Hollywood.