I hopped online this morning to discover fans of the Artemis Fowl book series reacting to the recently released trailer for the big screen adaptation. To put it mildly, they are NOT happy. I haven’t read the series, nor have I seen the trailer, but the twitter reactions seem to criticize the upcoming movie for not remaining true to the source material. Now I do sympathize with writers working on adaptations. I understand that, occasionally, changes need to be made for a variety of reasons. But, in the case of the Artemis Fowl movie, from what I can gather, it’s a big one. They have changed the very nature of the series protagonist. And, if true, THAT is a problem. A problem for the fans of the book series, to be sure, but potentially a problem for the studio banking on the existing fanbase to support the launch.
On the flip side, I’m reminded of a similar response to the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer when it was first released. Fans were pissed because Sonic looked…different. More to the point, the character’s visual design had, for some mysterious reason, been changed from the original video game design. “Within two days, the trailer was viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube, and had received hundreds of thousands of “dislike” ratings, drastically outnumbering the “like” ratings” (source). The studio responded by delaying release of the movie and actually going back to redesign Sonic, releasing a “new and improved” trailer some seven months later – to a very appreciative fanbase. As of top of March, the movie has earned over $265 million worldwide. In retrospect, listening to the fans and doing a better job of honoring the source material proved a wise – and profitable – move.
For all of its single-minded obsession with acquiring I.P. (Intellectual Properties), Hollywood often seems mysteriously unable or, perhaps, unwilling to honor the same source material in its adaptations. How to account for this apparent dichotomy?
Well, as I already mentioned, there are perfectly sound reasons why certain changes are made. Outdated concepts, dialogue, and characters may need to be updated. Anachronisms may need to be addressed. Often, especially when adapting something as an extended or ongoing series, a writer may be required to build upon and expand the world and characters established in an original property, creating a series that honors the source material while, at the same time, offering something new and entertaining. Think The Handmaid’s Tale, You, Friday Night Lights, and the first five seasons of Game of Thrones.
But, a lot of the time, changes are made for no good reason. And those no good reasons may, depending on the project, amount to one or more of the following…
1 – The writer and/or producer are not familiar with the source material.
I know, it’s crazy to think that someone would invest in securing the rights to a property but then not even bother to familiarize themselves with it – but it happens. More than it should. I’ve heard of instances where a producer simply purchased the rights because they liked the basic premise. Or cases where a writer was specifically brought on to a project precisely because they were unfamiliar with the original property. Even occasions where a writer was instructed NOT to consult the original source material while writing. Why?
2 – The producer wants a “fresh” take.
And by “fresh” I mean “at times totally different from the book/video game upon which this movie or series is based”. Again, while it would seem logical to build on the success of an existing property by realizing what is there, many producers prefer to jazz things up by doing a twist on the source the material. Last year, I was invited to offer my take (vision) on three different adaptations: an anime series, a foreign language series, and a video game. In all three cases, I immersed myself in the materials, did the research, and came up with pitches that honored the work of the original creators. Which was, evidently, a mistake. In all three pitches, I was told my takes hewed too close to the source material. They told me about one take they really liked that served as a not-so-subtle critique of consumerism and capitalism. It sounded pedantic, and a total bastardization of the original anime but, I had to admit, it WAS very different.
3 – The producer has a skewed perception of what will make the project more successful.
This usually happens when some other movie becomes a surprise hit, so an attempt is made to instill some of the elements that presumably made THAT movie a success into the adaptation. What’s the perceived flavor of the moment? Car chases? Magical toddlers? Talking dogs? Chances are good someone will try to squeeze them in somewhere.
There are plenty of other no good reasons, but the aforementioned are really the cream of the crop.
Still, there are a lot of truly great adaptations that do honor their source materials, delivering a series or film (or series of films) that rewards the existing fanbase while, simultaneously, introducing first-timers to an amazing new world of characters they can, subsequently, further explore in the original books.
Some of my favorite adaptations include –
Homicide: Life on the Streets, I, Claudius, Friday Night Lights, The Boys, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs, Stand By Me, Don’t Look Now, The Shawshank Redemption, The Princess Bride, Misery, Oldboy, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Deadpool, Iron Man, Kick-Ass, Logan.
So what are some of your favorite and LEAST favorite adaptations?