Discussion: Film Adaptations

In her Film Queue piece, new writer Kennisha Archer made a comment that bothered me. I resisted every temptation to halt the momentum of the article by inserting a 500-word “editor’s note” in order to have a fair discussion between the two of us, right here. The comment in question was:

“It’s always nice to watch an original screenplay rather than the plethora of adaptions that have been out recently.”

My initial response is that Kennisha may be simply forgetting the abundance of classic films that began as adaptations of other works.

Jeffrey: So, Kennisha, I guess my first question is, why the beef with adaptations?

Kennisha: I completely agree that many classics began as adaptations. My problem is what it has grown into today. I feel that recent adaptations aren’t being made because there was a piece of art that someone wanted to transform into something just as masterful, but instead because it’s popular; just another way to make money. You have a book that becomes well known and the first response is to turn it into a movie for the sake of banking on that. With that comes a rushed process because it needs to get out while everyone is still talking about it to maximize profit. Or, another example could be what happened with the Hunger Games series. A series that could have easily been three movies was turned into four, for what I assume were, again, money purposes, which I think tarnished that series overall.

“It was pulp trash…”

Jeffrey: I have to begin by countering that The Godfather was an adaptation of a popular novel that was by no means a work of art. It was pulp trash, but Francis Ford Coppola transformed it into a masterpiece of cinema. The same can be said for Jaws. Also, there have always been rushed cash-ins, perhaps the only difference, is that nowadays a lot of what was considered b-picture material is now blockbuster stuff. I can’t comment directly on the Hunger Games in particular, but the Harry Potter series is a shining example of a series that was adapted at the height of its popularity and is still a mostly great series. Plus, not to sound snarky or dismissive, but every movie is ultimately about profit. Film is as much a business as it is an art.

Kennisha: Fair points about The Godfather and Harry Potter. I can agree to that. Yes, every movie is about profitability, but I do think there needs to be balance between business and art though. Business on it’s own has the potential to lack passion, and art on it’s own can become illogical if there is no money to be made. I feel like it has become more business centered than balanced. People can become lazy with the adaptations, or adapt things that have no business being a movie. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey. They took a trash book and made more trash just because they knew it would make money.

The next one will be here (unfortunately) in 2017.

Jeffrey: Of course there has to be a balance. I wasn’t arguing against that, just that it is an inescapable fact of moviemaking. As to whether Hollywood now is more business centered than before, I’d, once again, have to disagree. We have this tendency as film lovers to only remember the films of significance. Yes, we remember the Bonnie & Clydes and the Easy Riders, films that left an undeniable imprint on cinema. But, how about The Longest Days or the Funny Girls? These were the film adaptations that made tons of money and left no indelible marks on the medium. It’s easy to glorify the past as the epitome of artistic achievement, but that is overlooking all the fantastic work that is made now in favour of looking at the few times the business falls on its face. Yes, we get TMNT, but we also have No Country For Old Men. There’s always been a balance. Maybe some years the scales were tipped one way more than the other, but across the continuum of cinema, there is no doubt about that balance. Also, Fifty Shades of Grey may have ended up as trash, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good movie to be made out of that book. The proper talent just wasn’t attached.

Kennisha: Yes, all fair points. I can get behind the idea of there being a flux one way or another over time. I will admit that perhaps I have overlooked the great achievements and focused too heavily on the bad in recent years. I just, quite simply, think when money is by far the biggest driving factor behind film-making, you’re more likely to end up with not so good end product because of things like improper talent placements, important missing elements, etc. Granted, I’m sure there has been times when that process has worked. And I’m sure there are people who think, if it makes money, who really cares if it’s good. And it’s that ideology  that I can’t get behind. Lets say an adaptation was going to be made because of expectations of popularity and profitability, then I think a simple remedy is trying to find the right people who care about making a good film. Then, if it fails anyways, oh well. It happens, and at least the heart was there. Of course, I can’t say for sure that’s not the mentality some of these bad adaptations had, but there are times you can see within a film whether the effort was there or not.

Jeffrey: Yes, but the same can be said of original films. This is not a problem strictly pertaining to adaptations.

Kennisha: Touché.

Jeffrey: Ha! That’s two points for Jeffrey. It was good doing battle with you.

So, dear reader, what do you think? Is there a glut of film adaptations that are ruining Hollywood? Or, are adaptations a vital form of cinema that have been around since the inception of film? Let us know in the comments.


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