The Great Discussion – Waxing Intellectual

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Participants: Farron Ager – OP-ED Editor & Kyle Leitch – Production Manager

Farron Ager (2)Farron Ager (Op-Ed Editor):

Maybe I’m going to sound incredibly brazen here, but I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that adaptation process is akin to a Darwinian process, as you’ve got the source text – the novel, the graphic novel, the short story, and then you have the adaptation, which is invariably based off the those works. From there, each adaptation will diverge insignificantly or significantly from the source text, evolving from the source text.

Kyle Leitch - Production Manager

Kyle Leitch (Production Manager):

I would disagree because I don’t think that film adaptation leads to the evolution of source text, rather, it leads to the de-evolution of the source text. Take for example H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which was written in 1898 and since then it hasn’t been done the justice I think it that the book had, except maybe the Orson Welles’ 1938 radio adaptation, but I would consider that more of an entity unto itself that being an adaptation.

Farron:

But that’s also what I mean by the adaptations can be seen as Darwinian. Orson Welles’ takes the novel and creates something new with it. It’s an evolution of the species and perpetuates the species and breathes new life into the source text.

Kyle:

However, more often than not, adaptation falls short of the mark, especially if you have a well-established text to begin. It does not live up to its expectation. For example, the film Watchmen (2009) was considered unfilmable and it wasn’t done its proper justice that so many fans of the series wanted.

Farron:

That’s a fair claim. Not every adaptation does justice to the source text. Looking at another adaptation of Wells, Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds (1953), you’ve got, essentially, godless communists invading America and it ends basically saying divine providence keeps America safe. I wonder, though, if an adaptation falls short because people, i.e. the movie-going masses, tend to judge films on how faithful they are to work the directors are adapting.

Kyle:

Keep in mind though that there’s almost no way to play devil’s advocate when you bring fidelity criticism into it because it’s going to be one of two things: you’re going to have an audience who says unanimously the work was too faithful and they wish something had changed or the work wasn’t faithful at all and why change what you had good in the source material.

Farron:

That’s reasonable. I would by no means suggest that fidelity criticism be the sole means in which to judge a film, but it is usually the easiest way to judge a film so a lot of people use it. In looking at adaptations, the one thing I really want to stress is that fidelity criticism is a stepping stone to examining other issues that lurk in the process of adapting. For example, one of the most interesting things I find in studying adaptation is examining the context that surrounds the film. Namely, the audience and what they bring with them to the theatre. I would argue that a mindful director would not neglect the frame of mind of his/her audience and would therefore adapt for them.

Kyle:

Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with adapting a film more to the audience that was present when the source text came out and marketing to the audience of the source text. I mean, you look at the ending of the Watchmen and the green technology ending, with the car being plugged in, was a total cop-out to try and collect the concerns of the day and did so poorly. And that’s another thing with the adaptation, it tried to go in its own direction and I think that defeated quite a bit of the point that source text tried to make.

Nothing says "intellectual" like a broken Nicholas Cage pot. /image: nexcesscdn.net

Nothing says “intellectual” like a broken Nicholas Cage pot. /image: nexcesscdn.net

Farron:

That is certainly a danger with adaptation. But at the same time, there are plenty of terrible adaptations that came out, missed the mark due to one reason or another, and then were subsequently forgotten. But I don’t think I can fault directors for trying use an existing novel and remediate it for a new audience and put a new spin on it.

Kyle:

True, but just because you can adapt something doesn’t mean you should. I think what we’re experiencing now is a situation in Hollywood that is very similar to the introduction of the Hays code in the 1930s, where a minister was the chief censor for Hollywood films, controlling the moral content and when people broke out of the Haze code, you get this 60s American counterculture experience. I think we’ll be seeing this again soon, as you’re going to see an audience who wants to return to a more expressive form of filmmaking and I think that’s where you’re going to see the death of adaptation, in the flourishing of new ideas that are going to be expressed by people that are currently a little bit afraid of offending someone’s sensibilities.

Farron:

That’s quite poignant. Yet, I think you seem some of that now in at least some adaptations, though, but it’s not as explicit. All I can think of for an example is the movie The Mist (2007), a film that which, for the most part, is fairly faithful to the novella that Stephen King wrote in the 80s, except for the ending, which is pretty damn bleak compared to the source text. After it comes out, you actually get King saying he wished he came up with that ending and praises the film because of it. The ending radically alters the point of the film, making it significantly bleaker and, in addition, successfully exploring these new ideas you talk about.

Kyle:

The way I see it, if you’re going to make an adaptation, and going to make a proper one, the source text shouldn’t be the vehicle as to get people into the theatre, but more so the means by which the filmmaker can ply their trade. Without the source text, there would be no film. Yet, without a source text, filmmakers can spin a film that seems, and in many ways is, like a new idea.

Farron:

Well, it appears we’re actually over our word count as it stands. Is there something we can agree on?

Kyle:

Well, we both seem to agree on the fact that if you don’t like the film, you shouldn’t have to watch it. Other than that, erm, I don’t know.

Farron:

I’ll drink to that!

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