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  1.  (2013.1)
    I was reading the very excellent "Alan Moore's Exit Interview" again this weekend. A fantastic read, as Moore looks hard and long at his comics career with the "Big Two" especially.

    The topic of film adaptations of his work is, of course, huge. He makes some really salient points.

    -Film adaptations are now seen as the end product by many people. As if the comic is just one step in the process

    -Adaptations are often pretty fast and loose with the materal (A given here)

    -That can lead to a nasty shock. He points to the idea of someone seeing "From Hell", which has Johnny Depp as an amalgam of two older, paunchier men. The book is 600 pages plus an index, Moore points out that might not be something the teen-horror audience of the movie would run out to buy.

    -The medium of comics is a medium unto itself. Trying to make a comic into a movie will often fail to capture the imagination, the joy of the comic medium.

    So, Moore's notions in mind, are film adaptations a positive thing?

    This question isn't limited to comics per se.
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    Adaptations exist to give a different perspective on the same story. Whether or not the end product is good or bad is partially interpretive, and partially subjective. Either way, retelling a story isn't intrinsically bad, it's just if the result retains some meaning or spirit of the original work.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    A theory I've developed is that some film-makers who choose to adapt a piece of printed work, or to remake a previous film, do so to examine a specific element of that story, rather than to capture the full scope of the work. In that respect, V for Vendetta is a success, because it takes a good look at the social aspect of the story, rather than the politics of the story.
  2.  (2013.4)
    Is it helpful to add the notion of "translation" here? Consider that sadistic Foreign Language 101 assignment, wherein you slog through "translating" some bit of fiction or poetry. You haven't got the vocabulary, or cultural saavvy (both of your own and the other language's) to do the job justice. It's butchery. At the other end of the spectrum, the best translators talk about "writing someone else's poetry." Poem A in French and Poem A in English will be, Must be, two different poems, and yet, they are inherently related. The two poems may be equally excellent, or independently flawed, but they will always be related. (I think the most stark example may be haikus translated out of Japanese).

    I first thought of applying the notion of cultural translation to adaptations when I saw the Hitchiker's movie. A radio play will not equal a book series will not equal a major Hollywood movie will not equal a...(and of course in some sense the "original" is itself a translation from the author's mind to an audience). It reminds us that we must confront how we assess the quality of those translations. The translations will -always- be different. How, to what degree, in what ways, are those differences important to us?
  3.  (2013.5)
    I tend to follow Moore's thinking. In an audio interview he once rhetorically asked, "If something was rendered perfectly well in the medium it was created for, what is to be gained from making an adaptation?" Though, on the other hand, Goethe suggested young writers should focus on making adaptations to build their chops (will add the quote when I get home).

    Side note: The US movie industry seems to be married to adaptations. I once misspent an afternoon and checked out how many of the AFI Top 100 Films were adaptations. I found 55.5 (since The Godfather II was half new material, and it made for a fun number).
  4.  (2013.6)

    Side note: The US movie industry seems to be married to adaptations. I once misspent an afternoon and checked out how many of the AFI Top 100 Films were adaptations. I found 55.5 (since The Godfather II was half new material, and it made for a fun number).

    Top of the list, Citizen Kane, was an original. And it's arguably one of the best films ever made. It was also a film that was one of the first to embrace the medium as a means of conveying story. The tricks and shots that Welles and company used are still being discussed 70 years on.

    (I have to mention Citizen Kane in almost any film discussion as my parents named me after Orson Welles)
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    Something to consider - film was originally created, as I understand it, as a means of recording plays, which by their very nature require re-makes and adaptations to keep going. So it doesn't seem all that odd that movies love such things, even today.
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    i agree that many of the books I've read lately have that "written to be a movie" feel to them, and have taken to avoiding those authors. i feel somewhat cheated if the creator of something i'm reading doesn't act like he or she has enough faith in the medium to complete the project, not to pander.

    i used to think that even the worst adaptation was still worthwhile, however that is defined, because perhaps it would inspire a few audience members to read the book, and even if they found that the book was very different from the movie, hey - people reading = good! now i question that. i am not a fan of the attempts to stuff every bit of a story into a 2-3 hour span of film watching, and i am not a fan of the movies that borrow details from stories without seeming to care about themes or relevant topics - especially when there is nothing that says 'loosely based on...'.

    i believe that inspiration is found in many places, and literature, of any kind, is as good a place, if not better, than most. considering the visual nature of comic adaptations, i see that many of the movies i've seen are more interested in recreating a 'look' - the art of the original work, without seeming to consider fully the story of the original work - as if it doesn't actually matter - the words are simply an excuse to look at pictures. having said that - the visual aspects of comics are really fucking cool on screen - even without special effects or futuristic anythings - i'm thinking of the Blues Brothers and Raising Arizona.

    i would be less ambivalent about this if there were more stories being told instead of rehashed, because i have seen movies (well, one movie) that are better than the novels (Enchanted April). i feel that there are positive possibilities in adaptation, but, particularly looking at comics, i believe that the storytelling aspect of the medium and its completeness need to be taken seriously before we will begin to see an end to the dried up, thin and disappointing rehashing that seems to be more prevalent than the alternative (which is rich and interesting and an entity all on its own).
  5.  (2013.9)
    Maybe you could to go so far as to say that moving image as a medium is perfectly suited to adapting other media, and are a sort of "ultimate realisation" of any given story.
    Since they can potentially contain all forms of communication (image, text, speech music etc), they automatically expand upon the content of any other medium of storytelling, revealing either the voice of the characters, the look of the locations, the way everything moves etc.
    It's silly to place the failures of actors and directors when adapting loved material at the feet of film itself.

    I specify moving image however, since that encompasses animation, CG (even semi-animated web-comics) and more importantly long-form narratives (as TV series, OVAs etc) which is the one place movies regularly fall down when adapting material.

    The other thing about this process is that adapting to film allows the director and crew to have significant "first-time" creative input into the story, whereas film to anything else means there is only re-interpretation to be done, and atmospheric elements such as the score are inevitably lost (depending on the finished result), meaning that people naturally feel a creative drive in the direction of film instead of in any other direction.

    Interestingly, one of the most successful plays I've seen in Setagaya/Complicite's adaptation of The Elephant Vanishes, which was just mind blowing, and truly went beyond the potential of moving image as it was incorporated into its structure in real-time.
    However, plays will never have the same place as film, since you can't compress actors onto a DVD and have them pop out whenever you want.
  6.  (2013.10)
    film was originally created, as I understand it, as a means of recording plays

    Not sure what you mean by this. Film as a physical object was a natural next step from still photography, and was used to create documents of all manner of things, often to study human movement or to record events for posterity.

    The earliest film narratives were silent, and thus would be completely useless in recording plays, as the theater is very dialogue-centric.

    When sound came in a couple of decades after film was an established medium, film became more play-like mostly because the audio equipment was too heavy or awkward to move, and thus actors had to stand in one place to talk to each other. So, in the 30s more films started being adapted from plays, but just as many were still being adapted from short stories or novels or being written as originals.
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    I don't think film was specifically created in order to record plays. A lot of early films were essentially recorded plays but that's for two reasons, one being that the technology to do much else than film from a static angle hadn't been invented, and the other being that any new medium will at first take a lot from already existing ones. The earliest films didn't resemble plays at all though, but they also weren't really much other than a novelty.

    Regarding adaptations, I totally agree with Alan Moore that these days the film seems to be the end product, and people seem to view something as incomplete unless it's turned into a film. I have to admit I do this myself. I read Foucault's Pendulum and couldn't help but think 'Name of the Rose has been made into a film, why not this?', it somehow felt incomplete without a movie, even though I knew a film could not do it justice (as is the case with the Name of the Rose film; it's ok, but there's no way you could fit the complexity of the novel into a film).

    Watching things like Richard and Judy's book club, one of the highest compliments people seem to be able to pay a book is 'it was so well written, it was almost like watching a film' - because, you know, watching a film is so much better than reading, obviously. A lot of bestsellers like The Da Vinci Code are less like novels than blueprints for movie adaptations. The story structure in most of them is more akin to a movie treatment, and that's probably because most of them are written either with a movie already planned or with the author's hope of getting it made into a movie.

    Occasionally though, people pay a film the compliment of saying 'now I really want to read the book'. Or, sometimes it's the opposite, they might say 'that was rubbish, but it kind of made me want to read the book'. I thought Tales From Earthsea was rubbish, but it made me curious to read the books.

    We all know though, that when the Watchmen film comes out, everyone is going to see it and go 'man, that was such a rip-off of Heroes'.
  7.  (2013.12)
    A lot of bestsellers like The Da Vinci Code are less like novels than blueprints for movie adaptations.

    There are a number of comics I've read in the past few years (since the first Spider-Man movie I would say) that feel much the same to me.

    Interestingly, when he feared that the movie version of the story would not work out Darren Aronofsky turned "The Fountain" into a graphic novel.
  8.  (2013.13)
    A lot of early films were essentially recorded plays but that's for two reasons, one being that the technology to do much else than film from a static angle hadn't been invented

    This isn't completely accurate. By the time sound came in and films started mimicking plays, cameras were available to do all sorts of hand held work. Visually, silent films were light-years past the early sound films. As I said above, it was the immobility of the sound recording equipment that made early sound films so static, and it wasn't until more portable sound equipment became available that sound film started to catch up to where the silents had left off visually.
    • CommentAuthorWinther
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    Frankly, although I worship at the altar of Alan Moore like any other good comic acolyte, I find many of his points about adaptations somewhat faulty. He's got reason to mistrust adaptations, given the shite Hollywood has made of his material until now, but I think the experiences have tainted his outlook somewhat.

    I especially take issue with the last point:

    The medium of comics is a medium unto itself. Trying to make a comic into a movie will often fail to capture the imagination, the joy of the comic medium.

    The purpose of a film adaptation is not to capture the joy of the original medium. The no. 1, overriding concern of an adaptation is the same as it is in all movies: to make a damn good movie, within the confines the medium of film presents. Adherence to the source material, while important, comes a distant second.

    And speaking of adherence to the source material: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film wasn't a failure because it ditched the plot from the comic, or even because it made changes in the characters. It was a failure because it wasn't a good movie, it was a stupid sub-sub-par action flick with bad writing, bad acting, bad action and bad effects. It was a failure not because change is inherently bad, but because the changes made here were bad, and unnecessary.

    I'd point to Stardust as an adaptation that plays fairly loose with the source material, and molds the plotline and characters to tell a story in film, while still retaining the spirit of original story. And again, most importantly, being a good film, on its own merits.
  9.  (2013.15)
    I had written a giant post about the merits of film adaptations from a variety of mediums, but it got eaten when the computer I'm on signed me out of Whitechapel before I was able to post it.

    The point that I wanted to make was the same that Winther makes above, that the source material for a film isn't what's important to the success of the film. A film is its own entity. Moore's point about "...comics being a medium unto itself" is a redundant statement. Any medium exists with it's own strengths, complications, boundaries, and stylistic motifs, which may share similarities with others, but are ultimately their own beasts. In one sense he's absolutely correct, one cannot capture the exact feel of one medium using another. A good filmmaker, or any person adapting material from one format to another, recognizes the limitations of the medium and adjusts the material.

    A shitty movie is going to be shitty because it's been made poorly, not because it used an inappropriate source medium. As for me, my personal favorite adaptation is Shakespeare's Hamlet, from the Danish saga of Amleth. I don't think we should be too harsh on Shakespeare for taking liberties with that one.
    • CommentAuthorWinther
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    And so I managed to write a post that didn't actually answer the question asked:

    Adaptions have no inherent positive or negative value. They're just movies. Their overall effect on the source material is minimal - good or bad, an adaptation might cause some sort of spike in sales of the original material when it's in development and when it's released, but it's extremely temporary.

    As for whether adaptations are a positive thing for the film medium itself... Again, I don't think the fact that they are adaptations provides them with any plusses or minuses going in. There's a lot of complaints about how there are no original ideas in Hollywood anymore, but a surplus of adaptations and sequels isn't the problem. The problem is that most of them aren't very good.
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    @Jason - I know all about the transition period to sound film but that's not really relevant. When I said early, I meant really early, like when film was a new thing, as that's what Artemis was talking about. There are examples from very early on of filmed plays (particularly Shakespeare), but mostly it's documentary in nature, or it's just making a point of showing a moving image.

    Sorry, bit off-topic.
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    It's got to be important to distinguish from books/graphic novels and creators of same who are clearing angling to just cash in at Hollywood and make a buck and people who are passionate about creating a translation/adaptation because of their admiration to the source material and for the process of adaptation in whatever medium they're working.

    Which has nothing to do with the quality of the finished product, for either the source material or the adaptation/translation. I have nothing against people out to make a buck, but I have to admit to having a lot more respect for someone like Irvine Welsh for example.

    Welsh, when responding to how he felt about the movie adaptation responded- and paraphrasing here- that he didn't think the book had any hope of getting published, so that every step of the process from publication to being considered a cult book to being adapted into a play to finally being adapted into a movie made him insanely happy. And I think that the adaptation serves as a good example of how it should be done, since they dropped large portions of the novel to create a more cohesive narrative and a shorter film without using voiceover. They made several conscious choices in their adaptation that they felt best represented the elements of the narrative they responded to the most and still created a great finished film without having to follow the story exactly or create sacrifices that divorces the book from its source. To me that is the best form of adaptation.

    It isn't the only, and I think Moore exemplifies the problems with both selling rights without any involvement in the process and that the creators of the source material are entitled to express displeasure with what's been done to their work. When people ask if I like any of the Alan Moore adaptations, I have to respond that I'll probably like the first one he will. Welsh on the other hand went the other direction and was not only involved very actively in the adaptation process but was quite pleased with the final film. So you have to occasionally way the creator's feelings on the finished product as well.

    Adapting a book to a movie, a play or a graphic novel can bring elements of the work to life not previously seen(as Paul Duffield points out above). Not every fan of the original will ever be satisfied- disagreeing with the elements that get chosen to be cut, or the representation of characters differing from their opinion. That's a natural result of adapting work into very different mediums. Although with any luck they'll lead fans(or even detractors) to the original works, boost saels for the creators and create quality adaptations that can stand on their own separately and still please the original creator.

    All that said, I'm working on a comic book I want to turn into a movie, anyone know someone who might be buying?

    After it's finished, of course.
  10.  (2013.19)
    When I said early, I meant really early, like when film was a new thing, as that's what Artemis was talking about. There are examples from very early on of filmed plays (particularly Shakespeare), but mostly it's documentary in nature, or it's just making a point of showing a moving image.

    Sorry, when you said "a lot of early films were essentially recorded plays", I thought you meant that they were presenting the play as a narrative, instead of as a document. I wouldn't necessarily call a document of a play having been put on "[a] new medium [taking] a lot from already existing ones", as that suggests the borrowing of narrative technique. The films you're referring to are basically just one step up from still photographs (as you obviously know). Anyway, there was my confusion.
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2008
    Yeah, so a couple of people said what I was trying to say better, because I get distracted easily and it takes me forty-five minutes to write my typical over-wordy response to any given question.

    The only negative drag that adaptations have on movie-making for instance is that right now it seems like the mainstream film industry is in a glut of mining comic books, much like they have been mining literature for years, much like they have been relying on sub par sequels for years. None of which is the fault of the comics industry or makes the adaptations inherently bad, but it does mean that, like any other creative fad, there's going to be a lot of shit adaptations made because 'comic adaptations are the next big thing' sort of thinking.