18 May 2010


Adaptation is tricky business!

That's not what I meant... but that's pretty tricky too

I don't know about you but I'm very excited about the upcoming Scott Pilgrim adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There are a number of reasons for this.

First and foremost I'm a fan of the original comic. For those who don't know Scott Pilgrim is a series of (currently 5, soon to be 6) books written by Bryan Lee O'Malley. They feature a Canadian twenty-something who, in order to date the girl of his dreams (literally), must fight her seven evil exes. It's great! Read it tomorrow!

Secondly, I'm a big fan of the film's director: Edgar Wright. Who's previous films are Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and also directed the sitcom Spaced among others. All of which are excellent, not just in terms of humour either. They're brilliantly put together.


Thirdly and lastly, it appears from the trailer that the film has been faithfully adapted from the source material. Take a look for yourself actually:

Looks well good eh? Anyway, this got me thinking about adaptation, the various successful examples and the numerous unsuccessful examples. Some aren't faithful enough. Some are too faithful. Some are downright insane. I want to  waffle about it so listen up.

You're an idiot

Now I'm not against adaptation. Hey some of my favourite films are adaptations! (See what I did there?) But neither am I always for it. I think one issue I have with the whole thing is that Hollywood seems to think that film is the be all and end all medium. That everything needs "A Film" made from it in order for it to be a thing. This I don't agree with and I doubt any right thinking person does. There are many things that just do not work as films. What's worse is, along the way, filmmakers seem to admit that the project they're working on doesn't work in the cinematic medium, yet they press on. Example you say? Oh alright then!

Back in 1995 someone made a Judge Dredd film. Again, for those not hooked up to the cool information machine like me, Judge Dredd is an English comic character who lives in a dystopian future America and is a crazy strict cop. Well that's the basic description, anyway he's really cool and the Americans wanted to make a movie (despite it being a British creation, but hey). They made a thing with Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider (Oscar bait) and it was abysmal. Shocking!

Derp De Der

Now there were many reasons for this film being terrible, the inclusion of Deuce Bigalow notwithstanding. One thing stood out though: Judge Dredd takes his helmet off. Now this may seem like a small thing but it is representative of the entire approach of the film towards faithfully delivering the message and atmosphere of the source comic. These people did not get it. There are a million things you can change, adjust, remove, invent in every piece of work that's being adapted. Most of which won't be a problem but there are fundamental things that must stay, this is one of them. I've read a certain amount about the making of this particular film (this book) and the filmmakers seemed to believe quite early on in the process that there was no way they could keep Dredd's helmet on for the entire duration of the film as without the eyes, an audience cannot properly emotionally connect or relate to a film character. Ok, fair point... why are you making the film then? It seems like they immediately admitted that this character does not work in the cinematic medium, yet seem insistant on forcing him into it. (Incidentally, I disagree completely and feel an interesting and visually arresting film could definitely be made without removing Dredd's helmet. His character rarely arcs anyway which is usually left to any of the numerous characters around him who remove their helmets regularly.)

Fuck yeah, I'd go see it!

Now Judge Dredd is just a prime example of something that happens a lot in the adaptation process. Someone with a fleeting interest in the source material who can't see the forest for the large box office gross gets their hands on the project and starts missing the point. I've already talked about Tim Burton's Batman films suffering from this. Of course the whole box office fixated executive is such a bizarre thing because if you look at the various celebrations and bastardizations of different works, the celebrations tend to win out, box office wise. Judge Dredd was a flop to say the least and while Burton's Batman films were hugely successful they ain't got nothing on The Dark Knight.

We got a lot in common bro

While we're at this poor example malarky, let's mention something that's likely to make anyone sensitive to poor adaptations buckle at the knees: Video Games. There are absolutely 0 examples of good films that have been adapted from video games. Don't believe me? Go ahead name one. I'll wait... hmm?... anything?... Resident Evil? Fuck off!... yeah I didn't think so! This I don't fully understand because a video game is something that's not as sensitive as a book or a comic. Video games aren't usually as nailed down with their canon or even their stories, it should be very easy to strip down a video game's universe to the bare necessities and build from there. I think what the problem may be is that the reason you think your favourite video game would make a great movie is because it's emulating the style and atmosphere of about ten movies that have already been made. Usually with pride, such as the Metal Gear Solid series and their clear love for James Bond and Kurt Russell. And it's really awful for any genre to have the Super Mario Bros. movie as their cultural milestone, the one that began it all. Have you ever actually sat down and watched that thing? I mean really watched it? It's insane.

Seriously, this happens

But it's not all bad! And it's not all comics and video games! (Or as my ex-girlfriend called them "gay nerd shit you're an asshole") Let me tell you a brief story:

When I was 16 I found myself in Nantes, France for six weeks. Being alone in that land and not exactly being a whiz at French I spent a lot of time reading. Most of my material was given to me before I left by my parents. One particular book was called The Children of Men by P.D. James. I enjoyed it, it was a strong idea but was flawed by a weak ending that didn't really go anywhere. But I always remembered it. A number of years later I'm sitting in the cinema waiting for some movie or other to begin (I don't remember which) and a trailer starts rolling with Clive Owen on a train. His voice over mentions something about "ever since people stopped having children" and I jumped in my seat. "I know that story!" I exclaimed and I watched the trailer, interested. It was clear from the trailer that some artistic liberties had been taken for this adaptation and the whole atmosphere had been given an overhaul. Nevertheless, the initial strong idea remained. Not long after Children of Men (apparently the "The" in the title was problematic) was released and I went to see it and I was blown away. Dudes and dudettes, that is one great movie.


I realise that a lot of people didn't like it and if you happen to be one of those people, I'm sorry but, you're wrong. Yes that's what I said, your opinion is wrong. But anyway, the point is that while Children of Men wasn't faithful to the source material, it was still good. In fact, it was an improvement on the original. So it's not pure faithfulness I'm arguing for.

For more proof in the pudding (or something) let's jump back to comics! Watchmen to be more specific. There's a lot to be said about that whole thing and I won't bore you with the details because they're all over the place and it gets very into the nitty gritty and such and boo. What I will say is, one of the main flaws of the film adaptation of Watchmen (and there are many) is the fact that it spends far too much time insisting that it's faithful. So much effort is put into recreating the comic visually that they forgot to make sure it works as a film. By the way, it doesn't.

Also this was awkward...

This brings me back to something I touched upon earlier when talking about Judge Dredd. Why do Hollywood filmmakers insist that films be made of everything popular? There seems to be some assumption that film is the ultimate and definitive medium and all other works aspire to reach that level. If something is perfectly good in its own medium and doesn't work as a film, why force it into working? I'm all for adjustment and nurturing an idea but sometimes it just becomes ridiculous.

What it comes down to is that usually the big picture is more important than the details. By all means adapt. Adapt away! But do it because the work inspires something great, not because it's purely bankable. As I said before, as much as 'The Rules' are brandished as a business model, the films that stick to the truth of the source generally tend to win out financially anyway. Even if they stray from the beaten path. Try and stay faithful to the work but only when it serves the message/atmosphere/idea, don't do it just for the sake of doing so. And most importantly, keep Michael Bay the hell away from it.

How about
Shia LaBeouf as Leopold Bloom?