Adapting and ReImagining Beloved Stories
This Monday I had the interesting experience of watching a friend become extremely excited about the premiere of Syfy’s mini-series “Childhood’s End”. He told me it was one of his favorite books and, as a screenwriter, he always thought it would be great to see an adaptation of the story. On Tuesday, I heard from him about all of the ways he hated the first part of the mini-series. The choices they made, the parts of the story that were changed, why they were changed, what they focused on, what they annoyed, all of these decisions were personally offensive to him. I have yet to read Childhood’s End so I thought the first installment was pretty good, however, the feelings of complete anger and bitter disappointment were so familiar to me as I believe they are to all nerds who have seen their favorites adapted.
Not all adaptations are created equal, but for a nerd that doesn’t matter. What matters to us is that the adapters are careful and loving of the source material and that they do not change a single thing. Overall, I believe that the Harry Potter films were incredibly well done but that won't stop me from launching into a tirade about what was missing and where they went wrong.
Now I also recognize that the Harry Potter series was a triumph compared to what the writer and director of The Mortal Instruments did to the plot and story of City of Bones. I don't have enough time to go into all of the ways that film completely destroyed a story that, while is not my favorite, I did enjoy. I left the film with my friend completely dumbfounded by the choices that were made and how they would be fixed in the subsequent films.
Spoiler alert: they weren't fixed. The film bombed and the sequels were cancelled. However, they're going to try again with a TV series.
There are countless examples of this mishandling of source material and it's not just from books to films. I once tried to read a novelization of Serenity based on the beloved show Firefly and I was so disappointed by the lack of wit and nuance. The mishandling of these beloved stories feels like personal attacks on the fanbase. Obviously, these were made to appeal to the built-in audience that loved the source material, so why are they not taken better care of?
There are numerous reasons changes need to be made in adaptations and as a rational human being I'm willing to accept some of those reasons. Budget limitations, human limitations, production time and costs as well as the overall time and costs to the audience - however, those limitations need to be recognized and the best effort to protect the overall story needs to be made. Most of the times the reasoning is not very complex, I believe it comes down to laziness and cynicism, the idea that no matter how the original material is treated, it's fans will come out in droves and consume this new material blindly. Alternatively, fans need to be better at recognizing and supporting those who do the hard work to hold up their adaptations to their original material - but that's what nerds do.
These adaptations are clearly a cash grab and it feels as though there should be a civilized agreement between fans and creators. We agree to give you all our money if you agree to not ruin all the things we love about these stories. Deal?