The American Academy Awards still befuddle me with their multiple categories. Why do we need a Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress award? Who thought this division was significant?… a good performance is a good performance despite screen-time.
In the 1950s and 60s there were two categories for Best Cinematography, color and B&W. Categories which have since been reconciled. Was there ever a need for the two? Furthermore, why are there two distinct awards for screenwriting? A solid screenplay is a solid screenplay. Whether it is based on a previously produced work or not does not alter the fact it is well written.
Or maybe it does.
Nevertheless, why and how did this come about? Is the writing category so important it needs to be segmented? Last time I checked writers do not get that much respect in cinema. Especially in Hollywood where the producer gets the credit for the final film.
So, what makes a good adaptation? I’m not sure.
I do know my own personal criteria is simple: does the film expand on or re-interpret the original novel, comic book, Disney thrill-ride in such a way that sets it apart from the source material? In other words, does the filmmaker not simpley translate the scenes onto the screen but re-think the story as a film? Does (s)he make it their own?*
There are a number of films that I feel are not only great adaptations but terrific examples of original thought. (Perhaps this is a bit of a paradox.) These are works that take a novel – in most cases a less than stellar work of literature – and transform it into something entirely unique on the big screen.
Here are three Hollywood films that I believe improve/expand on the original source material:
Fight Club (1999) dir. David Fincher
The Shinning (1980) dir. Stanley Kubrick.
M.A.S.H (1970) dir. Robert Altman
I found the source material for each of the above less than satisfactory, even dull in some cases, but the screenplay and final film a vast improvement in every respect.
Also, it made me consider that not-so-great novels can be transformed into great cinema. Instead of adapting a solid work of literature, one might considering a story with a good premise or idea behind that did not reach its full potential. There is also the matter of mediocre directors adapting notable works of literature.
One could also go further and discuss the controversial subject that is the “remake.” But that would be another blog post completely.
Are there adaptations you feel are better than the original? What about remakes? What remakes surpass the original?
*Poor adaptations that come to mind: “Watchmen,” “Emma,” “Perfume,” and “DaVinci Code.” And by poor I mean that film may have been entertaining but is not as good as the original. The term “faithful adaptation” is always a red flag for me.