adaptations & media critiques

adaptations & media critiques

Hello! Recently my friend Nick started a wonderful
podcast about bad movies called Reel Bad and I have
had the incredible privilege of being a frequent guest
on this podcast. It is a ton of fun and you should definitely
check it out. Link is in the description. I have loved every episode of this podcast,
and being a part of the recording process
when I’ve gotten to do that. But a few weeks ago we recorded what was,
I think, my favorite episode to be on. Part of why it was my favorite is because
while we were ostensibly talking about
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we were really talking about storytelling,
which is just always my favorite. I guess, in fairness, this is actually true of every
episode of Reel Bad, but this was a conversation
that I was particularly excited to have. We had a lot of good storytelling conversations
around Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,
but, in particular, I got to be the odd man out espousing my unpopular,
but deeply cherished opinion on adaptations. Nick: OK, so, let’s get into this.
[laughter] Nick: All right, this is hard for me to talk
about because I am a Batman fan. Sam: OK
Nicole: Mm-hmm. Nick: Um, but Nicole has a really good perspective
on this–[laughter]–I don’t know if it’s good. Nicole: We’ve–we’ve come prepared to fight.
Nick: We’ve come prepared to fight. [laughter]
Sam: Oh good.
Rachel: Oh boy. Nick: And I’d be interested to see what
you two think of this. In short: I have very little reverence for the
particulars of source material or the established
canon when critiquing an adaptation. Philosophically, if not always emotionally, I am
deeply disinterested in source material fidelity. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of things
that have been adapted into another medium, and I have definitely had an emotional reaction
to things being different than what I expected. What I am saying is that the adaption is a new thing,
which by necessity must be changed in order to exist,
and I’m much more interested in critiquing it on its
own merits. There’s this weird sort of deification of “canon”
in conversations about adaptations that I find not
only uninteresting but also just not super useful. I totally understand the emotional
experience of feeling like an adaptation
has gotten something “wrong” – something that was important to you
about the source material. When the first Hunger Games movie was released,
I remember being bummed that Madge, the mayor’s
daughter, was removed from the movies. I have a particular grudge against the X-Men
movies, mostly because the 90s cartoon’s
sassy-as-fuck version of Rogue holds such
a dear piece of my heart and I just really hate emo Anna Paquin Rogue. But the thing is, those are gut feelings that
say nothing whatsoever about the efficacy
of those choices in telling those stories. While I do like the way that Madge is woven
into the books and could have been useful
in the movies, she’s not necessary. Like, her absence didn’t ruin those stories. And the sort of idea behind emo Rogue makes
a lot of sense, given what her power is. Uh, I don’t think it works in the space
of those movies because I don’t think that
it was given sufficient emotional weight, and it was just set up in a really kinda cheap
way. But at that point it becomes two
separate critiques. Like, I don’t think that this story works because
of the way in which they told it is different than
this character must be this way because that is
the way that I want her to be. Again, I don’t think that there’s anything
wrong with that initial gut reaction of, like,
despair that something is different. But it is also always worth noting that the
thing that you love is still there. And, importantly, there are all sorts of ways
in which this thing that you love, uh, can
inspire new things. Adaptations can be a way to see how somebody
else saw a thing. Or they can be ways to turn elements of a
character or a story on their heads. When you’re going from one medium to another,
you’re dealing with different benefits and constraints
and some change is necessary. Like, if you’re not changing it in any way
whatsoever, then what is the point? Like, it already exists. So much of the magic of stories is in the
ways in which they allow us to expand our
perspectives. It just feels like a failure of the imagination
if your primary critique of a story or a piece of art
is that someone else’s vision of a thing was
different than yours. So, those are my thoughts. You can hear three brilliant and hilarious
people disagree with me and also hear all of us agree that Batman
v Superman: Dawn of Justice was not an enjoyable
film over on Reel Bad. Please let me know in the comments how you
feel about adaptations and source material
fidelity and all that good shit. OK bye!


19 thoughts on “adaptations & media critiques”

  • I just sent you an email with other thoughts and now I'm going to leave you a comment! I think you are right and I can see that in a very detached way, but my feelings are struggling. Because SOURCE MATERIAL! Also, though, and this doesn't really have any bearing on your argument, but there is something to be said about skill when an adaptation can capture the spirit of the source. Or that when it changes things, there is a certain WHY that is apparent to the consumer? But that's super subjective as well and goes back to the user experience, if you will, and doesn't really negate the idea that you critique the two pieces separately. IDK, I'M HAVING FEELINGS.

  • Ravenclaw Reading Room says:

    I just rewatched all the Hunger Games movies over the weekend and TBH, I'm still a little mad about Madge. I think one of my favourite things about adaptations is seeing how different creators interpret a character. A prime example for me is Steve Rogers. In Captain America, he's a little bit "aw shucks" but even as a tiny little dude with every medical problem ever, he was still very much on the side of seeking justice. Then you get the Joss Whedon interpretation in The Avengers, where he's 50% "aw shucks" and 50% old man, and IT ANNOYS THE SNOT OUT OF ME. And then you hit Winter Soldier, where he's readily adopting technology and is totally an angry young dude who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 1930s, and IT'S GREAT. Long and complicated explanation was overly long and complicated, but yeah. I always find it fascinating to see how someone interprets characters, particularly when there's a ton of original source material (which, in the case of comics, there's never just ONE VERSION of canon anyway, so it's totally understandable that people pick and choose the one they relate to) okay wow find a paragraph break already ilu bye

  • I totally agree with you. I get especially upset when people flame over film adaptations of books over 'not respecting the cannon' enough. I find more often than not these decisions to alter the source material are necessary if not beneficial to the end product as a film. I believe this ultimate feeds into my dislike of the "the best form of media for all storytelling is books!" meme.

  • this made me think of plays and musicals. i love watching live productions and can see the same show multiple times bc it will never be performed exactly the same way ever and i think that's beautiful. more on your topic, tho, i get really offended when a character or story i love is not done thoughtfully. like… you had an opportunity to do something really amazing and chose to not? how very dare you.

  • lissette maldonado says:

    When it comes to adaptions, I have the same feelings as you when it came to the Hunger games. For instance, in The Fault In Our Stars adaption, they took out Hazel's best friend and Augustus's ex-girlfriend which to me makes sense because they didn't contribute in a major way to the story. Also, it makes sense for Hazel's character because she knows that she isn't going to live long which is why she's hesitant towards being in a relationship with Gus and getting close to people. I didn't love Batman vs Superman either because the director tried to do too many things. One being setting up Batman vs Superman to fight each other, Wonder Woman just randomly being there, there's no explanation on why she's there in the first place.
    ( This was before the Wonder Woman was confirmed, since then I have watched the Wonder Woman movie and really enjoyed it) The final battle, and then the cameos of the justice league.

  • What often bothers me about new movie adaptations is when the original is literally storyboarded already, like with comics, and yet the adapters make unnecessary changes that don't do the material any favors in the new medium. Like Sin City was adapted nearly 100% accurately from the original graphic novels and it came out great. Changes like to Rogue's character, or Apocalypse's entire character in the film, that make the material weaker just baffle me. I'm only a purest insofar as the creators of these movies are changing things for no gain, because why the hell change anything to make it worse?

  • I go into adaptations knowing that some elements will have to change when going from one medium to another. My most recent brush with an adaptation that I did not enjoy basically just used the names and a small amount of the plot from the source material, but changed the perspective and made the story remarkably forgettable, for which I was incredibly disappointed. If it had made the story better, I would have loved it. It did not, and therefore I just find myself upset and wanting to reread the books and pretend the movie just never happened.

  • I love certain adaptations like LotR and Harry Potter but I remember being really disappointed seeing HP5 in the cinema when it first came out. I re-read the book right before and so much was changed and it upset me. But with the distance between movie watching and book reading I can appreciate both for what they are.
    And in a rare turn of events i like the movie of Perks of being a Wallflower more than the book. I didn't understand the whole story in the book but I did watching the movie. There are many more examples of this but I can never say them as eloquently as you do.

  • I think I agree with you more than I don't. First, I'm a film person more than a book person (despite how much I read and my booktube participation) and you can tell this because I prefer the 2005 Pride & Prejudice to the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini. The 2005 film is simply a better film even as they change or skip more.

    Secondly, I do believe adaptations can sometimes be better than their source material. (Especially if the source material is weak. More room for growth/improvement.)

    But, I do care about canon. Not so much in exactly how a scene or character looks in the source material, but how it feels. I'm totally with you that when you're adapting something from one medium to another, change must occur. Often change is necessary to keep to the spirit of the original.

    If the changes you make change the spirit of the original, that's what annoys me perhaps the most.

  • Long Kiss Goodnight is not a 'bad' movie. Sorry, you are wrong.

    The worst movie I ever saw was Showgirls. Now that is a bad, bad film.

    BvS was a clusterfuck.

    I can like an original story and it's adaptation for different reasons. I love the Watchmen film and the comic for different reasons. They are different mediums and I judge them separately.

  • LauraEchelonia says:

    still mad no one told me about the podcast before? it's so good? i've just finished catching up today. i listened to BvS while cleaning the bathroom 😀
    i dont even know what to say besides that i was so nodding along the WHOLE time. yes, yes, thank you! i think i have to re examine my dislike for the way they adapted Vanessa in the gossip girl series (yes, i am a v sophisticated adult)

  • Ankit kumar Tiwari says:

    I think maybe this is place where you will see my comment.
    first thing I want to tell you that you are very beautiful .you crash course on sociology is just amazing and valuable.

  • Christopher Hicks says:

    One of my favorite examples of adaptations capturing different aspects of a single character Spider-Man (because we've seen so many adaptations in the last two decades. Peter Parker is brooding, emotional, fun, quick-witted, hilarious, and nerdy. But if you look at all of the adaptations (especially the animated ones) you can see how each showrunner highlights a different aspect of his character.

  • andy alonso-emanuel says:

    I agree with you (I do also have the gut reaction) but for me I have always asked rather than was it faithful, did it carry an essence of what made prior thing powerful. For X-men this has been adapting while not always the exact same characters but the ideas of oppression and bigotry as well as trying to live or even in many cases go to school dealing with these oppressive forces. X3 for example does work for me as an adaptation not because the story wasn't faithful to the original comic (the animated series was no where near close either) but that the ideas behind why the saga existed were thrown away and replaced with pure shock value and action with little substance. The aforementioned animated series may have deviated but the core idea of this corrupting power turning a family member into a dangerous weapon were retained and respected. And sometimes it is not even that concrete. I love iZombie the comic and iZombie the show. They share almost literal nothing except what was most important at least to me. Liv in the show takes a lot from Liv in the comics character wise (and power ish wise) and the rest it imports from what I would argue iZombie is much more an adaptation of, Veronica Mars. It takes from both and builds a show that honors both ideas but pushes to be its own thing and I like that, I don't want a visual novel, I want a movie or a show and that is something wholly different.

  • Yea I was SO mad about Rogue. I'm okay with changes, but not when they alter the character completely while serving no real purpose. With that said, typically I don't like adaptations if I've already experienced the story because there are so many other stories with cool characters to experience in general. It is even worse if there is a third remake of a movie that was taken from a book a eons ago. Just think up something on your own already.

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