Do you like adaptations of your favourite stories? I guess the answer to that is “yes, if it works” and then it is up to us to decide whether it does or not.
Famously The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock is an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name so it isn’t just about novels being “translated” to a different media.
One thing I look for in adaptations is whether they’ve stayed faithful to the spirit of the original book, play or what have you. The good ones do! It’s almost impossible to stick to every single word of the original manuscript. (Can you imagine how long The Lord of the Rings films would’ve been otherwise?! They came in at 3 hours+ as it was…).
Adaptation of The Lord of the Rings
A good adaptation should confirm images you have imagined when reading the original material. For me, Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkein’s classic trilogy is the definition of this. Nothing was out of place, Middle Earth and Mordor were realistically portrayed (the “yes, it would’ve been like this” school of thought).
The New Zealand Tourist Board has also done very well out of this! My late parents were in the country after the last LOTR film came out and walked proudly through the Hobbit aisle at Wellington International! This was highly appropriate given none of my family are tall. Some of us don’t even make it to 5’ but there you go. They also visited Hobbiton, as my sister did last year. So a good adaptation can have a lasting impact then on how people view the original material but it should always enhance it.
Advantages of a Good Adaptation
A good adaptation will also encourage you to check out the original source material for yourself. I read Oliver Twist after watching the Alec Guinness portrayal of Fagan and The Muppets’ Christmas Carol encourages people to read the original book. (I love that for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is it is unusual for a film to point the way to reading a book!).
In the case of Shakespeare, watching one National Theatre Live production encouraged me to watch others and become a fan of the Bard. I would like to go and see more this year too. I’m not going to run out of Shakespeare plays to go and watch for some considerable time! (I’ve always felt Shakespeare was meant to be watched rather than read. I’m sure he’d love TV and film as media).
Bad adaptations try to turn the story into something it was not meant to be. I’ve refused to watch TV series where stories have been altered from what the author originally intended.
Another “sin” in my book is taking a character from the author’s work and putting them into another story by that same author where that character wasn’t originally in it. I can’t see the point. And don’t get me started on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies “creation”. I love Jane Austen’s novel, I have no issues with zombies (in stories I hasten to add!) but the two of them together – no way! The story ending and the characters in it are what the author created so why would you deviate from that? Is it lazy thinking?
The Challenges of Adaptations
A real challenge is turning a favourite book into a good radio adaptation. The characters have got to sound as you the reader would accept otherwise you’ll switch off. Favourite scenes in the book you love reading have to be either cut or shown in other ways using the myriads of sound effects now available. (This is where visual media has it easier. You can show pictures and pictures can save a thousand words!).
I also don’t envy those bringing a play (new or old) to the stage. Just what do you include? What do you omit? What do you have to imply?
Adaptations are not just for stories either. They’ve long been a feature of music. Sampling and mixing to create a new sound is nothing new. The classical composers were doing it centuries ago. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini says it all as does Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. But these bear out my point. Both wonderful pieces of music are meant to be a tribute to Paganini and Tallis and work because of that. There is a world of difference between a tribute and a rip-off!
The Downside of Adaptations?
Do adaptations stop new work coming through (in whatever media)? I can see why that might be a concern. It’s too easy to go for old favourites when putting on a stage show (you know the punters will come in). People forget that old favourites were new plays or stories once and someone had to take a chance on them. Whoever decided to go ahead with The Mousetrap picked well given it is the longest running show in the West End ever.
What is interesting is how new forms of entertainment develop and what adaptations feed them. For example the video games market now has specific entries for the classical music charts and I sometimes listen to a show on Classic FM which is purely about music for that genre. All of it is very good and some is incredibly beautiful. So music adapts to form then. Also video games now have specific stories written for them and some of these allow the player to choose their own story (within the framework provided by the writer of said game of course). The player adapts the story (or appears to anyway) but this is a clever development.
Adaptations and Remakes
So adaptations then can be a good thing if done well but therein lies the rub. Who defines what good is here? Am I against new interpretations of classic plays? Not necessarily but they have to stay true to the spirit of the original as mentioned above. Otherwise, to me, it is a new play.
I also don’t like remakes for the sake of it. That does seem to imply a lack of creativity to me. I refused to watch the remake of The Italian Job. How can you improve on the perfection of the original film with Michael Caine? You can’t. It would have been far more honest to put the remake out under its own name (possibly with something saying it was inspired by TIJ but leave it there). Course, there was a wish to get “bums on seats” so I guess that was why this wasn’t done.
I want an adaptation to show me something about an old story I had not considered before or to show a performance which is excellent in its own right and adds something to the overall canon. There are many versions of A Christmas Carol and all I’ve watched have added something to the story (Patrick Stewart was uncanny as Scrooge as was Michael Caine in the Muppet version. The same story. Two differing versions of it. Both excellent. That’s the way adaptations should be).
So over to you then. What are your favourite adaptations and why? Are there stories you feel shouldn’t be adapted? Which adaptations have not worked for you, even though they may have done for others? Are there adaptations you feel cannot be bettered? (For me, that is the LOTR films and I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Hamlet).
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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