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Adaptations of science fiction and fantasy movies have been a sore subject with me for a long time. Most of the Hollywood types just don’t get these genres and so a great deal of crap is foisted upon us by clueless dweezles.
There are basically five types of changes that can be made as part of an adaptation.
The first of these are the obvious kind. Voluminous internal dialog, for example, just doesn’t work in a movie. If there are any crucial details, we might get them in narration or the screenwriter find some other way to show them. Most internal dialog just gets dumped.
Next up are changes that, while not strictly necessary, are nevertheless practical compromises that don’t really change the plot. For example, in the original book The Wizard of Oz, there are two good witches – the Good Witch of the North, who meets Dorothy in Munchkin Land at the beginning of the book, and Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, who helps Dorothy to use the Silver Shoes to get back to Kansas. In a movie adaptation, it makes sense to combine the two good witches into a single character, as it reduces the number of actors and increases the importance of the combined role, making it more attractive. Also, changing the Silver Shoes to Ruby Slippers makes sense as well because the Ruby Slippers give a more dramatic visual touch.
To my way of thinking, the next category is for changes that do not significantly affect the plot, but do change the flavor of the story. Again, going back to the Wizard of Oz, the character of Dorothy is much younger in the book – probably somewhere in the range of 8 to 10 years old. Judy Garland was 16 during the filming of the movie. While there is normally a huge difference between a ten year old and a sixteen year old in both looks and behavior, my biggest problem with using an older actress is how it looks to an audience. Think about the difference between a sixteen year old girl confronting a lion and a ten year old girl confronting the same lion. Even if the two scenes play out with identical dialog and action, they still wouldn’t come across the same to an audience. However, for the purposes of making a movie, finding a good sixteen year old actress is infinitely easier than finding an equally good ten year old actress.
Those three categories represent change that can be accepted, however grudgingly. There are still two categories remaining.
In the fourth category, we have changes that were made for no apparent reason. It doesn’t matter to me whether the makers of the movie felt the original story was lacking in some way, or whether they were clueless dweebs who, like a teenager with a can of spray paint, like to put their mark on something. The net result is that the artistic integrity of the story has been violated. Again, from the Wizard of Oz, the whole notion that what happened in Oz was just Dorothy’s fevered imagination clearly contradicts the book, to the severe detriment of the movie. To me, these kinds of changes are a kind of artistic fraud. The advertising claims that it was The Wizard of Oz, but no, it wasn’t, not really.
Finally, there is whatever happened to the Robert Heinlein classic Starship Troopers. I don’t even need to go into this in detail, there is an outstanding essay detailing what went wrong. Let’s just say that Verhoeven and his merry band of clowns are guilty of artistic homicide. We can only hope that they never again get ahold of the rights to adapt a science fiction story.
At this point, I’m sure that many readers are wondering what prompted this rant.
I recently watched the “10 minute scene” – basically the first ten minutes of the movie “John Carter”, the adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 SF classic A Princess of Mars. As near as I can tell, pretty much everything that happened in the first ten minutes of the movie falls into the fourth category – gratuitous changes made for no reason. This leaves me with very little hope that the movie is not irredeemably stupid.
Oh well. Maybe next time. I hear there’s an adaptation of David Weber’s On Basilisk Station in the works.