Some thoughts on Movie “Adaptations”

In my head I divide films into two distinct categories:  original screenplay and adapted screenplay.  What can I say, I love writing in film.  But more importantly, I make this distinction because I believe that original screenplays often make better movies than adapted ones.

Hear me out.  With original screenplays, the writer is unbound.  He or she can use the benefit of the film medium to its fullest potential.  And as screenwriters like the Coen Brothers have discovered, you can write play-worthy dialogue while still harnessing the power of imagery and scope that only film can.

Adapted screenplays, however, are constricted.  “Adapters” are often tasked with attempting to translate some form of art in its original form into another form.  That’s quite a different thing, as Charlie Kaufman no doubt learns in the great film Adaptation.  In this sense the adaptation is a really a secondary source.  That leaves the adapter two options: either try to faithfully adapt the book, comic book, true story, video game, etc., or just forget everything you know about the property and do your own thing.

The problem with the second option is obvious.  But even if the adapter attempts a faithful adaptation, he or she still has a host of problems.

Character development, for one.  Characters can be well-developed in film; it just takes a skilled filmmaker.  But even the most skilled filmmaker cannot develop a character in the same form.  A movie must fit into time frame, and that means cutting back on character in order to try to tell the story.  Of course, when your characters are linked to the story…well, we see where this is going.

I don’t have a grudge against adapted screenplays; after all, The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It’s just when Hollywood isn’t willing to take a chance on a new property and decides we need a Battleship movie where I start to grow concerned.

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