Adaptations

Let’s talk about adaptations. The second Hobbit movie has come out fairly recently and there’s quite a few arguing going on around if it’s a good adaptation, so this seems to be a good time to talk about this.

I think there are only two things that are really important in an adaptation from one medium to another (regardless of what the original and adapted mediums are). First, is the adaptation a good work of its medium in and itself? Too often that point is forgotten, especially considering that usually adaptations change quite a lot. “Oh, they’ve cut out Tom Bombadil!”, “They’ve totally changed Faramir’s character!”, “The Elves have never showed up at Helm’s Deep!” Okay, yes, but is it an amazing film (game/play/dance/book/whatever the adaptation is)?

The second point, does the adaptation keep the spirit of the original? Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon (so far my favorite animated movie of all time, by the way) doesn’t have anything in common with the source book material except the locations, world and the names of the characters. Yet it’s a wonderful movie, and, even though admittedly I haven’t read the book, Cressida Cowell (the writer) was very happy with the film and said that it kept the spirit of her work.

In my eyes you can make as many changes, expansions, cuts as you want, as long as it’s to make it a better work of its medium and to keep the spirit of the source intact (though, bear in mind, that’s got a lot to do with personal preferences and opinions).

I know it’s counter-intuitive, and that whenever someone familiar with the source is looking at the adaptation, they want it to be as close to the original as possible because that’s what they love, enjoy, and care about, but the big paradox of adaptations is that a lot of times you have to make changes to stay closer to the source.

Now, please, don’t assume I’m saying that the creators of an adaptation can do whatever the hell they want. There has to be reason, and purpose. There are some things that work in one medium but just don’t work in another, different structures, different ways to convey information, emotions, to build the world. And also, for everything to work in context. “This goes against what we know from the source material!”, it may be so, but if it works in the context of adaptation, makes the adaptation better and is not against the spirit of the original as a whole, that doesn’t matter.

All that said, what about video game adaptations? What makes a good video game adaptation? Well… the same two things, really. It’s got to be a good video game first, and has to keep the spirit of the source material. Though, it should be noted, that some of the best video game adaptations are those that don’t try to transfer any particular work, but just take the world and tone of the source and do something new with it: The Witcher, The Walking Dead, Batman: Arkham Asylum. But there are a bunch of good direct adaptations as well, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (yeah, I picked an oldie!), LEGO Lord of the Rings (ironic, considering that it’s made out of Lego), Metro 2033. In all successful adaptation cases, you can see liberties being taken, be it because the material is absolutely new, or because the source is being tweaked to work with the new medium.

Another curious adaptation case is the ‘game to game’ adaptation, board game to video game, or video game to board game (or any other type of game). I think the principles of what makes them good are essentially the same, but I have yet to play a game in two different mediums. For example, I’ve experienced DnD and Warhammer 40k video games, but have never played actual DnD or Warhammer 40k board games, and I have played board games like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, but have never got to their video game counterparts. So there’s something I should look into, I think.

To recap. Adapted work should be good in and of itself, and it should keep the spirit of the original. Everything else in comparison to source material is tentative, but decisions should be made to reach the first two goals and not because “**** this ****”. Thank you for your time, hope you have enjoyed the read.

Posted on January 4, 2014, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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