What’s the fuzz about adaptations?!
A short while ago I read a variety of articles about the supposed likes and dislikes of movie goers these days, all claiming that the general audience is tired of Hollywood’s perpetual adaptation game. Now I wouldn’t have stumbled upon that complaint if it hadn’t been argued that it’s a lack of original ideas in our time and age that brought on this development. It was basically suggested that adaptations are a fairly new development in film history, that all filmmakers know to do these days is to remake or adapt previously told storylines.
Now that assumption makes me chuckle. Actually, adaptations have a long tradition in filmmaking, it’s not as if it’s a present day invention at all. In general, we are rarely as original these days as most of us often care to believe – but maybe that’s what all this fuzz is about… If grandma was looking sensual, glamourous and grand in the odd adaptation piece in, say 1951, then her grand-daughters better don’t. Or shouldn’t. Or couldn’t?!
I don’t know how many movies and TV shows were based on already existing material in the past: plays, novels, short stories, fairy tales. I mean, how often was Shakespeare adapted in the early days of filmmaking? Does Laurence Olivier still ring a bell in Halmet (1948) and the five productions that have followed since? A Midsummer Night’s Dream was adapted several times, first in 1909. Romeo & Juliet one year earlier in 1908, kicking off an endless list of movies based on that particular Elizabethan play. The Thin Man was an adaptation when it first graced the silver screen in 1934, based on Dashiell Hammett’s popular detective novel. It was then turned into a popular franchise that brought on a total of six movies in thirteen years. Perry Mason is yet another example. Erle Stanley Gardner’s whodunits were adapted for both, the big screen in the 1930s and then more successfully the small screen in 1957 and then again in 1985. The Women was based on Clare Boothe Luce’s successful play.
The list is long and would only get longer if I considered all the shows and films that were inspired by previously written novels, songs, plays or short stories. It is safe to say that adaptions per se are everything but not a new development in film. Kiss Me Kate was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and first made its musical debut on Broadway in 1948. Theater in general has a tradition of adapting previously told storylines or real life events. Music has always picked up on that pattern, and so has art in general. One genre influences the other. Comics included.
So the fact that fictional material is still being adapted these days could not possibly be a reason for moviegoers’ negative reaction to it. The quality of the adaptation may play a much bigger role, but that, like so many topics, will always be a matter of taste. However, every adaptation comes with a critic and it’s left to your own imagination what’s worse, to be compared to an already existing piece of writing or to get a negative review on your original idea that may or may not have been inspired by another piece of entertainment or art. After all, it has often been argued that originality is a myth and every idea is based on another. That every story has been told before.
Personally, I enjoy good storytelling, adapted or genuine. Remakes however are often another story, but I’ve rambled about this already and won’t go there again. Instead, I’ll go watch a classic adaptation now, Arsenic and Old Lace for example. Or Mary Poppins, two classic gems, beautifully made.