I was listening to a morning livestream yesterday and they showed part of a video by Nerdrotic about the continued failure of Amazon’s Tolkien “adaptation” that opens by making fun of a trend in articles by what’s increasingly being referred to as “shill media”. I’ve promoted stuff here in the past…it’s at least part of what Saturday Night Showcase and even the daily quickposts are about…but I’m not going to say positive things I don’t mean just to get review copies or special interviews. I’m not going to play favorites to get access (I’ve also heard them called “access media” and either name has gone to sites that used to be big in the geek entertainment news sphere) or to please the parent company. I’m also not looking for a target to attack for clickbait, so trust me when I saw BW Media Spotlight is about my actual opinion whether I’m promoting someone else’s project or doing my own.
I didn’t watch the full video before getting up to start my day or now as I prepare to make this article. The point is in the beginning; basically “here’s why a huge change to something is a good thing” when it really isn’t. I realize that the elitists and everything for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee crowd (often sharing members) don’t really care but if the goal is to make money maybe you darn well should. It’s not that I don’t understand where they’re coming from. They want to enjoy something (allegedly) and the source material wasn’t it. My all-time favorite movie is The NeverEnding Story, and they apparently got the message of the book wrong. However, I was not owed “my” version of The NeverEnding Story and if it hadn’t come out I would just have a different all-time favorite movie if I could find one with the themes I like about that movie with as much care put into it. What gets me is why they insist they have “their” version and then why they’re surprised the not-adaptation fails so badly or gets fans of the source material so heated. Yes, politics can play a role but I won’t be going on about “those durn SJWeses” because the current sociopolitical climate (look at me usin’ the big boy words) is only a symptom of a larger problem with bad adaptations, and that’s a level of low self-esteem that makes me look like a life coach in comparison.
We’ve discussed more than once that actors do not see things the way fans do. Remember that old SNL skit where William Shatner is asked questions about Star Trek that he didn’t think about? Exaggerated as it is there is a hint of truth to that. For the actors this is just a role, and by itself that isn’t a bad thing. They’re more interested in the experiences they had with cast and crew, for better or worse as some performers hated their time on a show loved by others–sometimes even for good reason, and in how much they enjoyed taking on a certain role. Shatner however was part of what was then an original property. There was no franchise before he took the role, just a failed first pilot. Star Trek now has many TV shows, radio shows, books, comics, and video games. There is history, lore, and an understanding of who these characters are and how they act and respond to various situations and stimuli.
To fans of those shows these are more than characters because we had years with them. Cowboy BeBop lasted one season and a feature film but managed to tell the full story of Spike Spiegel plus have time to go through three oth…two other character arcs and whatever Ed was doing at the time. Sure, a sequel could have focused on Faye tracking down the rest of her early memories and it might have even been good but that wasn’t the point of the show. While Spike was something of a focal point it was actually Ed’s leaving that signified it was time for the characters to grow on their own…well, the ones who don’t die. Meanwhile it was a tale of broken people who came together and not so much forming a family or some long-standing connection as being a dysfunctional support group of sorts. That’s why the final episode didn’t end with Jet and Faye clearing a path so Spike could have his final battle with Vicious and then all go have a beer. It was about people who needed to connect with themselves and move on finding something to ground them before continuing on their path. In those twenty-six episodes we learned about these characters, watched them grow and in a way grew with them, some fans more than others depending on how they connected to an individual character or the crew as a whole. We know who Spike is, who Faye is, who Jet is, and even a bit about Edward, though not all that much because she’s kind of wacky in the best ways. When that wasn’t translated properly in the Netflix series, fans were understandably upset because it meant that the whole thing was a cash-grab based on a popular franchise.
The BW commentary I linked to early gave us Titans with little or no connection to the actual comic characters, a complaint made against the original Cartoon Network cartoon, at least by me since it took a few liberties, and even more so with Teen Titans Go!, which used the same looks in a new art style and little tie to the show they already loved. The actors didn’t care; they just really liked the characters they were portraying and were so disconnected from the source material that they couldn’t understand why fans of the actual New Teen Titans period that most Titans spin-off material was based on. (The Filmation shorts came from the pre Wolfman and Pérez incarnation of the team.) However, that was just a disconnect from the source material.
Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power decided not to use the actual history of Middle Earth that JRR Tolkien created, going instead for something completely original. This includes trying to force a multiracial culture by modern human standards into a fantasy series based on European folklore and pre-Christian mythology through the eyes of a Catholic writer. Tolkien fans, who have learned the elvish presented in the books to breathe further life into the story in the same way some sci-fi shows will come up with a fake language right down to grammar rules to make the world more “lived in”, have already read The Silmarillion and already know that history, and that’s what they wanted to see brought to life. Instead we get some original history that clashes with the very books and movies Amazon is using to push this show…instead of creating an original show.
There was a time when Hollywood and even foreign saw something was popular and wanted to make their own. The Pumaman was made because Superman: The Movie did so well. CBS greenlit a series based on The Flash but wanted the tone to reflect Tim Burton’s Batman films. Digimon was only translated and brought to the US because Pokémon turned out to be a Star Wars-esque sleeper hit, and anybody in this neck of the woods knows how many ripoffs, homages, and knockoffs Star Wars turned out to be. “X” is popular, so let’s cash in and make “Y” without caring if “Y” was even good so long as they parted people with money…in other words the model that allows film studio The Asylum to actually be in business. Heck, they ripped off themselves when Sharknado won over the bad film lovers culture. This has led to actually good productions too. Star Wars basically gave the action sci-fi sub-genre a huge boost on TV and in movies. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers brought live-action adventure shows for kids back to TV that seemed to have disappeared with Filmation’s Shazam! and The Secrets Of Isis, and there wouldn’t be a Shazam/Captain Marvel without Superman, who has become the template for many superhero power sets. Creating your own version used to be actually creating your own version.
The current generation of “creators” have opted to take a different path, and it’s one that slowly made its way through Hollywood for years, including the aforementioned all-time favorite movie if I’m honest…and I am. Instead of creating “Y” today’s storytellers have opted to corrupt “X” to be what they wanted to make. While George Lucas made Star Wars because he couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon. Meanwhile the last two Flash Gordon productions I saw have no connection to the original property. I grew up with Filmation’s animated Flash Gordon, and it was quite faithful to Alex Raymond’s newspaper strip. The last comic I read replaced one planet with a series of worlds connected by portals while the SyFy version showed me a bunch of leftover street punks with jacket wings trying to pass themselves off as Hawkmen while Ming’s aid seemed more like Ming The Merciless than the pretty boy trying to destroy an ego-driven track star and his ex-wife Dale. Sure you can get politically driven changes like race and gender swaps, characters suddenly being gay or replaced by some minority token who is more interested in their minority status than saving the world, but some changes are just to make it darker in tone, or because of media format snobbery. It’s certainly not out of a love of the source material and it has nothing to do with pleasing the very people you’re trying to attract…the reason you even have a property to work on in the first place.
Why do this? While there’s at best anecdotal evidence on the non-political side. There are so many movie ideas and scripts that never got made because the studio would rather make something popular than take a chance on something new because they see people as stupid, that they can’t enjoy more than one property or idea. So you get a Jem movie that has little connection to the cartoon outside of the post-credit teaser, the previously mentioned Hawkmen, and a host of other movies that always feel like someone took a script that was lying around, tooled it to barely resemble something popular to a studio exec who knows their kid likes He-Man but doesn’t take five seconds to figure out why, and thus something out of a B-movie gets a huge budget and a big screen worldwide release. This is the mentality that leads to where we are now.
The usual suspects have used this mindset to gain a foothold in popular ideas to push an agenda. (I said I wasn’t using the term or making them the focus, I didn’t say they weren’t part of the problem.) We have novelists being hired as comic writers when they have no love of the media by publishers who have bought into and accepted comics’ low rung status on the media format ladder. These writers have no interest in what came before, which is another problem in that there is no respect for anything that predates their umbilical cords. What they do want is the praise of their peers and the right social cause has always been a good way to do that in the entertainment industry at least since the 1970s, possibly even the 1960s after Vietnam War protests made it popular to rant against the system. (I’m not defending or condemning this, just making a point about modern storytelling.) However, it’s not enough to make a minority superhero, or even tap into existing minority characters and give them a chance to be successful on their own. Black Panther doesn’t have to be a fluke.
The thing is fans of these previous media see through this weak attempt at marketing, using something with a popular name to push an original story and characters that couldn’t be sold elsewhere by having them perform something of an intellectual cosplay. Battlestar Galactica is one I bring up a lot apolitically because it took the original show’s names and slapped them onto completely new characters. (Granted, Glen A. Larson did something similar himself with the first season of Buck Rogers when you compare it to the previous material, and that was before the second season turned the show into a Star Trek knockoff for whatever reason.) It’s an example of a lack of interest to outright scorn of the source material, which would only get worse when Teen Titans Go! or She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power would commit outright attacks on the previous work and their fans, the latter starting right from marketing.
Hollywood is surrounded by yes-men and these new writers, directors, producers, showrunners, and actors can’t handle being told they’re doing it wrong. For them these famous properties are just marketing, and that’s why they keep failing. While you can be so ridiculously tied to the source material you don’t end up making anything good or something that only pleases die-hard fans while losing the general public, going the other way seems rather silly. You not only lose the die-hard fans but increasingly the casual fans who don’t recognize what your selling as what they came here for. That means you’ve already lost a good chunk of your potential audience, and there may not be enough of the anti-fans out there (“anti-fans” refers to people who hate the source material, not the ones who hate fans…the proper that faction “stuck-up self-important self-righteous snobbish @%$holes”) to make up ground. Meanwhile you’ve shown everyone that you have so little faith in your original story and characters or in your ability to make minority characters as popular as the heroes who have been around since before you were born that you’ll resort to cheap marketing to get them to watch it. If you have that little faith in your own work and that little compassion for the storytelling that made those characters you’re appropriating culturally important enough to bother appropriating why should we have any faith that your story is going to be any good…especially when we’ve seen it isn’t.
The end result is lost revenue, lost audiences, and people who might have enjoyed your story slamming it because it keeps what they already enjoy from getting a proper reboot or continuation, while people who knows they’re being sold token representation get insulted and tell you what you can do with yourself because while they’d like to see a black hero like Superman they don’t necessarily want “Black Superman”.
Why is getting an adaptation right a good thing? Because it draws in the audience, opens the door for an alternate take that might be interesting to fans of the material you’re not destroying, and thus actually creating a larger audience rather than having videos so downvoted that Google has to pull the option from YouTube to protect the sensitive feelings of people who make more money in a day that I ever did in a year and live in gated communities surrounded by people who tell them how awesome they are and bend over backwards to kiss up to them either for an autograph or to keep their jobs and investments. Make original stories, have enough faith in them to sell them right, pick up on how to tell a good story in the first place and build on that, and then you don’t have to deal with angry fans. Instead you’ll have a lot more fans from all corners, make more money, and make a better impact on storytelling and perhaps even the culture.
And that’s a good thing.