When it comes to bad adaptations, and so many of them have been lately, we put the blame on directors, showrunners, and writers. Also actors but we really shouldn’t do that. It’s not like they care about the source material unless it’s Henry Cavill, and even then we only have evidence of that with The Witcher rather than Superman, no matter how much he says he likes Superman, looks the part, and built his own gaming computer to show off nerd cred before announcing wanting to work on a Warhammer movie. Actors are only playing a role they want to play or just trying to earn that paycheck. I’ve given up on their caring about the source material versus what they care about…themselves.
There should definitely be some blame placed on the people in charge of the stories. While She-Hulk‘s creators have admitted they were trolling comic fans for not liking Captain Marvel and many are more interested in political standings than adaptation, this isn’t the complete issue with bad adaptations. We’ve had bad adaptations going back to the black and white days. Go watch the Captain America serials from 1944 if you don’t believe me. I really enjoyed The Adventures Of Captain Marvel but Republic too as much liberties with the future Shazam as they did with Captain America. (Maybe it’s a captain thing?). The recent Shazam movies are more accurate…if you take into account they’re based on Geoff Johns’ annoying reimagining of Billy Batson and his life. Heck, just go to the Masters Of The Universe or Super Mario Brothers live-action movies if you want something recent but before the current sociopolitical nonsense.
No, I put most of the blame on the studios and distributors for the failings of adaptations, and it’s only gotten worse in more recent years. Some of the reasons I’m going to cite may be obvious and some won’t. Either way it’s time to give all the devils their due.
Of course the main issue is that they’re hiring directors and showrunners who have no interest in the source material or doing a faithful adaptation for fans while making something casual viewers can still enjoy. One Marvel Studios producer even admittedly recently he only wanted people with no understanding of the source material, showing he’s only interested in using IP to do whatever he wants. It’s a cheap marketing move and it’s the cause of more issues at the once fan-cheered production company than anything Victoria Alonzo did or didn’t do. Not that she’s off the hook but let’s not pretend everything gets better when she leaves. It didn’t fix the problem with the comics when Joe Quesada went away.
That’s because the problem is long standing. Whomever is responsible for deciding who gets what gig doesn’t look at the best person for the job. They look for the director that made them money on a previous project, ignoring that they were perfect for that project, for example Zack Snyder and Watchmen or 300, and make the mistake of assuming they’d be good for any project and getting…Zack Snyder’s DC movies. It’s like looking at the late John Hughes’ success in coming of age comedies and thinking “this is the guy we want to reboot A Nightmare On Elm Street”. I hear questionable things about Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies but at least he comes off as someone who could make a horror film. The dude’s name is Rob Zombie after all, stage name or not. It’s funny how actors have to worry about typecasting but directors, showrunners, and screenwriters have no such issue. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that Hughes could pull off a new Freddy Kruger but it seems highly unlikely. I really don’t think anyone cares who Freddy is taking to prom. “That weekend I killed a lot of people…but I learned something about myself. Namely that I really like killing teenagers.”
The thing is these showrunners and directors really want to make their own projects. They’re not hiring creators who want to make a proper ET The Extra-Terrestrial reboot, they wanted to make Space Slaughter. Or to use an actual example, look at Voltron: Legendary Defender. Those showrunners didn’t want to do a Voltron series. They had their own ideas and mistakenly believed that Netflix would let them make the show they wanted if they made the stupid kids show. The end result was Pidge being a girl, Sven using his Japanese counterpart’s name, Allura becoming an angry xenophobe, and Coran becoming the comic relief. They didn’t want to do the monster of the week so I hear they didn’t. It might have been a good show, though the only…sorry…defenders I’ve seen was from the representation people, but what I’ve seen of it didn’t look like Voltron to me.
The thing is that these creators are usually pretty open about not wanting to make this…long after the fact mind you. During it they’ll tell you how much they love the source material. I’m not sure what toys Steven Spielberg played with his kids or grandkids but if it was Transformers he really didn’t pay attention to what Michael Bay was doing with the first movie when he produced it. Bob Hoskins talked about playing Super Mario Bros with his kids so he must have been confused when the light-hearted fantasy game was replaced with a near cyberpunk Mushroom Kingdom. In essence the directors of these movies tricked the studios and producers into letting them make the movie they really wanted…literally when you look up the history of the Jem And The Holograms movie, where John Chu even tricked the show’s fanbase into supporting generic music movie plot #2. It’s not that they want to do a bad adaptation outside of someone like Todd Philips who made Joker and the upcoming sequel because he hates superhero movies and wants to prove how superior his tastes are. I’m still convinced people went to see that movie to push back against the usual suspects insisting it’s a pro-incel movie (I don’t care if it is or isn’t because it’s not the Joker I know) and I’m curious to see if the sequel does nearly as well or has nearly as early hate to push the white knights along.
The big problem is this cheap marketing gimmick of retooling the movie they want to make to this pre-existing property is out of desperation. The studios don’t want to take a chance on something new, convinced it won’t do nearly as well unless it has an existing fanbase or popular name behind it. This is in spite of the evidence to the contrary, but it’s also why Disney bought Marvel Comics. The early MCU movies were distributed by Paramount, not Disney, but they did well and Disney assumed the reason was that it was based on something that already existed. This ignores that outside of Captain America, which never had a really good solo adaptation until the MCU, the Hulk, which only had faithful adaptations in animation, Iron Man, who only existed in cartoons and we know Hollywood doesn’t care about anything that doesn’t have “real” actors, and Spider-Man, which has had terrible adaptations in the MCU thanks to Sony, nobody knew who most of the Marvel characters were. Black Panther, who only showed up in a poorly-animated cartoon and a few guest spots in other Marvel heroes’ cartoons prior to the MCU, was completely unknown to the general public now screaming “Wakanda forever”, while Thanos only appeared in comics and The Super Hero Squad Show season two. Pre-existing only mattered to actual comic fans, who now go into the movies, see nothing of the comic they liked in the property, and stop going to MCU movies like they did the DC stuff. Only Snyder fans and those who haven’t learned their lesson cared to see any of DC stuff after Dawn Of Justice.
Because the studios are afraid to do anything new despite the success of something like the John Wick or Avatar movies, the latter having the benefit of James Cameron and little else outside of WETA on special effects, the directors who really have a story they want to tell are forced to alter their story to this property to get the story out. They care more about their story than the source material and the end result will be a poor adaptation. Maybe if they proved themselves on making a proper Batman adaptation they could get their movie made because most directors don’t get stereotyped even when they should, we’d have less bad adaptations and could just the movie based on its own merits. The directors get mad when people don’t like their story, not understanding that it’s the adaptation we’re upset by. I’ve seen good movies that are bad adaptations. My favorite movie, The NeverEnding Story, is a bad adaptation, or at least only adapts part of the movie and loses the book’s intended message. I’ve seen bad adaptations that are good productions. People honestly enjoyed Battlestar Galactica but Ron Moore’s vision is so far removed from Glen Larson’s that if they renamed it Mandroid nobody would really notice beyond minor elements. Just don’t send them to Earth and all you have is “space convoy escaping robots”. It’s like comparing Pokémon to Digimon. I’ve also seen bad movies that are bad adaptations and good movies that are good adaptations. The quality of the movie is not the same as the quality of the adaptation. They should be judged separately.
Naturally the director who doesn’t care about getting a not-theirs property right is going to trick the studio into making their story using cheap marketing. Alternately you get JJ Abrams and Alex Kurtzman doing their “20% different” takes on Star Trek so they can get in on the merchandising, where the real money from the production is made. Of course if your production sucks and chases off the fans you won’t make squat but greedy people don’t always think straight. Imagine if the studios, TV networks, and streaming services…oh wait, those last two often do. For all of Netflix and Amazon’s terrible adaptations their successes come from original properties, or banking on old ideas that have a new fanbase, like the Magnum PI reboot. They have enough new fans to the idea that the terribleness of the adaptations (they gender-swapped Higgins and now she’s Magnum’s girlfriend and of course just at good at beating people up while the trailers don’t even make it look like a detective series anymore) are ignored, or they’re targeting people who hate old stuff but they don’t have the guts to make something new.
The general perspective in Hollywood is that we don’t want anything new, or that we’re too stupid to know what we want. The tastemakers hate it when they’re wrong so when their original work or terrible adaptation fails they blame something else, and have found a way to use the representation movement, and I do mean USE the movement as in playing them like a cheap kazoo, as a shield. Use a shield too long and it starts cracking, which is what’s happening now. Finding new movements to “reforge” the shield is also starting to fail, but the studios don’t even pay attention. If it makes them money and makes them look good, they’re all in. If the studios were more willing to take a chance on new properties, leave the old ones to someone who honestly wants to make a modern retake rather than a “modern audiences” retake on something not made for them (oddly the same people who tell critics “this wasn’t made for you”), and the story would succeed or fail based on the quality of the work and not the quality of the adaptation. This would lead to less Jem And The Holograms and more John Wicks. It would also mean not trying to drain dead franchises like a persistent vampire. The Simpsons could finally get a rest and something new could have a chance to prove itself.
Until studios stop looking at the past for cheap marketing rather than potential stories, until they hire directors, showrunners, and writers who honestly want to adapt something instead of using it as a cheap trick to finally get their story made, and until the creators are trying to do more than prove themselves and actually want to improve themselves with the studios actively trying to help the next generation of filmmakers and show makers, this problem is going to continue, media is going to get worse until the people outside the Hollywood system find a way to get noticed like indie comics and indie game makers are starting to–music is a whole other issue but I talk storytelling and don’t know a lot about the backstage–and make the movies and shows people really want then find the audience seeking what Hollywood no longer provides. The IP owners also have to get more picky about who they allow to adapt their work but that won’t help public domain properties. It’s up to the studios to give us new stuff, leave the old stuff to people who care, whether they’re fans or not, and give us good stories that are either good adaptations or stand on their own. We like our nostalgia but if you’re going to make something that only has the paint of nostalgia just make something new. We like that, too.
Don’t talk about things you’ve only heard about. Your whole Voltron tangent is garbage. And now I have wonder if you aren’t just as wrong about anything else you talk about.
I’ve seen a couple of episodes from the first season and a whole lot of clips, including official promotional clips. I’ve also heard that the showrunners really didn’t want to make the show. If the characters change over time they still weren’t a representation of the characters I grew up with.
To clarify: Keith is replaced as leader by not-Sven (I don’t remember his Japanese name, which is what they used), who is gay now, and when he disappears Keith has to overcome insecurities. Allura in the early episodes is angry a lot because they also wiped out planet Arus, and when she learns Keith is, unknown to him, part Drule she goes from liking him to hating him and has to undergo a character arc to change that. “Pidge” turns out to be the real Pidge’s sister but until then we had girl Pidge as far as we knew. Coran is a bit more of a goofball and less of an elder statesman. I’m guessing even Lance and Hunk had major differences from their characters but they didn’t get a lot of focus in the episodes and clips I’ve seen. I’m not talking about the quality of the end product as a story, because it clearly had a fanbase even among a few Voltron fans even if I’m not one of them and I hold no problems with folks who liked it. It’s about the show’s status as an adaptation, one of the points I was making in this article, where I felt it failed because this didn’t feel like the characters from the previous incarnations. So where am I wrong?
[…] fatigue is a myth. It’s just bad story fatigue created by ego-driven people who, as noted last week, cares more about their work than a proper adaptation. Put a good storyteller who either likes what […]
Not so sure they had to trick the studios or directors, but they sure do like to play the “We really loved it as much as you do!” card on the audience and *particularly* the fans. Probably because they think fans are stupid, juvenile losers anyway, so who cares if they insult us? They were (and have not stopped thinking of themselves as) the cool kids in school and we were the nobodies too absorbed in fantasy to deal with “real life.”
To paraphrase Puddleglum, if that’s real life, I’ll stick to fantasy. It’s more real than whatever they are selling.
Even Steven Spielberg broke that out when he was producing the first Transformer movie, that his kids or grandkids I think liked the toys. Apparently he didn’t pay attention to what Michael Bay was doing.
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