I know there are a lot of feelings happening right now among moviegoers; it's been a tough year. I send my deepest condolences to DC fans coming to terms with the not one, but two divisive films bookending their summer. Suicide Squad was supposed to reinvigorate us; instead, it tore us apart. I also send solace to those grappling with the Divergent series' final film being bucked to the small screen (preceded by a ho-hum third installment). And I'm sorry if Alice Through the Looking Glass spat on your imagination as someone who looked to Carroll's colorful fantasy stories to escape as a child. Then there's those of us who just wanted a zone-out film this year, be it via a Jason Bourne action thriller or a sappy romance like Me Before You, and neither could deliver the emotions promised because of their uneven quality.
The Best Adaptations Can Be Found On TV, Not Movies
With so many letdowns, many of us have started to abandon the abusive relationship we have with film for television. And TV has gotten good — really good. Outlander, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, 11.22.63, The Flash, the options are abundant.
All the movies and TV mentioned above have one thing in common: They are based on books or comic books. An obvious difference between the movies and TV mentioned? None of those films were certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes while every single one of those TV shows was. Granted, I could hand pick a few films that have done well with audiences and a few shows that haven't, but they wouldn't likely have been lit adaptations. And while this is by no means a scientific comparison, it seems clear that where big-screen literary adaptations are failing, they are thriving in TV form.
Why is this? Films have long pulled from books for source material. TV has done the same much more recently, but there it is a clear fit. Comic books especially are episodic in nature; series adaptations practically write themselves. Not to mention television's ability to further explore details where movies' time limits won't let them. Or even to add new characters and events that weren't present in the books but that add further depth to an established canon.
But it can't be the success of television leading to the downfall of film. They are different forms of entertainment, different forms of experience, and one doesn't necessarily replace the other. And there is no slowdown in movie rights being picked up from books: here are 100 upcoming adaptations that prove it.
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So Why Are So Many Film Adaptations Failing?
I'd proffer it's because people are reading. If there's anything we're learning about the mighty fall of Suicide Squad at the moment it's that the line between fan and critic is blurry at best. As it should be. But what makes a critic a "real" critic or a fan a "true" fan? It's familiarity with their subject. And when it comes to adaptations, the most on-point criticism is from those with expectations based on that familiarity. David Ayer, for example, may have made a deeply flawed film, but he was also up against an audience more informed than ever before.
Today's audiences, especially millennials who read more than the generation before them, are more likely to absorb whatever info they can gather on the films or shows that interest them most. With all these adaptations the most obvious information comes from the book, comic book, or original iteration. Admittedly, as an "old millennial," I've been in book clubs where the entire determining factor of the books chosen to be read was that they were soon to be adapted for the screen. Likewise, I've experienced an overwhelming urge to see a film or TV show because I knew it was based on a book I loved (Harry Potter, amirite?).
Game of Thrones TV fans ask each other if they've read the books before discussing. Some fans of the series immediately ran out to read George R. R. Martin's original books when the show began, while some of us find the television series so satisfying we're waiting to read the books after it ends — another way to continue the love we feel for the characters and world George R. R. Martin created. But the two very much go hand-in-hand.
Adapting A Book Series Is An Art Form Hollywood Has Yet To Perfect
And this might be where film studios are underestimating their audiences most. They choose books to adapt based on book sales (in all their various paper and digital forms) and yet think they can get away with abusing, changing, or ignoring the source material to fit what they think audiences want. They aren't taking into consideration that their audience will have definite expectations.
Granted, adaptation is a tricky art. A book will not fit always fit perfectly into the film or TV model (Cloud Atlas comes to mind). Sacrifices must always be made. But the argument that there are no new ideas in Hollywood and that adaptations are killing the industry is far too reductive and simplistic. There may not actually exist a truly new idea, but there is such thing as a fantastic take on an old idea. This is where adaptations could thrive and a good script makes all the difference.
So what can fans do to improve the quality of movies being pushed upon us? Read. For one, because the book is almost ALWAYS better and a truly good adaptation is enhanced by previous knowledge of the source material. Second, an informed fan is the best possible chance of change in the industry we have. Readers demand better, and because of their knowledge base they can be specific. Clear-cut criticism is the kind that gets heard.
In a time of bad movies, it's the book nerds who may just save the film industry.
What film adaptation of a book or comic do you love most?