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Adaptations
by Jeff Winston

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A fitting title considering how fast it jumped into the Dollar Theater

A fitting title considering how fast it jumped into the Dollar Theater
I know that I was missed terribly when I went on my hiatus - or as Ross Geller would call it, "a break" - but I am back now, so dry your eyes. I know I went out as quickly as Britney Spears first marriage, but what can I say, I found it more important to keep my paying job and had to give up this one. Then, I came to the shocking realization that as a high school English teacher, more people listened to me on this site than in my classroom!

So to the three of you that used to read my column, I thank you.
To the rest of you who have never heard of me, Jeff Winston, pleased to meet you, let's get this show on the road.

I'm going to rant about novel adaptations, man is that word fitting "adaptation" If you grab any film maker's dictionary and look up the meaning of that word, here's what you will likely see:

ADAPTATION:
When you take a brilliant, insightful and original story -capable of making a brilliant, insightful and original movie- and bastardize it with some clichéd, overused Hollywood blockbuster battle of triumph over evil to make a substandard film almost totally lacking in substance depth or character development.

Okay, so of course, it's not actually going to say that, but that sure seems to be the case with many adaptations of recent years.

JUMPER

No one was more excited about this movie than me. Having read the original novel by Steven Gould, I could not wait for this film to come out. The novel is brilliant. Davy Rice tries to come to terms with his gift- or curse- of teleportation. The novel charts his journey from a scared and isolated boy simply trying to exist after fleeing from his abusive father, to a man trying to come find a balance between his use and abuse of his powers, while trying not to scare away the love of his life, Millie. The book was brilliant because it relied on the inner struggle as a backbone. Davy's journey was all more impactful because of the insight into his thoughts and feelings about all of the things he did with his gifts, and the solitude he felt knowing that he was the only Jumper on the planet.

Hollywood, of course can't make a blockbuster movie about one kid with an inner struggle. BORING!!!! NO, they need to have an ongoing battle, one that has transcended time. They can't have just one jumper, there needs to be an entire race of jumpers, hunted down for their God-like ability to move from one place to another with ease. They need to have the token Hollywood big shot to sell their weak
One of the best Tom Cruise Movies of all time.

One of the best Tom Cruise Movies of all time.
plot and special effects bonanza. They need to make a movie so mind numbing that when the curtain falls, you wonder where the last ninety plus minutes (you spent watching it) went and how you can get them back.

This movie was so pathetically bad that even Samuel L Jackson couldn't save it. His character is completely invented for this film, to accommodate the entirely different narrative history of the plot. His character comes off as stock, unconvincing and not a little bit pathetic.

THE FIRM

Here's where I change gears here a little bit, because I loved both the film and the novel. There is next to nothing about the two plots that are even remotely close to the other, none the less, the plot they invented for the film was innovative and it worked. Did they bastardize the book, yes, they did, but at least they took the time to write a creative and equally intricate plot as a substitute. One that could actually match the tension we find in the book. If only all bastardizations could be handled with as much class and dignity. The message and the inner struggle were maintained, not discarded for cinematic conventions.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY

Okay, I know I may get as much hate mail as Michael Richards did (for saying the word "Nigger") for what I am about to say, but the top award for a bad adaptation of a novel goes to the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy. But, my reasoning is going to shift. These movies were a terrible adaptation for the (seemingly ironic) reason that they stayed too close to the original novels.

The novels were plot rich, intricate and you needed to ensure that you were paying attention while you read it to avoid confusion. The same seems to be true of the films. I had no bleeding idea what was going on in these films. In the first movie I was trying to figure out what was going on with the plot for about half of it. Just when I start to understand something, I see Cate Blanchett floating in a field spouting some kind of warning. I had no idea what was going on with Liv Tyler's character half the time, and there were just too many subplots going on.

I fell asleep through BOTH of the first two movies, and didn't even bother attempting to watch the third. The fact that it had been given the Best Picture Oscar did nothing to change my belief that this would be a bad movie.

Now, maybe I am being unfair. I can hardly expect you to think that my opinion on this trilogy is valid when by my own admission I have not
More like Lord of the BOrings

More like "Lord of the BOrings"
seen half of it. However, the amount I did see was so confusing, I don't see how anyone under my age range could follow it. It seemed to pack way too much into it.

So, as seems to be the case with me, I have a confusing outlook on adaptations. I have blasted one filmmaker for changing the entire plot to make the movie, praised another for doing so, and blasted another for keeping the adaptations too true to the original novels. At first glance it seems that my outlook on adaptations is more muddled than Tom Cruise's sexual orientation, and more confusing than his opinion on pretty much any topic, let me sum up and see if I can alleviate some of that confusion.
The Idea.
If you have an idea that would work okay for the plot of a movie DON'T CHANGE IT!
The Jumper idea was fine on its own. The Firm would have made for a long drawn out conclusion that had been done many times before. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy had too much going on so the film was way to complex and muddled.

Don't be Cliché
Jumper failed specifically for the reason that the whole plot was cliché and overdone. The Firm was original because it strayed away from the main character getting "out" of the situation, by having him simply make it "through" the situation as best he could. The Lord of the Rings failed because the whole story was a cliché. However, since the novels were written way before Hollywood invented the cinematic cliché's, I guess they can be forgiven in this regard. It still doesn't change the fact that it WAS a cliché, but the movie makers can be excused for it since there was little they could do about it.

Keep the Original Intention Intention/Mood/Struggle Alive
Jumper didn't, The Firm did, LOTR did (but it just didn't work.)

Make an Enjoyable Film
Jumper wasn't enjoyable; it was way too cheesy and devoid of any redeeming qualities. The Firm was an enjoyable film, The Lord of the Rings were not enjoyable as films. Maybe they were for all the die hard fans who wanted to see every nuance of the novels play out on film, but as movies that stand on their own, I find watching professional bowling to be more exciting.

In the end it all comes down to "What made someone want to adapt the story into a film in the first place" and in nearly all cases it comes down to the central struggle and the basic plot. When one or both of those are changed you will not end up with an enjoyable film, and you are ignoring the reasons that made you want to adapt it in the first place.

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Mouthing Off
Every other Thursday

Mouthing Off is the no bull, tell it like it is column on various issues in the Hollywood arena. You want PC, then keep on moving, you won't get it here.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jeff Winston:

The Money Pitt

Movies of South Korea

I Vant to Suck your Blud

Aren't Getting Their Due

Finally Getting Their Due - Underrated Actors

All Columns


Jeff Winston
I am a part time writer and full time teacher. I am currently stationed in the middle of nowhere, northern Alberta, Canada. I love movies, and I love to vent, I am happy to have an outlet to incorporate both here on Matchflick.


Contact
If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jeff Winston by clicking here.


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