Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Where have all the ideas gone?

It's been a common complaint of late that Hollywood has lost its creativity. The theaters have been inundated with sequels and remakes, or both. Who would have thought a few years ago that one of this summer's huge blockbusters would be the third installment of a franchise based on a theme park ride? Or another record-smashing grosser, hailed as the summer's "most original," would be the story of a decades-old cartoon remembered primarily for its toys? The 80's are being revived with gusto, between Rocky VI, Die Hard 4, and Indiana Jones 4. And the number of "thirds" is unbelievable (Pirates, Shrek, Ocean's, Spidey, Rush Hour, Bourne - I'm sure there are more).

Anyway, the reason I'm raving is because this lack of originality has led to scores of adaptations of classic or popular older novels - many of which have gone very, very poorly. Of course, adapting stories is as old as Hollywood. The book "The Art of Adaptation," by Linda Seger, shows that of the 60 Best Picture Oscar winners from 1930 - 1960, only 9 were original stories - the rest were adapted novels, plays, or true-life stories. Then there were the Lord of the Rings movies, which were both an adaptation and a trilogy, and I had no real problem with those. So it's not adaptations per se - it's just disappointing when there's a book that you think would make a great movie, and the movie rights are bought up and produced and the film is tripe.

First there was the Nancy Drew adaptation - now, I didn't see it, but it seems that the beloved 18 year old heroine in the blue convertible from the books I loved as a kid didn't quite make it onto the screen that way. Martin wrote earlier about the Children of Men adaptation, which could hardly have been more different from the book, and he's mentioned the impending Scorcese adaptation of Shusaku Endo's Silence (it's hard to imagine how Scorcese will use his trademark expletives in a story about 16th century Japanese missionaries). And another of my childhood favorites, The Dark is Rising, is being adapted to film, with a very disappointing preview. (That was what really prompted this raving post!) Even The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, while not exactly bad, and rather well-received, was a bit lackluster and could definitely have been better.

It really could be the subject for a long debate - to what extent are movie-makers bound to stay "true to the book"? Or, once they buy the rights, are they at liberty to add, change, and omit whatever they want? Even an adaptation that I would consider successful - The Lord of the Rings - changed some key elements, like Faramir's character, who was honorable and noble in the book but lame in the movies. Books aren't movies (though it seems like current novels are being written with the movie adaptation in mind, and have a very cinematic style), so obviously they've got to change before they hit the screen, but how much? There's a difference, too, between changing the plot or combining characters to streamline a story, and then changing the intent or the theme of the work. I guess it's a question that won't ever really be resolved.

(As a footnote, may I recommend the 1981 miniseries Brideshead Revisited as the best adaptation of a novel ever put on screen? It's the most wonderful 11 hours you'll ever spend watching anything. Then again, this reminds me of the feature film version that's supposed to come out in 2008 - and again, I'm ready to be disappointed!)


Skyminder said...


I named my teddy bear Aloysius.

Leticia said...

An executive at Walden Media told be something surprising about Hollywood's lack of imagination. He said, "you, as a Christian know that all great stories come from one source, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ". I was floored by that, but now it's starting to click, I mean how else did "The Passion of the Christ" become an international blockbuster? But not all films have to deal with it explicitly. The soon to be released "Bella", for instance does have a theme of resurrection imbedded inthe plot, but presents it's theme in an ever-so-subtle manner. That's why Steve McEveety signed on as Executive Producer, he said, "The "Passion" showed us how to die, "Bella" shows us how to live."

Sheila West said...

Graet ideas exist. The hard part is getting them into the board rooms of Hollywood execs.

So far, only ONE prodco in the past two months has responded positively to my query. The other twenty have all passed.

I now wait on pins and needles for that prodco's reply.

Sheila West said...

Professor Harold,

I hope you don't mind but I just sent an e-mail (of regrettable length, for which I apologize) to And I have no idea if that's a valid address (I just took a guess.) If my e-mailing you is okay, please let me know if there's a better address I might use.