Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Over the past ten weeks, I've looked at a variety of adaptations and reboots, most of which were successful to one degree or another. Most. In the successful cases, it is obvious that the main reason for the success was the care put into the making of the adaptation/reboot/remake (ARR for short). The care wasn't necessarily the only factor. Star Trek: The Next Generation had the luxury of not having a network watching over it, allowing the writers to explore more cerebral yet still interesting ideas. The Harry Potter franchise had the original creator (JK Rowling) maintaining some control over how Warner Brothers handle her creation. Casino Royale had a production company that respected the original work of Ian Fleming, who worked with Cubby Broccoli in earlier installments of the 007 franchise.

For the not-so-successful installments, the problems came from dashed fan expectations (The Phantom Menace and D&D 4th Edition). Note that both examples were still successful, at least monitarily. Fan reaction, though, was mixed. In the case of The Phantom Menace, some elements in the movie were not well received and others were caused by writing issues. With D&D 4th, a change in the core mechanics caused the fanbase to split. The game is very much playable, but earlier elements older fans came to expect had their importance diminished or were dropped completely.

Then there's Street Fighter. The movie had problems from the outset, adapting a fighting game, one that had an overall plot to the order of the fights, but the focus wasn't the story but the fighting. Adding to the problems were casting choices and a schizophrenic approach crossing between serious action movie and camp and back again. Yet, the movie is worth watching for Raul Julia alone, who seemed to know exactly what sort of movie he was in.

Based on the above, key elements to a successful ARR requires the original creators' input, a respect for the original material, and a respect for the fanbase. However, at times it may be necessary to place an editor in between the original creator and the adaptation, something The Phantom Menace needed and something /The Blues Brothers/ [link 10] did have. However, one subject examined, The Naked Gun brought up another criteria – format of the ARR. Of the first ten ARRs examined, four were in the same format as the original, five were from one medium to another, and one, "Number 7", was a parody/homage using the format of the original to tell its own story. The Naked Gun might be a textbook case of an adaptation finding the right format, going from TV series that needed full attention but might not get it to a movie that gets full attention.

Now aware of the new issue, let's take another look at the other four whose ARR that crossed media. Street Fighter started as a video game, became a movie. The change in media is actually a non-issue; the fairly simple plot – defeat M. Bison's minions in one-on-one martial arts battles throughout the world – is easily adapted to the silver screen. The movie cut out most of the prior battles, gave more depth to what M. Bison's evil plans were. Street Fighter's main problems were never really the change in format.

Harry Potter could have had problems, especially in the later books, as details were sacrificed to keep the films to a reasonable running time. The last book was split into two movies specifically as a result of the length of the novel. However, with Rowling working with the film team, this problem was avoided, though some plot-critical events were lost. The change in format was taken into account, though could have been a point of failure.

Casino Royale was both an adaptation of a novel and a reboot of the 007 film series. The movie counts as both a change and not a change in the format. The final result took some liberties with the original novel to make certain scenes more accessable to the viewing audience (for example, the change from baccarat to Texas Hold'em poker), but remained true to the spirit of the novel. Yet, it maintained the visual aspect of the previous 007 movies while showing Bond becoming the 00 agent we've seen. Casino Royale could be used as a showcase on how to both adapt and reboot a franchise properly.

The discussion for The Blues Brothers did take into account the change in format, but some retiration is deserved. The movie took a musical sketch from Saturday Night Live, one that lasted five to ten minutes, and expanded it to a feature film with a running time of over two hours, adding a plot, a background, a motive, and even antagonists for the main characters. As will be seen in the future, the difficulty of taking what could be a one-note gag and strethcing it is high and takes skill, something the writers, actors, musicians, director, and producer of The Blues Brothers had.

So, what makes for a successful ARR? Care in the translation ranks high. Having strong writing adds to the success. Having the original creator may or may not help. Doctor Who didn't have the original creator, but did have someone (Russell T. Davies) who wanted to see the show succeed and was aware of the show's history. Meanwhile, The Phantom Menace had George Lucas helming and writing, but fan acceptance is mixed. (Said acceptance seems to be age-based, too, based on a very small data set I've seen. Okay, mainly anecdata, but there may be a trend building that the younger set prefer the prequels to the originals. Your parsecage may vary.) Yet, Lucas obviously also wanted to see The Phantom Menace to succeed.

Unfortunately, I haven't reviewed enough ARR failures at this point to determine what doesn't work. So, be prepared. In the coming weeks, some bad adaptations will be looked at, for as long as my sanity prevails. To keep from delving too deep into the dregs of Hollywood (and other places), I'll add some also-rans, near-misses, and some successes into the mix. Why torture myself and all of you? 🙂

Next time, putting what we've discovered into practice.

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