First of all, welcome to the fiftieth installment of Lost in Translation. I’ve learned a lot about the process of adapting a work over the past almost two years. I’ve watched shows and movies, both good and bad, to try to work out the common factors that work towards a good adaptation. The word “respect” kept popping up over and over.
However, older works do not stand up well to social progress. Pulp-era stories were aimed at a specific audience – men. Older science fiction and fantasy evolved out of those stories and kept the same biases. The main characters were men, and women, if they were in the story, were relegated to supporting cast. Many times, the woman in the story was the damsel to be distressed by the villain.
Times have changed. Audiences expect a more diverse cast. Women aren’t background characters anymore; neither are minorities. Marketing departments have realized this and will insist on adding the missing elements. A good example of a woman being added to a movie is The Hobbit. Galadriel was added in a scene to offset the rest of the entirely male cast. The original story featured thirteen dwarves and a hobbit, all men, going on an adventure. The novel represented JRR Tolkien’s background where men went to war and women tended the homefires.
These days, though, women can serve on the front lines. What was once chivalric is at best quaint and at worst sexist. The audience has changed. What was accepted before isn’t anymore. When it comes to adapting, though, making a change needs to be a delicate operation, especially if the original has a sizable fanbase. Composite characters can be used; audiences tend to understand the need to keep the cast manageable. But gender-switching can cause outrage. The Battlestar Galactica remake was running into this issue by changing Starbuck’s gender. However, as in Galactica‘s case, a well done final product can, if not remove, then ease the issue.
Creators now, though, can help in the adaptation process, and may already be doing so without realizing it. As mentioned above, a diverse cast goes a long way to help the production crew. If the elements already exist, there’s no need to add more. Sure, there are still other problems to deal with, such as studios not believing that a woman can carry an action movie.*
On a more celebratory note, I’ll pose a question. What do you feel were the best adaptations and remakes? What were the worst? And what ones should I take a look at in the future?
Next week, superheroes and origins.
* Conveniently forgetting both The Hunger Games and Tomb Raider.