In getting ready for the next review, Death Wish, I noticed on the back of the DVD case that it was an adaptation of the novel by the same name written by Brian Garfield. The review is still in the works, looking at the remake compared to the 1974 Charles Bronson film, but a future review will compare the latter movie with the novel. Garfield also wrote Hopscotch, which became a film starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. Older movies run into this issue more than recent films.
With recent films, the draw is often that the movie is an adaptation of something popular, or at least well known. Studios are risk adverse today; CHiPs was originally going to be an original work, but the studio balked unless the movie was made into an adaptation. Budgets have skyrocketed, so studios want a guarantee that the audience will turn out.. The result, adaptations are advertised as such. If they aren’t, it’s only because the movie is so obvious an adaptation. No one is going to mistake Detective Pikachu for an original film.
Older films, though, weren’t caught in this trap. When I started the History of Adaptations series, I wasn’t expecting so many adaptations to appear, nor did I expect that popular original works to start to outnumber popular adaptations only in the Eighties. While the books might have been popular at the time, The Graduate, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and Bullitt are better known than the books they were based on – The Graduate by Charles Webb, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, and Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike. A change of title, such as Mute Witness to Bullitt, adds to the distancing.
The change is in the marketing. Marketing for today’s adaptations lean heavily on the source material. Marvel and DC’s superhero forays are advertised as being from their comics. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter didn’t shy away from using the original books as part of the marketing. Studios spend millions to advertise a film to get as many people out to see their movies. Books, though, rarely get large advertising budgets. Publishing costs are such that the authors are putting in effort to spread the word of their own books. Novels rely on word of mouth to get known, especially for authors who aren’t household names like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Before the Internet became a household service, word of mouth meant talking to others or writing letters. Today, social media helps with the word of mouth, as sites like Twitter help amplify reviews.
Can an adaptation fly under the radar today? For the big blockbusters, no But for smaller budgets, where the studio isn’t risking its existence on the success of a film, it is possible. Advertising for Kingsman – The Secret Service never mentioned that it was based on an Image comic. The movie was a light spy action flick, something that doesn’t spring to mind when “comic book” is mentioned, so the studio may have wanted to avoid the connection to guide audience expectations. Two decades from now, will people remember the comic was the source for the movie and its sequel?
This is what made the History of Adaptations so interesting, discovering what was assumed to be original to be an adaptation. It makes reviews interesting, because I have the choice to either go ahead with what i have planned or set the review aside until I can get my hands on the ultimate original work.. The problem with the latter is the time needed to hunt down the work; the older the work, the more likely it is to be out of print. Ignoring the ultimate original, thought, won’t do justice to the review of the adaptation. With the pandemic, getting the original takes more time, so, for now, I’ll press on with the planned review, with a note of the original work and a vague promise to return when possible.
I’ve been in discussions with Steve of Seventh Sanctum and Serdar of Genji Press about the nature of adaptations and how some works could be done as pure originals instead of being tied to an existing property. There are a few examples of works available today or soon to be released that fall into this realm. The question is, why?
Streaming services are getting competitive due to the number of them starting up. To get subscribers, the services need something that will draw audiences in. Disney+, while having all of Disney’s library, went with The Mandalorian, a space western in the Star Wars setting with a lead dressed in armour similar to what Boba Fett wears and a very young version of Yoda. The series is beautiful to look at and has depth that the movies don’t have, mainly because of the nature of a TV series. CBS All Access went with Star Trek: Discovery and will follow up with Star Trek: Picard, banking on Star Trek fans wanting to subscribe just to watch the shows.
It’s understandable. The streaming services are competing for views, so they are going to maximize the headliner as much as possible, including budget. The services don’t want their headliner to look terrible. The Mandalorian has movie-level production values with casting to match. But the series is a space spaghetti western at its heart. The series adds to the Star Wars setting, but does the Star Wars setting bring anything to the story?
But the need to draw attention means that the services are going to go with their big guns. For Disney+, that’s The Mandalorian. CBS All Access’ go-to is Star Trek. The goal is to get subscribers. But once there are subscribers, why not create a new property? Obviously, if CBS goes for a space spaghetti western with a Bounty Hunter With No Name, with or without a young child, people will suspect the service is trying to follow in Disney+’s footsteps. But what about a new science fiction series, one that isn’t about exploration or isn’t a space western with samurai/ronin influences? There is a demand growing, even if adaptations are still the major draw at the box office.
The problem comes from budget. The headliners are getting a proper budget. The streaming services don’t have unlimited funds. Unlike Netflix, many of the newer services have a back catalogue to help fill time, but there’s only so many episodes of Big Bang Theory people are willing to watch in a day. There’s room for original works in the schedule. The question is, will there be a budget for the original works. Some of the subscriber fees will be going back into the headliners, since they are the draw. The rest, anything leftover after operating costs and CEO bonuses are taken out, may have a number of projects trying to get a chunk. Science fiction tends to be expensive, from special effects to specialized sets. Apartment sets can be redressed as needed. Starship bridges tend to be unique and recognizable.
It will boil down to demand. Will there be enough demand for a new work, and original series exploring new territory? Or will fans demand more of the same?