Lost in Translation has pointed out that television is the better medium for adapting longer form stories, such as novels. Of late, movies are better with mind blowing, budget breaking action scenes, but are limited when allowing a story to develop. Television doesn’t have the budget, but a good accountant can find ways to spread the costs over the run of a season. The catch with TV, though, is ratings. A series that can’t find an audience fast enough is often cancelled. The days where series like M*A*S*H and Cheers would be allowed time to grow an audience. Today’s television is not only competing among the networks and cable stations but also streaming services.
The key to adapting a novel is knowing just how much time can be filled. The Expanse took seventeen episodes to adapt the first book of the series, Levianthan Wakes, all of season one and the first seven episodes of season two. If the series wasn’t picked up after the first season, The Expanse would have ended at a natural break point, leaving the main plot still unfinished but giving the characters an end of sorts for their arcs.
Season lengths tend to be set for American network productions; thirteen or twenty-two episodes, giving allowing for reruns and holiday breaks. British television, though, is not beholden to the format. Seasons run as long as needed, no more, no less. This gives a bit more freedom when it comes to adaptations. There’s no need for filler episodes as seen in long running anime or even original TV series on American television. Being able to set the length of a series adapting a novel means the showrunner can figure out what can be kept and what can be dropped without losing the core of the original work.
The 2019 adaptation of Good Omens is perhaps the best use of a limited series to adapt a novel. Based on the novel Good Omens: A Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, the series co-produced by the BBC and by Amazon took on the task of adapting the book nicely. The main catch to the novel was the narrative. The narrator provided a lot of extra information and footnotes that would be difficult to replicate. Tone is also crucial; the original novel is a comedy about the End of the World.
Published in 1990, the novel takes the idea of the Antichrist as seen in such movies as The Omen and asks the key question, “What if the Antichrist didn’t have angelic or demonic influences?” The novel also looks at the question of nature versus nurture, ineffability, and the nature of humanity. All while an angel and a demon rebel against their own sides to save the world.
How does the Antichrist get misplaced, though? One would expect that the angelic hosts and demonic hordes would keep a close eye on the bringer of Armageddon. However, while God does not play dice with the universe, God is also not beyond a little Three-Card Monte, by adding a third baby to the mix. Not only is the wife of the American ambassador giving birth at St. Beryl’s Order of Chattering Nuns, but Mrs. Young is as well. The demon Crowley passes the Antichrist off to one of the Satanic nuns who gets confused on who is the American ambassador and switches out the wrong baby. While Heaven, represented by the Principality Aziraphale, and Hell, with Crowley coming in, try to influence young Warlock, the Antichrist, named Adam, is growing up in Tadfield, England.
Add into the confusion Anathema Device, a professional descendant of Agnes Nutter, and the owner of the only copy ever published of Agnes’ book, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch; the Witchfinder Army, consisting of Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and new recruit Newt Pulsifer, descendant of the man who burned Agnes at the stake; the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse with new recruit Pollution replacing the retired Pestilence; Adam’s gang, Them, with Pepper, Wensleydale, and Brian; and a Bentley where every cassette morphs into The Best of Queen over a fortnight. Gaiman and Pratchett keep the story moving along and a good pace as Adam starts realizing that he is more than what he appears as his eleventh birthday approaches. Ultimately, Adam shows that he is neither good nor evil, just human.
Being adapted can be seen as winning the lottery by some writers. It takes writers with experience and pull to be able to control how their stories are adapted. Neil Gaiman is one such author, with experience working in television and enough best sellers to make studios notice. Gaiman became the showrunner for the 2019 adaptation of Good Omens. His familiarity with the story and his respect for his co-writer Pratchett comes through with the results. Gaiman also wrote the script and, working with the BBC and with Amazon’s streaming service, was able to get the novel out without being rushed, without losing key ideas, and without having to cut corners.
The series starred Michael Sheen as Aziraphale and David Tennant as Crowley, with Adria Arjona as Anathema, Jack Whitehall as Newt, Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracey, Michael McKean as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, Sam Taylor Buck as Adam, and Ollie as the cutest Hellhound ever, Dog. The six episodes follow the events in the novel closely, losing only a few bits and characters due to limitations. To new viewers, though, these losses don’t leave a visible hole, so the second set of Four Bikers of the Apocalypse aren’t muddling the flow of the plot onscreen. Likewise, the reason Queen is used as the soundtrack is never explained, but it’s a soundtrack featuring Queen. The fate of the third baby isn’t revealed, leaving the question dangling of what just happened after the swapping at St. Beryl’s. At the same time, the series expands on how the Arrangement between Aziraphale and Crowley came about, where they cover for each other when one gets stuck elsewhere.
The narrator is handled by having Frances McDormand be the voice of God, narrating as needed, giving the extra explanations the narrative in the original novel does. The Metatron, the Voice of God, though, is played by Derek Jacobi. By having God narrate, the little asides that come up in the book can carry over to the series, giving the audience the information needed to understand where the story is going and why.
Casting was critical. The chemistry between Aziraphale and Crowley had to work. Fortunately, Sheen and Tennant were more than capable in recreating the forbidden camaraderie of two people who have known each other over 6000 years. Sam Taylor Buck plays Adam as a normal kid who isn’t all that normal, one who just wants to enjoy his time at home, neither good nor evil. The cast, in short, was perfect, even with the minor characters like Jon Hamm’s Gabriel, portrayed as an out of touch middle manager who doesn’t have to deal with the front line.
Having Gaiman as showrunner ensured that the adaptation stayed true. The parts and characters that were removed weren’t needed in the overall plot and would have taken up time needed elsewhere. Good Omens remained faithful to the original novel, keeping the tone and the themes that helped make the story popular.
Let’s round up those tidbits and see what’s going on.
NBC drops a house on Emerald City.
NBC’s entry to the 2015-16’s Wizard of Oz lineup has had its plug pulled and water poured on the corpse. Emerald City was going to be The Wizard of Oz as seen through a the lens of A Game of Thrones. Disagreements between NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman launched the suborbital house drop. Friedman will shop Emerald City around.
Chloë Moretz says Kick-Ass 3 dead due to piracy. Screen Rant says, not so fast.
Kick-Ass 2 broke even in the US with overseas markets adding to its total take. Moretz, who played Hit-Girl, believes that piracy was a factor in the low take. Screen Rant counters with a 29% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a factor that the R-rated movie wasn’t that good to start.
Blade Runner 2 has a script.
Sir Ridley Scott has confirmed that the Blade Runner 2 script is done and will have Harrison Ford back. Filming has not been scheduled; Prometheus 2, with its March 2016 release date, may cause a delay in the filming of Blade Runner 2.
Museum of London and the BFI need help finding Sherlock Holmes.
The 1914 film A Study in Scarlet, the earliest known Sherlock Holmes adaptation, is the second oldest on the BFI‘s Most Wanted list. If found, contact sherlockholmes at bfi.org.uk or use the #FindSherlock tag on Twitter.
The Greatest American Hero getting reboot movie.
The creators of The LEGO Movie are adapting the Stephen J. Cannell series as a TV series on Fox. The original series featured an inner-city school teacher who finds a super suit but loses the instruction manual.
Patrick Warburton to return as The Tick.
Amazon will be making new episodes of the series. Fox had aired nine episodes of the live-action adaptation of the Ben Edlund comic in 2001, with an animated series running on the same network earlier from 1994 to 1997. The Tick – comic, animated, and live-action – was a parody of superheroes.
Stan Lee confirms Black Panther movie.
During a panel at Fan Expo Canada, held in Toronto, Stan Lee let slip that the Black Panther will have a movie. Marvel’s plans are to have a movie with all their heroes.
Casting has begun for Ghost in the Shell live action adaptation.
Margot Robbie, seen in The Wolf of Wall Street has been cast in the American live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Neil Gaiman’s “Hansel & Gretel” graphic novel to become movie.
Juliet Blake, producer of The Hundred-Foot Journey, has picked up the rights to Gaiman’s as yet unreleased graphic novel retelling “Hansel & Gretel”. The graphic novel should be out in October.
AMC orders companion series to The Walking Dead.
The so far untitled new series will take a look at what’s happening elsewhere during the zombie apocalypse. AMC has released few details beyond that. The Walking Dead also returns for a fifth season this fall.
Warner Bros. has Legion of Superheroes movie in pre-pre-production.
So far, just rumours that a Legion of Superheroes movie is coming, but Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy may have put some fear into Warner. Legion began in 1958 centred on Super-Boy but evolved to stand on its own. The team has appeared in live-action before, being featured in the Smallville episode “Legion”.
Fox to air series based on Neil Gaiman’s take on Lucifer.
Countering NBC’s Constantine, Lucifer will follow the titular devil, based on Gaiman’s work in Sandman and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The fallout from the show should be impressive, especially over at FOX News.
CBS picks up Supergirl series.
The Warner produced Supergirl TV series has been picked up by CBS, allowing the The Eye to join the other broadcast networks in superhero shows. Fox has Gotham, the Batman prequel. NBC has Constantine. CW has the ongoing Arrow and the new kid Flash. ABC is reaping fortune by having the same owner as Marvel – Disney – and both Agents of SHIELD and new series Agent Carter.
Deadpool movie confirmed.
The Merc with the Mouth will finally get the movie people have been wanting. Fox announced that the movie will be released February of 2016. Ryan Reynolds will return to play the character. Filming has not yet started, and the announcement of the Deadpool movie has bumped the Assassin’s Creed movie off Fox’s release schedule completely.
Real Genius being turned into a TV series.
The 80s movie, Real Genius, which starred Val Kilmer, is getting remade as a sitcom. Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is one of the studios on board with the reboot.
Compared to fanfiction sites, it’s just not cutting it. When you look at all the free sites out there, the numbers don’t add up.
Oddly, I can’t fault Amazon for trying. This is an obvious market, it’s nice to get approved fanfic, and I can see some companies going for it as a way to find middle ground.
However the issue simply is that the limits are against what fanfiction is about. It’s often crazy, freewheeling, contrarian, extrapolatory, and at times sheer nuts – or seems to be. I know enough fanfiction authors of many ages and part of the goal of fanfiction is going outside the property – or inside it in a different way.
And I don’t think you can manage that inside the legal concerns of many major property holders. Or minor ones. Not without some serious community involvement and outreach.
So what’s next? That’s what I wonder – is this a failure, or will some new idea emerge? Will companies give up? Will this meander along? Don’t know.
But still, it’ll be interesting.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
The new year brings new news.
Death Note: The Musical, coming to South Korea in 2015.
The anime /Death Note/ is being turned into a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn (Broadway play Jekyll and Hyde, Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”) and Jack Murphy. This isn’t the first musical about a serial killer. Sweeney Todd was at one point a ballet.
Warner Bros, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in negotiations for Sandman.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt may star and co-produce the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Gordon-Levitt may even direct the feature. David S. Goyer will also be on board as co-producer.
Sweetpea Entertainment moves for partial dismissal of D&D rights case.
Hasbro has been trying to regain the movie rights to Dungeons & Dragons from Sweetpea Entertainment. Sweetpea was responsible for the 2000 movie plus the far better direct-to-DVD sequel and was working on a script based on Chainmail, D&D‘s progenitor game. At issue is who currently holds the movie rights. The original contract required Sweetpea to release a sequel within five years of the original movie, but Hasbro does not count the direct-to-DVD works while Sweetpea does.
Ghost writing and spin-offs; what happens after an author has died.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Now, though, with best sellers and adaptation rights bringing in money to publishers, the desire to continue an author’s series is growing.
Star Wars comic license being given to Marvel
Not that unexpected, considering that Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm. Dark Horse had a great twenty-year run, though, and set a standard that will be difficult to match.
With the changeover, comes the fun of working out continuity.
Lucasfilm’s Leland Chee (@HolocronKeeper on Twitter) heads the group tasked with getting the canon straight. The story group will have to work out how the movies, TV series, comics, books, role-playing games, video games, and toys all work together. Interestingly, West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game is still an influence on Star Wars despite WEG’s bankruptcy in 1998.
Magic: The Gathering being adapted as a movie.
This isn’t as dire as it sounds. As a collectable card game, Magic: The Gathering has a setting that has been developed since 1993, and storylines in each expansion set. As long as Fox, the studio making the movie, can keep the familiar elements and introduce them to people who haven’t played while still keeping fans of the game not-annoyed, the adaptation stands a chance.
The Wonder Woman prequel TV series has been cancelled by the CW. The network left the possibility of a future Wonder Woman series open. It looks more that the CW doesn’t want to botch the series and is being cautious.
Batman finally to be released on DVD.
The Adam West TV series will, at long last, see a DVD release. Warner and Fox have worked out the legal differences over rights. No specific date has been set.
Batman/Superman movie delayed until 2016.
Warner delayed the release of the movie, still untitled, until May 2016. Start of production won’t start until second quarter of this year.