Welcome to the history of adaptations. I’ve been looking at the top movies of each decade, analysing them to see which ones were original and which ones were adaptations, and of the adaptations, what the source material was. I’m using the compiled list at Filmsite.org as a base. Last time, the Eighties turned out to be a complete reversal of the Fifties, with only three movies adapted from other works. Granted, the Eighties were known for sequelitis, but the continuing stories came from an original work.
The Nineties saw the introduction of the the biggest game changer to date, access of Internet to the masses. Prior, only government sites and universities provided email and access to Usenet newsgroups with their accounts. Companies like AOL, CompuServe, and GEnie brought the Internet to the home user. The Eternal September began the day AOL provided access to Usenet in September 1993. Compared to today, Internet access was slow and not very user friendly. Speeds were measured in bits. Downloads took days. Usenet, however, allowed people to talk about a wide variety of topics*.
Sequelitis continued, with varying qualities. Disney animation returned in force, having gone through lean years in the Seventies and Eighties. The disaster film made a brief comeback, though the genre succumbed to weak blockbusters that were more effect than story Computer generated graphics became affordable and reliable enough for regular use, allowing for shots that would be impossible to film using a practical effect. The advent of CGI effects allowed the disaster movie to return, with natural disasters replacing airplane disasters**.
As mentioned with the Eighties, there is a barometer of popularity. “Weird Al” Yankovic is still writing songs parodying movies. The different now is that the songs are coming out far closer to the movie than before. “Jurassic Park” and “Gump” both were released after the titular movies were. The cover of the 1993 album, Alapalooza, parodied the posters for Jurassic Park. “The Saga Begins“, though, was written before the release of The Phantom Menace and came shortly afterwards. Weird Al used Internet rumour, trailers, and other information to write the song in time for the movie’s release.
The top movies of the decade, by year:
Home Alone – original. The antics of Macauley Culkins’ Kevin had people returning to see the movie multiple times during the Christmas movie season.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day – a sequel to 1984’s The Terminator. Terminator 2 continued the story of the future war between man and machine, with humanity on the losing side.
Aladdin – adaptation of the Arabian tale. Aladdin was Disney’s comeback movie but almost lost a nomination for best screenplay due to the improv of Robin Williams as the genie.
Jurassic Park – adaptated from the Michael Crichton novel of the same name. Jurassic Park is one of the last movies to remain in theatres for over a year from release. The success of the movie has made it more difficult for other dinosaur films to succeed because of heightened expectations.
Forrest Gump – adaptated from the 1986 novel by Winston Groom of the same name.
The Lion King – original but influenced by both the Biblical Moses and by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While Aladdin was a huge hit for Disney, The Lion King is considered the start of the Disney Renaissance.
Toy Story – original. Pixar didn’t specifically base the story on the toys used.
Batman Forever – sequel to the 1989 adaptation, Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns.
Independence Day – original. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin came up with the story while promoting Stargate. Independence Day combined the disaster movie with science fiction.
Twister – original. Part of the disaster genre’s resurgence. Twister was the first movie released on DVD.
Titanic – original, using the sinking of the RMS Titanic as the backdrop for a doomed romance.
Men in Black – adaptation, based on the comic, The Men in Black, by Lowell Cunningham and published by Aircel.
Saving Private Ryan – original, based on the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach by American forces.
Armageddon – original. Armageddon is one of two releases dealing with asteroid strikes, with Deep Impact having been released two and half months prior.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace – sequel, well, prequel to the 1977 movie, Star Wars.
The Sixth Sense – original. M. Night Shamalyan made his mark with this film with a then-unexpected twist.
Toy Story 2 – sequel to the 1995 animated film, Toy Story. Pixar’s reputation was cemented with the sequel.
Of the movies above, nine are original, two are sequels to original works, one is a prequel to an original work, four are adaptations, and one is a sequel to an adaptation. I have counted sequels as original works for this series. However, sequels of adaptations add a new problem. This isn’t the first decade to have such a film. Demetrius and the Gladiators from the Fifties was the first and was counted separately. Batman Forever will be counted separately as well.
The Star Wars prequel presents a new conundrum. It has been sixteen years since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, so is The Phantom Menance a sequel or a reboot? Return of the Jedi was the end of the original story, at least on film. The Phantom Menace introduces new characters and shows one returning character at a much younger age. For purposes of tallying the numbers, The Phantom Menace will be treated as a reboot, thus an adaptation. These decisions will get less and less clear-cut in coming decades.
With those rulings, that makes eleven original, five adaptations, and one sequel to an adaptation. The percentage of original films drops, but the majority of popular movies for the Nineties are still original works, continuing the reversal started in the Eighties. Of the adaptations, there are two based on novels, one reboot of a movie, one adaptation of a legend, and one adaptation of a comic book. There is a variety of original works, which reflects the variety shown in the popular movies. That’s now two decades in a row where the originals finally outnumber the adaptations.
* It is best not to contemplate the variety. The hierarchy was fairly broad, but for those who were into topics that couldn’t get a large base for support, the alt.* hierarchy existed.
** There may never be another airplane disaster film. Airplane! is too well known, to he point where Sharknado 2 opened with an homage to the film. Airplane! has entered the pop culture subconscious to the point where the gags are known even if the source isn’t.
Welcome to the history of adaptations. I’ve been looking at the top movies of each decade, analysing them to see which ones were original and which ones were adaptations, and of the adaptations, what the source material was. I’m using the compiled list at Filmsite.org as a base. So far, the number of popular adaptations has outnumbered the original films in each decade, with the Fifties having just three original works, two of those being demos. The Seventies, however, had a drastic shift; not quite parity, but the number of popular original works grew compared to the number of adaptations.
The Eighties saw the introduction of Reaganomics, Thatcher, and the escalation of the War on Drugs. The Vietnam War stopped being a taboo subject in the US, leading to characters who were veterans trying to deal with what happened, characters such as John Rambo and Sonny Crockett. The economy was in flux, with a recession in the mid- to late-80s that was followed by a jobless recovery. The video cassette recorder, or VCR, became affordable for home use, leading to dire predictions from studios about the death of the movie industry*.
With the Sixties and Seventies, soundtracks came into their own, with unique sounds for different movies. The Eighties saw a new twist become popular – the music video. MTV first broadcast** on August 1, 1981, with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” gave artists an outlet to have their music played on television. Michael Jackson’s 1983 video for his hit, “Thriller“, showed how the music video could be used for story telling. The popularity of music videos led to the creation of Miami Vice in 1984, with popular music being used to set the tone, much as soundtracks were used for in the previous decades. The music video became a way for studios to advertise movies, much like soundtracks were in the Seventies, and helped many a film at the box office.
Related to the music video is the emergence of a performer who has his thumb on the pulse of pop culture, “Weird Al” Yankovic. While his earlier work was more focused on just music parodies, in the Eighties, he included movies in his works. Making the music scene with “Eat It“, a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, Weird Al had fun with the decade’s “sequelitis” with 1982’s “Theme from Rocky XIII“, a parody of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III. “Nature Trail to Hell (in 3D)“, one of Weird Al’s original works, parodied the nature of the slasher flick. In 1985, Weird Al released “Yoda”, a parody of both “Lola” by the Kinks and the character introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. He hasn’t reached being the barometer of what’s popular yet, but the groundwork is there.
The popular films of the decade, by year:
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – the sequel to the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – original, but inspired by pulp stories of the Forties.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – original.
Tootsie – original. The core of the movie came from a screenplay called Would I Lie to You by Don McGuire, but underwent changes during the production of the film. What makes the movie original is that the screenplay was shopped around instead of being produced elsewhere.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi – sequel. The (then) end of the Star Wars saga, though numerous tie-ins would go on to expand the Galaxy Far Far Away before the 1999 prequel film was released.
Ghostbusters – original. Ghostbusters had a slow start in theatres, but the release of the music video for the main theme song turned the movie into a success.
Beverly Hills Cop – original. Again, the music video for “Axel F“, named for Eddie Murphy’s character, helped at the box office.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – sequel. Temple of Doom was one of the major factors into splitting the existing PG (Parental Guidance recommended) rating into PG and PG-13, which had barred admittance of children under 13 years old without a parent.
Back to the Future – original. Another movie that had a music video, “The Power of Love” released.
Top Gun – original. The movie was inspired by the article, “Top Guns”, by Ehud Yonay in the May 1983 issue of California magazine. The film also had a music video, “Danger Zone” released.
Crocodile Dundee – original but inspired by the life of Rodney Ansell, an Australian bushman. Crocodile Dundee is unusual in that it is the first foreign film, being from Australia, on the popular lists since 1966’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
Three Men and a Baby – adapted from the French movie, Trois hommes et un couffin (Three Men and a Cradle).
Fatal Attraction – adaptation, based on the short film Diversion. airing on British television.
Rain Man – original.
Batman – adapted from the various titles from DC Comics, including Detective Comics. This is the second movie based on a comic book character to appear on the lists.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – sequel.
The Eighties were known for sequelitis for a very good reason. Just from the above, there are five sequels. Ghostbusters would have a sequel in 1989, as would Back to the Future, which would have a third movie in 1990. Beverly Hills Cop had a sequel in 1987. Crocodile Dundee had one in 1988. The sequels, though, all continued the stories of the characters, much like a murder mystery book series continues with the same detective or detectives through its run.
Counting the sequels as original works, as done in previous decades, there are thirteen original movies and three adaptations. That makes the Eighties the first decade where popular original movies outnumbered adaptations. Separating out the sequels still leaves eight original works, still more than the adaptations. The trend started in the Seventies, but the complete flipping of numbers happened here. The Eighties are why I’m looking at just the popular works. These are the movies everyone remembers, since the films pulled in a large audience. Few people will remember **Batteries Not Included; but Ghostbusters? “Who you gonna call?” With older works, the popular films are more likely to be remembered by name. There are exceptions. Ingagi, from 1930, is unheard of today, mainly because of what happened to the film, as detailed in the Thirties.
The three adaptations, Batman, Three Men and a Baby, and Fatal Attraction, come from different source works. Batman comes from comics, the second comic book movie in the popular lists. Three Men and a Baby was translated from the French film and adapted for an American audience and setting. Fatal Attraction came from a British TV movie. This is the first decade to not have an movie adapted from a written work, such as a novel or stage play, in the popular list.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were busy in the Eighties. Lucas had the Star Wars sequels while Spielberg had E.T., but they worked together on the three Indiana Jones movies. All told, they are responsible for six of the movies listed above, all original works. Science fiction is still going strong, continuing from the success of their movies in the Seventies, Lucas’ Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The Eighties reversed the ratio of original movies to adaptations seen in the Fifties, where only three films weren’t based on another work, but the sequel movie was in full force. Audiences enjoyed seeing further works with beloved characters, though the success of sequels varied. It is this remembrance of the Eighties that is behind the complaints of the number of adaptations being made today.
* Same death of the industry was predicted with the advent of television and with the introduction of the DVD. The music industry had similar predictions of death with the creation of radio, the audio cassette, the Sony Walkman, the compact disc, and MP3s. So far, the success rate on these predictions has been 0%.
** Not quite the word for a cable channel, but it’s the best around.
[Normally I do Worldbuilding advice here, but when my friend Scott did an analysis of Super Mario Brothers films, I wanted to put in my own two cents on why the film was awful. Because I care. And because the film was bad. Previously posted at Muse Hack.]
I did not see the Super Mario Brothers film until Riffftrax released it. I had heard it was terrible. I know some people still remember it fondly, especially for the late and truly great Bob Hoskins’ performance, but agree the film wasn’t good. So my first encounter with it was with the talented Rifftrax comedians giving their take, which was mainly wall-to-wall sarcasm with intermittent horror at shirtless John Leguzamo.
At the end I could really only say that despite the truly marvelous commentary, this was one of the worst films I’ve seen. If you know anything about me, you know that is a terrifying statement.
I mean I’ve watched some seriously bad films without commentary. I’m not sure I could handle this one without sarcastic assistance. I can’t imagine the braveness of my friend Scott who viewed it raw for his analysis.
But this got me thinking – why was my reaction so visceral? What was going on in my head? Why would I rather watch, say “Plan 9” (which is bad, but there’s much worse) than this?
So, oddly, inspired by this debacle of a film, I began asking why it was so bad, and what I found surprised me.
Let’s go ask: what makes a film bad? (more…)
Cracked looks at movies being remade.
The article is a month old, but the list has Point Break, Day of the Dead, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and two separate Jungle Book adaptations. Point Break will remove the surfing element, replacing it with extreme sport, thus making the title an artifact. League is being developed as a TV series, which may fit the original comic better. Yes, that will make League a remake of an adaptation.
Another adaptation coming: The Exorcist.
The Exorcist, originally a book but adapted as a movie where it is better known, may be returning as a TV series. The idea is still being shopped around, but networks and cable stations are at least intrigued.
Five hundred new fairytales discovered.
Disney now has even more stories to animate. The tales were found in a German archive. Franz von Schönwerth collected the tales in Bavaria around the same time the Brothers Grimm were. One of the formerly lost tales, “The Turnip Princess” is now online at the Guardian’s site.
Steven Spielberg negotiating rights for The Grapes of Wrath.
The Steinbeck novel turns 75 next year and many producers and directors are trying to get the rights to film it. The book was adapted once before, by John Ford in 1939.
The Hollywood Meltdown continues. Spike Lee talks with John Berman on CNN on why originals aren’t being made and the future of movie making.
The big issue is that Hollywood studios now need the international market to turn a profit on big budget blockbusters. In China, audiences don’t go out to original movies but will flock to characters they already know. Thus, major comic book movies (except R.I.P.D.) and sequels do better there than unknown characters. Lee is also turning to Kickstarter to fund his next movie, seeing crowdsourcing as not that much different as raising money for his first joints, except he doesn’t have to lick as many stamps this time.
The question the studios have to consider is, “Is this movie worth the money being spent on it?” If The Hangover III cost US$103 million while The Phantom Menance cost US$115 million, there’s something wrong. (For comparison, the first Hangover only cost US$35 million to make and performed better in theatres compared to the third movie in the trilogy.)
Spielberg, who has noted the oncoming implosion, is predicting that it may cost more to see movies like Iron Man than to see Lincoln after the meltdown, with filmmakers Lee and George Lucas agreeing.
Next week, Blade Runner
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with Serdar about remakes, specifically, why remake a work when the result winds up being the same. This got me to thinking about the nature of a remake. Serdar’s thoughts can be seen on his blog, and are well worth reading on their own, too.
What is the purpose of the remake? Sure, at some point, it’s “make money”. Beyond that, why remake? Is there a new interpretation to explore? Is the focus changing to a different character? Or, as in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, a shot for shot remake? Lost in Translation has looked at many adaptations and remakes. One could argue that an adaptation is just a remake in a different medium. In this case, though, the purpose is to interpret the original work in a new medium. Look at the number of books adapted as movies and television series. Just the going through the book and finding the key scenes alone means that someone is already creating a new interpretation. When remaking in the same medium, a new interpretation is needed.
Compare the two Battlestar Galactica TV series. The original was space opera, coming on the heels of Star Wars, telling the tale of a ragtag band of refugees of worlds lost to killer robots. The remake’s twist on the original was to remove the space opera. The remake took a hard look at the needs of maintaining the human race in a hostile environment while still being chased by the exterminators. The original, there was hope that humanity would survive, even if the discovery of Earth wasn’t shown.* The remake, on the other hand, kept a close track of the number of survivors, and an increase was a major point of celebration; humanity’s survival wasn’t certain. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Psycho remake was shot for shot the same. There was nothing new that an audience couldn’t get from the original. That’s a danger; if a remake gets audiences to go back to the original and not see the new version, something has gone wrong. Something to remember – novels don’t get remade, just reissued. There’s little point for an author copying an existing story word for word. At most, an author will revise a story to reflect changes in the real world.
What types of remakes are possible, then? I’ve grouped a few, and these may not be comprehensive or completely exclusive ways, but I’ve added examples to try to make things clearer.
Shot for Shot Remake: Like it says on the tin, the remake redoes the original work using the same approach. If the original work is an older movie filmed in black and white, the new version may just add colour. Once again, Psycho is the best example. Unless a great deal of time has passed between the original work and the remake, most people will prefer the original.
Remake with a Twist: This sort of remake changes something in the original, whether it is the main character, the setting, or the mood, among many other elements. This sort of remake doesn’t need to be “official”. An example of changing the setting is The Magnificent Seven, a Western take on The Seven Samurai. The seven ronin (masterless samurai) become gunslingers in the remake, thus changing expectations of the characters. Battlestar Galactica is a great example of a change in mood, plus changes in characters.
Remake Continuation: Instead of remaking the original work, the remake continues from where the original left off. Usually, the new work acknowledges what has happened before. Best example of this is Star Trek: The Next Generation, which advanced the timeline of the Star Trek universe to show how the voyages of the USS Enterprise has affected the galaxy. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek could fit here, too, except instead of continuing, it fills in details of the characters before they were first seen in the original series.
Cross-media Remake: Usually called an adaptation, this is when a work in one medium is adapted for another. Typically, the path is from long-form (novels, television series) to short-form (movies, video games**). Sometimes, though, a movie will be adapted as a TV series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and there are the rare novels that go beyond being just a tie-in to a TV series.
As I mentioned, these are not exclusive. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek falls under both Remake with a Twist and Remake Continuation. The animated film Gnomeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s*** Romeo and Juliet only done with garden gnomes, covers Remake with a Twist/ (they’re garden gnomes!) and Cross-media Remake (animated garden gnomes!).
What does this mean for people hoping to remake a work? At a minimum, figure out what you want to do with the work. Few people are going to want to see a shot-for-shot remake*** when the original is still around. There needs to be a reason for the remake to exist. Otherwise, why bother?
Next week, superhero universes and adaptations, on the road to The Avengers Adaptation.
* Galactica 1980 is being ignored here, for many reasons.
** Some video games. Video gaming is turning into its own creative endeavor. See the works of Bioware and Bethesda as examples.
*** The Bard may be an exception to the problems of a shot-for-shot remake. Filming one of Shakespeare’s plays usually requires staying true to the original script. Anything else is just an adaptation.
**** No, I meant three stars. The previous footnote still applies.
Last week, I mentioned Google offering cash prizes if anyone could hack Chrome. Hackers in Vancouver managed to find two previously unknown holes at an IT security conference. The CEO of Vupen Security, one of the winners in the Pwn2Own contest, mentioned the difficulty of finding the security holes. This was the first time Chrome was successfully hacked in the contest’s five years.
It’s been a week, so things have built up again. Bill C-30 is starting to wane with the Robocalls Scandal and the return of the omnibus crime bill. Here’s the rest of the news:
Didn’t Take Long
After three months of .xxx domains, ten complaints of cybersquatting have been filed. Among the complainants are banks, jewellery stores, and an online store. All of this could be foreseen, really – it’s not new. Similar happened after .info and .biz came out.
Small ISPs Look for Relief
Smaller Canadian ISPs are looking to overturn a ruling that would allow Bell and Rogers to charge by capacity. Capacity-based tariffs allow the larger ISPs to charge per megabyte and would replace a flat-fee. However, the Canadian Network Operators Consortium says the pricing is excessive.
House of Commons to Probe Anonymous
Calling Anonymous’ missive a threat on the life of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the Speaker has directed Parliament to investigate. Experts, however, say that finding members of Anonymous would be difficult at best.
RIM Expected to Disappoint According to BMO
BMO Capital Markets is expecting RIM’s revenue and market share to disappoint in the coming quarters. RIM’s Blackberry 10 is expected out in the latter half of the year. However, a lack of clarity on the launch prompted BMO to be disappointed.
Cloud Computing is expected to add 70 000 jobs to the Canadian economy. Many of the jobs are expected to be in non-IT fields, such as administration, marketing, and even plumbing and carpentry. Vancouver and Toronto are expected to pick up about a third of the jobs, but the impact will be felt across the country. Takeaway: get in early on cloud adoption.
PCs Dead Says Microsoft Exec
Ray Ozzie believes the world has moved beyond the personal computer. Ozzie succeeded Bill Gates as Microsoft’s tech visionary and believes that tablets and smartphones will do the bulk of personal data crunching due to their wireless nature.
Ford to Mail Software Updates
To keep their cars’ onboard computer up to date, Ford will be mailing USB sticks with upgrades. Owners of 2011 or 2012 model year vehicles with MyFord Touch infotainment and control systems should expect the updates in the mail. The need to keep vehicular computers up to date could lead to a new avenue of research and design.
Canadians Number One Online
Canadians spent an average of 45.3 hours online in the last quarter of 2011. This beats the US (38.6 hours), the UK (35.4) and South Korea (30.0). The study shows that Canadians spend a good portion of those hours on social media. This goes a long way explaining the resistance to moves by Bell and Rogers to restrict online usage.
Playbooks Outsell iPads
During the last week of February, RIM’s Playbook outsold Apple’s iPad. The combination of price cuts and the release of Playbook OS2.0 with the imminent announcement of the iPad3 may have allowed RIM to surpass Apple.
Watson Goes Into Finance
IBM’s Watson will help Citigroup improve banking. Watson, best known for its impressive win on Jeopardy, will be helping improve the accuracy and speed of decisions and assisting on retirement plans. IBM keeps creeping under the radar, but could have a huge impact here.
Scholastic Enters eBook Field
Scholastic is developing Storia, an app containing 1300 books in the publisher’s library. Series like Clifford, the Big Red Dog will be available in digital format for the first time. Storia is the first major ebook reader for children’s books, a field that has been neglected for the most part.
More C-30 Fallout
A Manitoba judge ruled that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews should be allowed to know who looked at his divorce records. The records, which are available to the public, were tweeted by @Vikileaks30 after Bill C-30 was first introduced. It might be considered an abuse for many many individuals to go to the court house and request a copy of the records.
Defection Via YouTube
The Syrian deputy oil minister announced his defection via YouTube. The video was recorded from an undisclosed location. This may be the first time online social media was used to announce a defection.
— Scott D