by Bob Reinhard
Those four words are all it takes to drop the needle on my patience meter right down into the red. Making entertainment media based off of source material is an ever-present part of movies, television, video games, and yes, even books themselves. And with every thing that comes out based in part on another thing, I have to deal with people coming out of the woodwork to tell me the original is better.
And enough is enough.
There are a few important things people who compare and contrast two different versions of material need to understand in order to exist in a world where they don’t spend all their time hating everything that was based on everything else. So you can walk into a movie theater or sit down to enjoy a tv show based on something else you know of, and not spend the entire time going “but in the ____ it was different!“.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
In order to explain this best, I’m going to have to state something rather obvious: A book is written by an author. Most often one single person sits down with an idea and generates a creative piece. Sometimes, like in the instance of comic books, it may be a writer and artist, or a team of people. TV shows? A room of writers. Movies? Could be one guy, could be a team. But not very often does the writer of the first media come along and write the second. It happens, but not often.
Usually? When a tv show is made based on a book, or a movie based on a video game, or whichever, the writers, directors, visionary minds are completely different people. This is important to remember because you have to take into consideration that different people have different creative visions. No two artist thinks alike. Imagine the idea at hand as a block of molding clay. One artist is going to shape it into one thing, another artist is going to shape it into another.
It comes from the fact that, for books especially, we imagine the material in our minds. And as we are all different people, even our imaginations are going to picture things differently. The same goes for creators. They imagine the source material differently in their heads when they expose themselves too it, so wouldn’t it make sense that their vision of it will be different from your own?
The reason it seems as though it’s “not is good” usually comes from the fact that the idea isn’t originally that creator’s work. The maker of the TV show didn’t think up the idea, so they’re already working with something foreign to them. You can see this when a video game franchise switches to a new studio, or a movie is directed by a different director.
Now, it’s great you love the source material, but there is something you need to understand about things based on other things: they’re not always for you. They’re not always for the fan of the original material. For instance, video game movies. They’re not necessarily directed towards gamers, they’re directed towards movie goers. That’s why they’re movies.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not a huge fan of reading. I have nothing against books, I read a few when I can, but I don’t spend a lot of time buried in a book. So when a movie comes out based on a book, that’s just easy access for me. In two hours, I can absorb a plot that would take a lot longer in a different format. That’s why we make a story into a movie, instead of a TV show. With video game movies, removing interactivity also strips some of the feeling, so there is that to consider. Time and how we’re exposed to it play a big factor in our initial reaction to a presentation, so presenting the same material or similar material in a different context is going to alter our perception of that material.
One of the most annoying things about fans of any established media is their obsession with “canon”. Whenever something comes out based in the same world or around the same characters, they have to make sure it “fits” with what has already been established. And while that’s fine if all the material is meant to connect, it does not apply to adaptions of source material.
Take for instance the recent blockbuster hit The Dark Knight Rises. Batman is not new by any means, nor are the elements and villains he was faced with in the film. And while it was generally well received, there were still fans of the comic books voicing their disliking for how Christopher Nolan handled material and Bane in particular. But there is one thing they failed to take into consideration: this is not the Bane you know. It’s a totally different entity.
TDKR was not part of the decades-old established canon of Batman. It was part of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of movies. They are their own separate, new thing. All the canon in the world has zero to do with his films. His Bane is a new Bane, in a different universe entirely. You can’t compare the two and say he did his “wrong” when his is meant to be different. Just because you like the other person’s version of him better does not mean you can rise above the fact that this version may not have been directed towards you at all. And in this case, you also have to consider the fact that now this character is no longer a still-life on a piece of paper. It’s a living, breathing actor who’s spending months of his time practicing nuances and little things to develop this character into their own version.
The same goes for the established Bond franchise. A lot of people come down on Danial Craig for not feeling like “a real Bond”. In fact, everyone that has taken over the role of James Bond over the last several decades has dealt with some similar heat at some point or another. But this is a different actor. They’re not going to bring the same tool set into this role. In order to understand why one is not like the other, you have to go deeper and respect what actors do in order to become a character.
And while we’re on the topic of following established canon…
Follow The Bread Crumbs or Meander
The single most annoying thing for me is when I watch as someone gets mad at something for not following the same story as it’s source material. The most apparent right now is AMC’s The Walking Dead. The show borrows characters, locations, and some plot elements from the popular comic book series. However, it has often gone in radical different directions with those elements. And some fans cannot stop telling me about it.
Besides the obvious concept of “if you don’t like how they’re doing it, go back and read the comics”, there is one other thing I have to direct at these people: do you WANT it to be exactly the same? Why do you want to sing along at this point? Wouldn’t that be boring to you?
Part of the fun of any long-running drama or suspense thriller is the not knowing. The tension of having unexpected things happen that catch you off guard and drop your jaw. The comic book probably has no problem doing that in spades. But so does the TV show. And the TV show can do that to even the comic book fans because it changes direction. If it followed the comic book to a T, you’d know everything that was going to happen. And when it does happen, you wouldn’t exactly be surprised or caught off guard. All the tension of that moment would be completely removed for you, hence ruining any of the suspense or drama it was meant to convey. It would, at it’s core, be completely useless to you.
So why are you so upset when it does something radically different? Something unexpected and surprising. Because, as said before, it’s meant to be it’s own version of the material. And in the long run, it may not even be meant for you. Believe me when I say there have been times watching TWD that my jaw has literally dropped.
Following the same path the source material does is not going to be interesting for those that have already been exposed to the source material. The initial awe will be gone and you’ll be left with familiarity. It may be fine seeing something follow the same direction, but where’s the fun in exposing yourself to the same thing? It certainly does nothing for the creator that’s making the new version. How boring would it be to create something by following a road map? It wouldn’t be your creation at that point.
And you’re not alone. Japanese Manga/Anime fans deal with this almost every time someone makes an anime based on a manga. Rarely are they the same. In fact, sometimes they’ll even go back and do it again with the manga more in mind.
On The Other Hand
Don’t get me wrong. There are instances when the book is, indeed, better. But that’s not the fault of the film makers. When The Hunger Games came out in theaters, I had not read the book. I went in just to watch the movie to see what the fuss was all about. I left underwhelmed and annoyed by inconsistencies. And every question I had was answered by fans of the books with a resounding “well, in the book they explain that…”.
And that’s where the book is better. When the film tries to hard to convey some of the same things, but not others. Books have a lot longer to slow things down and explain everything, so when you include elements of the book in the new material just because it’s expected, you risk losing some of that background, some of that explanation. If you don’t include all the right things, you’ll end up with holes in the plot. This is where you have to balance your source material with the stuff you yourself are writing into your new version. And this is why it’s so important that a creator takes liberties and does things their own way as much as is possible. Copy-paste material sometimes feels out of place because of this, and it can easily ruin your version.
This is the one instance where you look at the two pieces together, because the creator is relying too heavily on the source material but isn’t using enough to justify the stuff already crossed over. The result is a pained mess which doesn’t work, and it’s all because the creator didn’t put enough of themselves into the work.
The point of all of this is to make those “the book is better” people to stop and think about it. Really think about what you’re doing. The only thing “the book is better” does for you is make you look like you have some bizarre consumer superiority complex. It would be one thing if you wrote the book that’s being done differently, but even then: you’re giving them permission to change your work into something else.
As it stands, all you’re doing is annoying everyone that’s simply trying to sit down and enjoy the movie, and not the book it’s based on. You’re comparing two different things and expecting them to be exactly the same. You’re going into the movie, the TV show, the video game, the book, with the wrong mindset. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. And you’re not getting the point at all.