Dracula: The Series

The very first scene of the very first episode shows Professor Abraham Van Helsing breaking into Dracula’s tomb with a partner.  Then he murders his partner and uses the man’s blood to revive Count Dracula, saying, “The blood is the life.  You must be so thirsty.”

(Gif taken from GIPHY)

In case you haven’t read the book or any of my other Dracula posts, here’s a synopsis of the book, by Bram Stoker.  A vampire named Count Dracula decides to move from Transylvania to London so that he can drink the blood of the millions of unsuspecting people.  Jonathan, a solicitor who just passed his exam, comes to help him with the move, and gradually figures out that he’s dealing with a vampire.  Dracula imprisons him and then goes to London, where he attacks a woman named Lucy who happens to be best friends with Jonathan’s fiancé, Mina.  One thing leads to another and a group of people connected to Lucy come together to hunt the vampire before he kills again.

The plot of the TV series goes like this: Dracula moves to London with his manservant, R.M. Renfield, posing as an American businessman named Alexander Grayson.  To the rest of British society, he’s an egotistical genius trying to make electric light a viable source of energy.  Little do they know that he’s actually a vampire who wants to use his resources to bring down the group that turned him into a monster in the first place: the Order of the Dragon.  Meanwhile, Dracula meets a woman named Mina who is studying to be a doctor and realizes that she looks and sounds exactly like a reincarnation of his dead wife.  Although he doesn’t want to put her in danger and she’s engaged to Jonathan, they fall in love.

Can this truly be considered an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel when it’s got almost nothing in common with the source material?  They both take place in London and they both involve characters named Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Van Helsing, Lucy, and Renfield.  They both contain the lines, “The blood is the life!” and “Welcome to my house! Come freely.  Go safely.  And leave something of the happiness that you bring.” (Ooo, one of my favorite lines!  I’m not joking- despite everything else that they threw out, the writers included one of my favorite lines from the book!)

That’s it.

Can you imagine Warner Bros. trying to do something like this with Harry Potter?  They’d never get away with it.

I planned to go on a full-scale, “Bat Credit Card” level rant about this show, but now I’m both burnt out by Dracula Month and feeling guilty about hating something that so many people worked hard on for so long.  If you’re not a passionate fan of the book, you may simply enjoy it on its own terms, as a television show.  I just can’t enjoy it because I love Stoker’s character so much, and they got so warped and twisted in the following ways:

  • Van Helsing and Dracula are allies.  They’re not friends, but again, Van Helsing is the one who brings the Count back to life and endangers countless people for a revenge plot against the Order that murdered his family.  All of the obvious issues aside, book!Van Helsing didn’t have any kids.  He alluded that he was married to a woman who was mentally ill, but doesn’t give her name or anything else about her.
  • Lucy is a manipulative, selfish jerk.  She’s also in love with Mina.  So she gets Jonathan to cheat on Mina with her in the hopes of breaking up their engagement.  I hate these types of story arcs almost as much as I hate the trope where someone tries to blackmail the murderer in a mystery.  Amazingly, this plan doesn’t work!  Mina finds out and she never wants to see Lucy again!
  • Renfield doesn’t appear to have any mental illness.  He’s basically Dracula’s right-hand man.  While I do like his character in the context of the show, it’s a shame that this changed because the book version of Renfield was so much more complex and interesting.
  • Arthur, Seward, and Quincey don’t appear at all.  Lucy flirts with a guy named Alistair, but we never find out much about him.  To be fair, Coppola’s version showed that having all three suitors won’t necessarily improve the film if they aren’t given enough to distinguish themselves.  But in a TV series, the writers would have had more time to flesh them out, so it’s a shame that they got left out.
  • Dracula comes across as a progressive who values Mina’s independence and intelligence.  Jonathan doesn’t appreciate her enough. Their wedding almost gets called off when she overhears him bragging to his friends about how he plans to turn her into a good little housewife and end her medical career after they get married.  He does feel bad about it afterwards, but UGH.
  • Van Helsing finally gets his revenge by kidnapping the children of one of his enemies and then turning them into vampires.  He whistles happily to himself as he prepares to send a ransom note to the grieving parents.
  • Mina is in love with Dracula and the reincarnation of his dead wife.  The book did not mention a dead wife (except the three undead brides, who don’t appear in the show), and Mina wasn’t a reincarnation of anyone related to Dracula.

My friend Alie suggested that we refer to this Van Helsing as “What the Hel-Sing” instead. I’ve continued the trend with “Non-athan Harker” and “Renfake.” If anyone’s got clever versions of Mina and Lucy’s names, I’m all ears. Dracula can just keep being Alexander Grayson.

I will say this: I found that I can sort-of tolerate the Dracula/Mina romance in the TV show more than I can in the Langella and Oldman versions. That’s because “Alexander Grayson” doesn’t resemble Count Dracula at all, aside from being a vampire who has no problems with killing people to get what he wants. He doesn’t turn Lucy into a vampire until the penultimate episode, and only after finding out that she broke Mina’s heart. He even decides to sacrifice his own desires to help Mina and Jonathan patch up their relationship earlier in the season. There’s no scene where he drags Mina off into a corner. He’s always polite to her and she responds with enthusiasm. They just aren’t the Dracula and Mina from Stoker’s novel.

There’s also a major new character introduced to the story, Lady Jayne.  She’s a member of the Order of the Dragon who is hunting Dracula.  She doesn’t know that Dracula is actually the man that she loves, Alexander Grayson.  It’s nice to see another female character, but she reflects how much the plot changed from book to TV.  I can’t really evaluate how well she fits in Stoker’s universe because it’s not Stoker’s universe.  At least she’s not a badly-written character or anything.

The sets look very nice, it’s well-acted, and the music’s fine.  But it’s a horrible adaptation of the book.  The writers might as well have changed all of the characters’ names and nobody would’ve guessed that it had anything to do with Count Dracula or Bram Stoker.

 

Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula

There were so many of them, but no one ever did the book! And I knew what the book was ’cause I read the book! And I could see that in most of the scenes, Harker is called Renfield and Lucy is the one in love but she’s married to Harker and they just totally played havoc with Stoker’s novel, you know, just to suit whatever God knows the reason was. – Francis Ford Coppola

Mr. Coppola was correct.  So…what happened?

In a special feature about the making 0f Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of Dracula, he mentions the entire cast reading the book together, how happy he was to add characters like Quincey who don’t normally appear in the movies, and the above quote.  Yes, his version does have scenes and lines that don’t usually appear in the movies, but the characters’ personalities get twisted around, and the plot focuses on a love story that simply didn’t exist in the book!  Isn’t that “playing havoc” with Stoker’s novel too?

Well, about a month or so ago, I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Dom’s episode about this movie in his “Lost in Adaptation” web series.  Check it out here if you’re interested.

Towards the end, he made this comment: “So I guess this film did better than most Dracula movies in sticking to the book, but much like Watchmen, that actually turned out to work against it ultimately by bringing the changes into more painfully sharp contrast.”

I didn’t agree at first, mostly because I didn’t want to agree with any statement that implied the film did a good job of sticking to the book.  But when I re-watched the movie for this blog and then re-watched the pilot episode of the Dracula TV series, I realized that the Dom was 100% correct.

For example, Quincey finally got to appear alongside Dr. Seward and Arthur in this movie.  Like the book, they all try to win Lucy’s heart, and we get to hear Quincey making the heartfelt speech that he made to her in the book.  Unfortunately, Lucy’s personality got warped into an over-sexualized flirt who shamelessly plays with the emotions of her three suitors.  So she cuts Quincey off mid-speech to run squealing to Dr. Seward.  It was nice to hear lines from the book, but the way the scene played out was all wrong.  It felt like a punch in the gut to both of their characters.

But the Dom’s critique really comes into play when looking at the romance between Dracula and Mina.

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault and rape

Okay.  First things first, I don’t mind when people ship Dracula/Mina.  I understand that many people probably became acquainted with both characters through this movie, the TV series, or any other adaptation that shows them having some type of attraction to each other.  The authors of the “official” sequel considered this issue when they wrote Dracula: The Un-Dead and decided to rewrite their relationship in the original book into a romance.

However…when I think about their relationship in the original book, I wonder how this even happened in the first place?  The authors of Dracula: The Un-Dead admitted in an author’s note that Bram Stoker never “clearly” wrote a romance, but that’s like saying that J.K. Rowling never “clearly” wrote a father/son relationship between Harry and Voldemort.

As you know by now if you’ve read my other Dracula posts, the Count imprisons and psychologically tortures Mina’s fiancé, Jonathan Harker.  She spends most of the summer worrying about Jonathan because she doesn’t hear much from him except one curt message that doesn’t sound like him at all.  Then, the Count arrives in London and murders her best friend.  So, even if they had never interacted at all in the book, why would anybody believe that Mina could fall in love with a man who almost killed her husband and killed her best friend?  (FYI: no, she wasn’t the reincarnation of his dead wife in the book.  She had no relationship to him at all.)

But it doesn’t end there.  Aside from a scene where Mina spots Dracula feeding on Lucy, she and the Count don’t interact at all until the male protagonists start the vampire hunt and leave her behind.  They think she’ll be safer at home.  They’re wrong: the Count breaks into Dr. Seward’s house and secretly feeds on Mina’s blood for a few nights without anyone realizing.  THEN, when they finally figure it out, the men burst into the Harkers’ room, where they find Jonathan unconscious and Dracula forcing Mina to drink his own blood.

After they chase him off, Mina screams and cries, but quickly pulls herself together to tell her friends what happened.  Behold, some of the charming and romantic things that Dracula said to her while he attacked her (yep, sarcasm):

“Silence!  If you make a sound I shall take him [her husband] and dash his brains out before your very eyes.”

“First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions.  You may as well be quiet; it is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst.”

“Then he spoke to me mockingly: ‘And so you, like the others, would play your brains against mine.  You would help these men to hunt me and frustrate me in my designs!  You know now […] what it is to cross my path. […] And you, their best beloved one, are now to me flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood; kin of my kin; my bountiful wine-press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and helper. […] But as yet you are to be punished for what you have done.  You have aided in thwarting me; now you shall come to my call.”

So, in conclusion, their big scene together involves the Count invading Mina’s bedroom, threatening to kill her husband if she fights back, tells her that there’s no point fighting back anyway because he’s drunk her blood before and he’s about to do it again, mocks her for thinking she could ever be smarter than him, forces her to drink his own blood, and tells her that by doing so, he has put her under his control.  The book also describes him using one arm gripping both her hands so hard that he leaves red marks on her wrists, and using the other to smash her face into his chest.

Does anything that he says or does remind you of anything?  Maybe a felony crime that involves non-consensual sex?!?

And now here’s how the scene is done in the movie:

Somehow…some way… for some reason…somebody looked at this passage in the book and apparently decided that it was hot romance material.

WHY?

As I watched the special “making of” features for 1979 Dracula and 1992 Dracula, I felt like I must be missing something here, because the weirdness of Dracula/Mina never got addressed.  Nobody gave any indication that they knew the romance was inaccurate, but wanted to try something different with the characters.  Instead I heard things like this from the 1992 screenwriter, James V. Hart: “The idea was to portray Dracula finally as a charismatic, tragic hero that he really was, not just another bloodsucking monster that we have to do away with.”  I don’t see anything “heroic” about that attack on Mina in the book.

So, because this issue never gets addressed, the romance on screen seems even more confusing.  I appreciate that Coppola wanted to be more faithful to the book, but by allowing the romance to be a plot point, we now see Dracula imprison Jonathan in his castle, travel to London to hit on Jonathan’s girlfriend, and said girlfriend doesn’t seem to care as much as she should.  When she finds out that the man she’s kissing did in fact kill Lucy, she cries and smacks him…and then goes right back to kissing him.  What the…?

To make matters worse, the movie’s romance between Dracula and Mina is pretty creepy even without the context of the book.  He introduces himself to her as a foreigner and asks if she’d show him around.  She brushes him off and says to go find a map.  Ok, that was a little rude, but this doesn’t justify his attempts to keep following her and making comments about how she shouldn’t wander around London by herself.  Mina actually threatens to call the police on him!  AND THEN…he apologizes, and she assures him that it’s okay because she was the one being rude to him, the poor stalker.

So they go on a date immediately afterwards, and all of a sudden, his desire for her overcomes her, and so he drags her off into a corner while she struggles and protests.  He considers sucking her blood, but manages to restrain himself.  Meanwhile, she’s still struggling, but stops when she realizes, “I know you!”

Ah, so it’s okay to assault somebody when it’s the reincarnation of your dead spouse.  That’s good to know.

 

As for the rest of the movie…

Keanu Reeves isn’t who I would have picked to play Jonathan, but to be honest, I don’t hate his performance.  He seems like he’s really trying to do well, and the movie didn’t give him much to do.  He’s important in the beginning, but after getting left to die in the Count’s castle, he takes a backseat to the romance between his girlfriend and his captor.  Technically, this is somewhat accurate to the book.  In the opening four chapters, we only hear from him.  After he comes back, he’s just one of several different characters who write down their perspectives of what’s happening.  Nonetheless, he’s still important.  Out of all the men in the group, he is the one who hunts the Count the most relentlessly to save his wife.  He has a bit of a character arc, going from terrified survivor to vampire hunter.  The movie doesn’t let him shine or show the other two times he climbed down the castle wall to get away from the Count.

Again, it is so nice to see all three of Lucy’s suitors: Dr. Seward, Quincey, and Arthur.  Unfortunately, they don’t get to do much either, to the point that their character entry on TV Tropes refers to them as “Lucy’s Suitors.”  I guess that’s why their roles get consolidated into one or two roles for the movies.

I’ve already mentioned the whole issue with Lucy’s personality change.  Then there’s the way Dracula attacks her.  You could argue that Dracula’s attacks on women have sexual subtext in the book, which is why I get mad about the misinterpretation of the big scene between the Count and Mina.  But there’s no subtext in the movie.  When Mina finds Lucy at night, she sees the Count in his wolf form having sex with her.  Yes.  As a wolf man.

Later, when he comes to kill Lucy, it looks like she’s having sex with a shadow.  Then a wolf comes throw the window to basically bite her neck off.  It’s so over-the-top and bizarre that I can’t find it scary.  It made me uncomfortable in all the wrong ways.  I prefer the Count Dracula version or even the Frank Langella version that shows Lucy struggling for air with no apparent reason for her illness.  When it’s filmed as described in the book, that is when I winced and couldn’t look at the screen.

In the book, Dr. Van Helsing came to help Lucy as a favor to Dr. Seward.  He initially cares about her the way that he cares about all of his patients, but it doesn’t take long for him to consider her a friend too.  When Mrs. Westenra accidentally interferes with the treatment for her daughter, Van Helsing actually breaks down and cries, knowing what will happen to Lucy if they don’t save her.

In the movie, Dr. Van Helsing doesn’t care about Lucy at all.  He’s just excited to find an actual vampire victim that might lead him to Dracula.  He doesn’t even care about the feelings of his friend, Dr. Seward, casually calling Lucy a whore and saying nonchalantly that he wants to cut off her head and drive a stake through her heart.  His attitude is a little funny, but it’s also cruel and completely out of character.  I know Sir Anthony Hopkins is a great actor and normally I would call him a good choice for this role, but the role itself is not written well.

Oh, and what about Renfield?  Somehow I always leave him out.  But that’s because he never gets to really do anything.  I don’t have any strong opinions here.

The set design, the costumes, and the music are gorgeous, so that’s well and good.  The movie also brings back the diary entries by showing Jonathan and Mina writing and hearing them narrate their adventures.  I can’t remember if Dr. Seward is ever shown talking into his phonograph.  I think so, but not for very long.  Sometimes it’s awkward, i.e. Jonathan saying how unnerved he is by what’s happening at Castle Dracula, when we should be able to deduce that ourselves, or Mina reflecting on how “sweet” Lucy is even as she’s emotionally manipulating the three men at her house.  However, overall the diaries are well-incorporated into the movie when they do appear.

And finally, on a happy note, Dracula doesn’t burn in the sunlight in this movie!  HUZZAH!

The movie did do some things right.  But I’m still not happy about that romance.

Tomorrow, on Halloween, I will put up two posts: one for Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and one for the NBC series.  The dramatic conclusion to Dracula Month awaits us!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (2006 Masterpiece Theater)

(I’m posting this review before I post the review of the 1992 movie because I’m still trying to get my thoughts in order about that one.  Sorry, guys!)

Once again, we see Stoker’s Law of Inverse Adaptations in play.

My friend, Alie, warned me about this one ahead of time.  I figured I was in for the same old mistakes: Lucy acting like a flirt, Mina falling in love with Dracula, Jonathan being a jerk, Dracula being a sympathetic antihero, etc.  But that’s not quite what happened here.  All of the typical mistakes got exchanged for brand-new ones.

In this version, the plot is set in motion by Arthur Holmwood and an evil cult that wants to bring Dracula to London.  Arthur wants to marry Lucy, just like in the book.  Unlike the book, he learns after proposing to her that he inherited syphilis from his late father, and if he has sex with Lucy, she’ll get it too.

Since there’s no cure except prayer, Arthur decides to contact an evil cult, who give him the idea of bringing Count Dracula to London, because an immortal vampire might be able to cure him of his syphilis.  They contact the firm of Mr. Hawkins, who sends Jonathan out to meet the Count, and as you can imagine, things don’t go according to Arthur’s plans.

I can’t help but wonder if the screenwriter, Steward Harcourt, looked at Coppola’s Dracula and said, “Okay, instead of making Lucy a jerk, why not make her boyfriend the jerk instead?”  That’s basically what happened.  Lucy’s not as innocent as she acts in the book because she makes it clear that she wants to consummate her marriage to Arthur as soon as possible.  But she is a very kind-hearted character who comforts Mina while the latter cries and worries about the missing Jonathan.  It’s easy to see why these two are friends.

Part of me feels bad for criticizing Arthur because he’s clearly under a lot of stress, but boy did his character take a beating.  In the book, he is a man who loves his fiance so much that he leaps at the chance to give her a blood transfusion when she’s sick.  He’s close friends with Quincey (who is missing in action once again) and Dr. Seward, so much so that he feels embarrassed about asking Dr. Seward for help because they both wanted to marry Lucy.  In the movie, he refuses to tell anybody about his syphilis or his connection to evil cults, to the point that he holds poor Dr. Seward at gunpoint until Seward agrees to give his own blood for the transfusion.  Wow, Art.

The syphilis also affects his relationship with Lucy;  he constantly makes excuses for why he doesn’t want to be around her and snaps at her every time she suggests sex.  I know that sounds like it makes sense on paper, but the way he constantly tells her to do what he says, without explaining why, is verbally abusive.  Here I was, ready to root for this Arthur since he’s played by Dan Stevens, aka Matthew Crawley.  But he’s too hard to like until the very end when he goes through some character development.

(Gif taken from GIPHY)

Sorry, Matthew.  I still like you!

The involvement of the evil cult is the biggest change to the story, and it bleeds into other plot changes as well:

1) Jonathan does not survive his trip to Transylvania.  Fortunately, this is not an example of Murder the Hypotenuse, because Mina never stops loving him.

2) The evil cult also kills Jonathan’s boss, Mr. Hawkins, to cover their tracks.

3) Van Helsing is not Dr. Seward’s mentor.  He’s a man with an interest in pre-Christian religions whom the Evil Cult hires to find out if vampires still exist.  He discovers Dracula and goes from being the Count’s prisoner to a prisoner of the Evil Cult.  Neither of the groups can kill him because he has the protection of the Cross.  Dr. Seward eventually rescues him and that is their first meeting.

4) The mystery isn’t, “Who/what killed Lucy Westenra?” because she dies in the span of two nights.  It’s more like, “What was Arthur doing that caused Lucy’s death and what’s this evil cult doing?”

5) Arthur eventually repents after Lucy’s death and dies trying to protect Mina from the Count in the final fight.  Dr. Seward stakes Dracula in the back while Van Helsing uses the Cross.

6) Mina never drinks Dracula’s blood.  He almost forces her to do it, but gets distracted when he realizes that Lucy got staked.  So Mina kicks him and runs away.  THAT’S MY GIRL! 😀

7) WHEREFORE ART THOU, MR. QUINCEY P. MORRIS???  Mr. Renfield doesn’t appear either. 😦

So, with that in mind, it was interesting to pick up on all the bits that they did include from the book.  These include: Dr. Seward being Lucy’s suitor, not Mina’s father, that Lucy and Mina like to vacation in Whitby and that’s where they first encounter Dracula, Dracula has the ability to change from an old man to a young man, Hawkins has a sweet, fatherly relationship with Jonathan, Mina and Jonathan are deeply in love, Lucy and Mina like to sit in the Whitby cemetery and Lucy even tells Mina a variation of the story that Mr. Swales tells them about one of the graves in the book.

There’s also a stronger religious theme in this movie than in other versions.  Dracula cannot attack anyone wearing a Cross around their necks.  When he first goes to attack one of the women, he picks Lucy over Mina because Mina is praying the Rosary.  The evil cult is basically a group of devil worshippers and Dr. Seward says they have a “black altar” in their headquarters.  (And by the way, the inverted Cross is the Cross of St. Peter.  It’s not supposed to be an evil symbol.  If people, especially moviemakers, could please stop treating it like one, that would be beautiful.)  When Arthur asks Seward and Van Helsing how they can possibly defeat Dracula, Van Helsing replies that their best weapon is their faith.  I’m not a perfect Christian or anything, but I love my faith, so I actually appreciated the symbolism for the most part.

I feel like Marc Warren, who played Dracula, did his best with the material given to him.  The problem with him is that he’s so over-the-top creepy in the beginning.  He doesn’t give Jonathan much of a welcome; he just shows him to his room and tells him not to leave it.  In another scene, he sniffs Mina’s picture in front of Jonathan.  This might just be my own personal interpretation, but I felt that Dracula was always subtle around Jonathan, so that it took him a couple of days to suspect that something was wrong.  That’s not the case here, and I prefer the book version.  The gradual descent into the Worst Business Trip Ever while constantly questioning one’s sanity strikes me as a lot scarier.

Finally, surprise, surprise, I’m still not completely satisfied with this version of Mina.  She’s better in a lot of ways, but she refuses to help the heroes for a long time because she’s grieving over Jonathan and Lucy.  At least I can understand her motive this time around and she does get to participate in the final fight.  She gets captured during said fight, but at least she’s involved and not actively trying to thwart the other heroes.  And, to be honest, I almost cried at the end when she decided to honor Jonathan’s memory by traveling to places he would’ve liked to have visited throughout Europe, instead of grieving.  That’s beautiful.  It also suggests some positive character development for Mina.  Previously, she admitted to Lucy and Dracula that she liked to revisit old places where Jonathan went and even slept in his bed to feel close to him.  By the end of the movie, she’s moving on while still remembering him in a healthier way.

A lot of the changes are weird.  The scene where the heroes stake Lucy is a little goofy since it ends with Lucy stretching herself out and kind of…letting Arthur stake her, I think?  Did I see that right?  I wouldn’t call this movie a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel.  But it could have been so much worse, as you shall see…

What Makes an Adaptation Good?

Now that I’ve started writing posts for this blog, I think this is a question worth discussing.  Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments.

The saying goes: “Don’t judge a book by its movie.”  Everybody pretty much agrees that the original source material is always better than the adaptation, especially if it’s a book transitioning to a movie.  So, if a movie would only follow the book word-for-word, it would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

You would think so, but I found that wasn’t the case when I watched Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby.  The cast and the cinematography were great, and it was very faithful to the book.  It even showed scenes of Nick writing down his thoughts, with the words shown floating over the scene, words which came straight out of the book.  But something about the whole thing felt off.  I enjoyed the book, but not the movie.  At first, I couldn’t figure out why.

Lindsay Ellis, aka “the Nostalgia Chick,” addresses the issue in her review of The Lorax, saying that “…changes in adaptations aren’t just inevitable, they are necessary.  Film is a different medium.  It incorporates other elements such as sound, time, a billion people working on it, and most importantly, a different person with a different vision at the helm.”

In his book, How to Adapt Anything Into a Screenplay, Richard Krevolin gives readers very similar advice from the start.  He also goes further and advises future screenwriters: “You really don’t owe anything to the original source material” (p. 9).  As long as you’ve captured the spirit of the work, that’s all that really matters. The job of the screenwriter, he explains, is to figure out the heart of what they want to say, what drew them to the original work in the first place, and convey it to their audience in their own unique way.

For the most part, I agree with them.  Although I didn’t like reading that an adaptation doesn’t owe anything to the original work, I’m inclined to think that Krevolin was simply trying to impress on nervous screenwriters that they can’t worry about making changes to the story.  What works for a book won’t necessarily work for a movie, TV show or video game, because they have different ways of telling compelling stories.

For example, given that movies, television shows, and video games are visual mediums, they don’t generally require narration the way that books do.  Sometimes it’s done for comedic effect, but it shouldn’t be used to describe exactly what the audience can already see on the screen.  I think that’s part of the reason why I didn’t like Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby.  We shouldn’t be looking at words from the book on screen or hear Nick narrating so much.  We should see the story playing out as Nick saw it and draw our own conclusions.

At the same time, I can’t fully agree that an adaptation owes nothing to the original work, because if it’s nothing like the original work, why adapt it at all?  NBC’s Dracula television series could have changed the names of the characters and easily passed it off as an original work.  They kept a grand total of two lines from the book, created an entirely different plot with a different message, and none of the characters behaved like they did in the book.  They just had the same names as the characters in the book and lived in London.  That’s it.  NBC…why?  Just…why???

There’s also the question of how much involvement the author of the original work should have.  Some get very involved, like Suzanne Collins, who got to co-write the first Hunger Games script.  Others don’t.  Rick Riordan, the author of the excellent Percy Jackson series, claimed that he wanted to stay away from the movies.  He compared it to selling a house: “Once you sell it, it isn’t yours anymore. You have to move out and let the new owners move in. If you insisted on a bunch of conditions before you sold it […] well, most people wouldn’t agree to buy a house with all those restrictions, would they?”  (He has since written a letter to American teachers everywhere begging them not to force their classes to watch the movies.)  Harper Lee allegedly visited the set for To Kill a Mockingbird, but left because she could see that it was already on its way to becoming a cinematic classic and she didn’t need to do anything.

Finally, it’s important to take personal biases into account.  Peter Jackson and his team rewrote Faramir’s character for The Two Towers so that he struggled heavily with the Ring of Power.  In the book, he rejected it and sent the hobbits on their way.  Since I saw the movies first, I accepted Jackson’s explanation for the change and left it at that.  It didn’t bother me the way it might have if I’d read the book first.

On the other hand, every time a screenwriter changes the personalities of Jonathan, Mina, and Dracula, I get…upset, to put it nicely.  Nobody messes with my Jonathan Harker and gets away with it!

So…if the qualities of a good adaptation are all very subjective, where does that leave us?

At the end of the day, every adaptation needs to be treated as a unique case, depending on the story being told, who’s telling it, the medium, its popularity, etc.

Each story brings its own set of challenges.  Fairy tales need expansion on the characters and story to fill the normal running time of a movie, whereas a series like Harry Potter needs to cut scenes to keep that running time.  The novelization of a movie or video game has the opportunity to elaborate on the thoughts in each character’s head.  In the case of video games, there also comes the challenge of how to interpret battles and other situations that occur based on the individual player’s actions.  I can’t wait to see how the TV series for “Life Is Strange” turns out.  In that game, almost everything that Max does or says depends on what the player wants her to say or do.  This is going to be the one adaptation where fans won’t know how it’s going to end because you get to pick how it ends in the game!

When the reverse happens and a story gets turned into a video game, it can’t just tell a good story and capture what made the original work so great.  It has to be fun to play.  That turned out to be a problem with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow.  The premise was fantastic: an adventure game based on the first movie- except Captain Jack’s the one telling the story.  That meant that the developers could add additional levels that wouldn’t make sense in the movie, i.e. getting stuck on an iceberg and fighting undead Viking pirates, because Jack likes to make things up.  It’s hilarious, but the game itself wasn’t as fun.  Jack, Will, and Elizabeth have two different attacks they can use, and that’s it.  You can also find treasure to purchase upgrades, but there aren’t many upgrades to get.  It gets pretty boring after a while and the script is the only thing that makes it worth playing.

Comic books are a whole other beast.  Popular superheroes like Superman and Spiderman have been around for a long time, with different story arcs, villains, girlfriends, reboots that give them a whole new backstory, alternate universes, etc.  A writer wouldn’t just have to figure how to tell the character’s story, he/she would have to pick what story to tell in the first place.

But there is one thing that all good adaptations need: either a single writer or a team who knows and appreciates the original source material.  Can a person really “capture the truth of the original work and convey that onscreen,” as Krevolin puts it, if he or she doesn’t like it or never bothered to read/watch/play it?  Can he or she find what makes that story unique and sets it apart from others?  Adaptations can definitely make changes to the original work that make it better than before.  But if there’s no love there, fans will notice.  It’s like writing a parody: the best parodies come from writers who enjoy what they’re laughing at- they’re just poking fun at the ridiculous parts, so fans and haters can laugh together.  Otherwise, they come off as mean-spirited.

There are also various things that I believe most adaptations shouldn’t do, but I want to cover them in a different set of posts.

Good adaptations will always need changes in order to work.  The number and the nature of those changes depends on the story and the medium.  Although love for the original source material won’t guarantee a successful translation to book, movie, show, or video game, it is the foundation that is necessary in order to get started.