In their search for new ideas to plunder, Hollywood has adapted numerous books into film treatments. Some of them work well, while others fell with a rather loud thud.
Perhaps one of my favorite adaptations is the recent Good Omens, based on the novel of the same title by Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett. It tells the story of an angel and a demon – Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively – who find themselves performing directly competing tasks, usually canceling out each others’ work. Over the centuries, they become friends, and when the apocalypse arrives, they decide they’re rather fond of the world and fight against the legions of both Heaven and Hell to save it. It’s a very faithful adaptation – though I must admit, it’s been more than a decade since I read the book, so my memory may be a bit dodgy. It was made into a six-episode mini-series by Amazon, and I’ve watched it several times through since it first landed on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. Watching the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale is a delight, thanks in no small part to the brilliant performances by Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley).
Perhaps one of my least favorite adaptations is The Hobbit. Fresh from their success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the same studio and principal architects turned a delightful tale into a thrill ride, extending a single book of less than 300 pages into three films, with no other purpose than pure greed. A great deal of material was added to provide the required padding, including a non-sensical love story, a great many roller-coaster-type chase scenes, and gross touches purely for shock value to pander to the ‘kids’. Despite a few scenes in the trilogy that give me joy, I have to write the whole thing off as a bad job, and it very nearly erases for me all the good work that was done to bring the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the Big Screen.
True Blood is based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, about her protagonist Sookie Stackhouse, a telepath whose mind-reading abilities come to the attention of a group of local vampires. The books are full of sex, mysteries, and enough local color to choke a college lit professor, but the few episodes of the series I watched were, shall we say, less than true the source material? The thing that frustrates me is that this material was perfect already: soap opera-ish with some really good mysteries and lots of political machinations from the vampires, and yet the powers-that-be felt the need to re-arrange things, and in some instances add in entirely new scenes to spice up an already spicy dish. Love the books (in fact, am in the process of re-reading them now) but not interested in watching any more of the series.
Regular readers of this blog may recall how I railed against American Gods previously — TWICE. (See http://billbodden.com/2019/04/29/american-gods-wandering-in-the-desert-for-30-years/ and http://billbodden.com/2019/12/16/not-seeing-starz/) What started out in season one as a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book veered off into “let’s-make-some shit-up-because-somebody-thinks-it-would-be-better” land. After covering a couple of chapters in the first season, the second season was like hitting the pause button on the actual story, and began adding in unnecessary material to extend the life of the project. What it really did was kill any interest a great many people – including myself – had in watching any further. There has, as yet, been no season three, for a variety of reasons, but the wholesale shedding of quality cast members that began in season two leaves me with zero investment in how things turn out.
Adapting works to film must surely be a difficult job. Besides numerous levels of executives that feel the need to meddle with a project to ensure some sort of legacy is attached to their names, writing seems to be one thing that nearly everyone thinks they can do well, and so we have the temptation to “improve” on works that were already good enough to draw everyone’s attention, not to mention praise. It makes me unhappy to see so many good books get so thoroughly screwed up when adapted, and yet, things like Good Omens give me hope that not everyone in the film industry needs to have their hands all over something to “make it better.”