The Art of Adaptation

Published November 19, 2010 by LS Murphy

Dear Bryan Burroughs,

I’m sorry Michael Mann screwed up Public Enemies.

Dear Stephenie Meyer,

I’m sorry Catherine Hardwicke screwed up Twilight.

Dear (insert author)

I’m sorry (insert director) screwed up (insert novel).

What do the adaptations of Public Enemies and Twilight have in common? Quite a lot actually.

Let’s start with Twilight. I won’t deny my love for the book. It isn’t the best written novel in the world, but it brings out that fourteen-year-old girl in me who was in love for the first time. As Bella falls and obsesses over Edward, I did the same. I became my own version of Bella. Sue me. I loved it.

But the movie….Oh, my what a mess. The movie didn’t flow. It had no continuity to it. When you watch it again, and I know you will, you will see the cut and paste of the movie.

Adapting any novel written in first person is a challenge. As a reader, we  get inside the character’s mind. As a movie watcher, we see everything unfold from the outside and demand that the actors show us those emotions. Twilight did nothing for me. The acting was okay and would’ve been better if the director hadn’t made a cut and paste movie.

Public Enemies was a whole different ball game that had the same problem. Johnny Depp as John Dillinger….OMG. Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis…now I’m sweating here. Batman AND Captain Jack Sparrow in the SAME movie. There was no way this could go wrong.

Except it did. BIG TIME.

Part of it can be blamed on the screenwriters. (Whose idea was it to show Purvis offing Pretty Boy Floyd at the beginning of the film? Really? Get your timelines straight.) Actually, I can forgive the screenwriters for their faux pas. the movie is meant to be a fictional representation of John Dillinger’s life. FICTIONAL. That cannot be stressed enough.

So, Michael Mann has to take the blame for ruining what should’ve been great. Need I remind you that Johnny freaking Depp is in this movie.

It’s failure was the same as Twilight’s. It just didn’t flow. One scene, Dillinger and his girl, Billie Frechette played by fantastically by Marion Cotillard, are in Miami at racetrack and the next they are in New Mexico getting arrested. It didn’t make sense. It felt awkward and left me wondering why even have the racetrack scene.

(Side note: Someone please make a movie about Alvin Karpis and cast Giovanni Ribisi in the role. He played it perfectly in Public Enemies.)

So here are two totally different books with nothing in common other than crappy movie adaptations. Both movies could’ve been great, but they weren’t.

Hollywood is about making our daydreams, our fantasies into a quasi-reality. Films take us into the past, the future, the unknown. But, if they aren’t done right, they also take us out of the fun of watching a movie.

With a slew of awesome books in the works for adaptation, I can’t help but be a little worried. Will Hollywood screw up The Hunger Games? Or Unwind?

I hope not.



One comment on “The Art of Adaptation

  • I know, what she said, right? I hate when they totally screw up a movie that they have such a great piece of work to from. Why not make sure it’s perfect. Don’t they see it during editing? I guess they don’t care that their name is on crap when they get that big pay check. Thanks for the post! 😀

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