Monday, July 18, 2011

Brand identity

Opinions are divided on what is best in an adaptation. Ask the proverbial man on the street, and I'm sure he will tell you that when he watches a film based on a book he's read, he wants it to tell the same story. Fidelity, faithfulness to the original work, is all important.

Except: it's impossible to achieve, because what works optimally in one medium can be impossible, dull or clunky in a different medium.

And: surely, if you want the film to be exactly like the book, wouldn't you really be better off just reading the book itself.

And: how many people will have read the book anyway?

In the academic study of adaptation, the whole idea of fidelity was considered and rejected decades ago, for the reasons I've suggested above, and for a few others. Instead, what most critics are interested in is for an adaptation to give a new insight into the original work, or to make the original work newly relevant to our world.

Which brings me not to a film adaptation, but to graphic novel adaptations. This summer sees the publication of two more authorised graphic novel adaptations of Ray Bradbury novels, follow-ups to the successful adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 released two years ago.

Ron Wimberly has adapted Something Wicked This Way Comes. In a recent interview he talks about the constraints of adapting an existing work:

You won't fit everything in, but one must try to capture the spirit of the work. The spirit of literature is poetry. Poetry suggests. It's the Impressionism of literature. So I approached it like that. Things are lost, but you can always read Bradbury's original to taste the angel's share.

He then goes on to talk about how, in his first draft of the adaptation, he chose to make the key setting of the story like the "suburban wasteland" of Washington, D.C., where he grew up. Then "Bradbury's people" asked if he could make it more like the Disney movie.

Part of me would be fascinated to see Wimberly's "suburban wasteland" version of Something Wicked. If you're paying an artist good money to interpret a work, let's see his interpretation. If I want Bradbury, I can read the original novel.

But then again, this book is one of a series of volumes that announce themselves as authorised adaptations. That announcement makes a difference. It's attaching a brand to the book. It really has to be Bradbury's Something Wicked between the covers, otherwise it would be like buying a can of Heinz Baked Beans only to open it and find they taste like supermarket own brand. (No, I don't buy that theory that all baked beans are the same. Heinz' taste different, no question!)

Read the full interview with Ron Wimberly here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree, the "suburban wasteland" approach would be interesting. I think it's important that adaptations be relevant and an opportunity to update the author's work otherwise they become "nostalgia" not art.