Podcast

309 – Adaptations… Again!

The Mythcreant Podcast
Sometimes a story is created as one thing, but you want to make it into another thing. Books to movies, TV shows to video games, graphic novels to roleplaying games – all of this is adaptation. Today, we’re nerding out on how adaptation works, how it can go wrong, and why the book is not in fact always better than the movie. Plus, a special tribute to everyone’s favorite live action adaptation: The Last Airbender!

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Episode 41

Nicholas Meyer

Lindsay Ellis: The Hobbit

Forgotten Realms

Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets

Annihilation

Interview with the Vampire

The Rook

The Haunting of Hill House

Serenity

Roland

Hilda

Locke and Key

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Nichole. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]

Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Mythcreant podcast. I’m Oren. With me today is…

Wes: Wes.

Oren: and…

Chris: Chris.

Oren: And today we are adapting episode 41 of the podcast into episode 309 of also the podcast. An episode about adaptations. The only difference is that we’re all smarter than we were many years ago and the episode will also be shorter, and also I didn’t listen to the episode before we adapted it. This isn’t for the hardcore fans of episode 41. This is for the new audience that we’re going to bring in. Maybe, who knows.

Chris: I really think you should have to be a superfan of the old podcast in order to do an adaptation.

Oren: Ooo, I have strong opinions about this.
[laughter]

Chris: Oooo, [laughter] let’s hear these strong opinions.

Oren: Look, I’m just really tired of the idea that you need to be a fan of the original to adapt it, because I swear it’s like publicity people use that as a shield against criticism. It’s like look, “We got these people who are such fans of the original.” And they’re always talking about that. Maybe it’s just the Star Trek adaptations, I don’t know. I don’t know if this happens in other franchises, but every time there’s a new Star Trek show, they’re like we’re such fans of the original. It’s getting to the point where I feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to say that.

Wes: Especially if you just go in your own direction, it’s like, “I love blue but I’m going to go in like an orange, from here on out.” [Laughter]

Oren: Right, and especially since like probably the most successful Star Trek adaptation of all time, The Wrath of Khan, was made by someone who had never seen a Star Trek episode until then. Now he did his research, right, he went through and watched the original episodes and found one that he was like, “That’s pretty cool, that had some open ends, we could make a movie about that.” And he did, his name is Nicholas Meyer, I’m just not convinced that there’s any real correlation between how big a fan the person making the adaptation is and how good the adaptation is.

Chris: Yeah, I have to echo that. I think one of the advantages of adaptations where we see they are strongest is, particularly when we’re going from books to movies, the ability to cut down to the strongest parts of the story. As with authors who often don’t cut out parts that they should cut out because they are attached to them. I think a fan is more likely to have the same problem. And the nice thing about somebody who’s not attached is they can be more ruthless when cutting out what’s not working. Especially when you have to go down in size.

Oren: On that note, here I have a question for the two of you. Everyone always gets excited when a book is being adapted to a movie, why doesn’t anyone get excited when a movie is being adapted into a book?

Wes: Does that happen? [Laugh]

Chris: Oh yea, there’s novelization of tons of movies that are popular.

Wes: But is a novelization… I mean, I know it’s an adaptation if it’s crossing mediums, but aren’t novelizations just like, “Hey here’s the film, but you can read it?” Isn’t it just like the same thing, I’ve never read a novelization because I just assume, no scratch that, I’ve read 2001: A Space Odyssey. But I think that he wrote that while they did the movie, it’s like the exact same thing.

Oren: The answer is sort of yes and sort of no. And this actually is why people don’t get excited about novelization as much, or at least part of it, there are a lot of reasons.

But one reason is that, when a novelization happens, it is an adaptation, but novelizations are almost exclusively bad. They’re just worse than watching the movie and the reason is that they aren’t allowed to change anything. And the thing about adaptation is, usually to make a successful adaptation you will need to change things. Different mediums have different strengths. And that’s what we see in basically all good adaptations, is that they were willing to make changes to preserve what worked and make a new, better story. The people who write novelizations of successful movies are not allowed to do that.

The only thing that is ever different is that they put in more dialog to justify things that don’t make sense. Like if you read the Star Wars novelizations, and I’ve read a few, they are basically, “This is what happened in the movie, but it is in prose you don’t get to see it, with more narration and dialogue trying to explain stuff.” Like in trying to explain that in the Solo movie, the droid wasn’t enslaved, they say, “She wanted to become part of the Falcon,” [chuckle] “we promise. That’s what happened.” They just do stuff like that. Why would I want to read that, it’s a movie, it doesn’t actually make that good of a book because it’s a movie.

Chris: Right, novels often have a lot of fluff that you can cut down, not all novels, it varies, but a lot of them have fluff that you can cut down that actually makes a really effective movie. Whereas if you try to take a movie and fluff it out to a novel that’s going to be really hard to do without having lots of filler in there.

Oren: Right, there’s just not enough content. I mean like the Lord of the Rings movies are actually pretty unusual in that they are fairly long books, although not super long by fantasy standards. They are reasonably long, and yet they converted very well into movies because so much of them is description, and frankly a lot of it’s unnecessary. We did not need to know all of the bannerman that show up to Minas Tirith and all of their backstories, Tolkien. I didn’t need to know that. Cutting that out really loses nothing and preserves almost the entire story, but like you can’t really do that with a Game of Thrones. Which is the reason why Game of Thrones works much better as a TV show. If you tried to turn the 300-thousand-word Game of Thrones novel into a movie, a 2 hour or even a 3 hour movie, it would have been a disaster.

Chris: Yeah. It was also a series, right? But even a single book probably wouldn’t have translated to a movie very well.

Oren: Right, I was only talking about the first book. The first book of Game of Thrones is nearly as long as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. To make that a movie you would have to cut so much that it would be hard to recognize it. Which is why they made the choice, I assume, why they made the choice to make it a TV show. I think that was the right choice. And I think there are a lot of books that are easier to adapt into TV shows, just because there’s more story there.

Wes: What about when there’s not more story there, but they decide to add a bunch more? Since we’ve been talking about Tolkien we could talk about The Hobbit.

Oren: This is a bad Hobbit [ba dum] [chuckles] That’s a pretty obvious case of, we want some more money. Lindsay Ellis has a really good deep dive video into the production of The Hobbit and why it is the way it is. And there were just very strong financial incentives to create three movies, instead of 1 or 2.

Chris: It originally was supposed to be 2 movies. And then they changed their minds to make it three, like mid-production. Which, not a good idea.

Wes: “We need more time you guys.” “No, we don’t.” “No, we do, trust me.” [laughter]

Oren: And also in one of the greatest “what if”s, we’ll never know what Guillermo del Toro’s The Hobbit was doing to look like.

Chris: That’s so sad. I want to watch his Hobbit.

Wes: It is sad.

Oren: But the studios decided that they wanted it to be more like Lord of the Rings, which is kind of ironic because that’s been a problem for fantasy movies ever since Lord of the Rings came out, and is trying to make them like Lord of the Rings. Even when the source material doesn’t really work for that. That’s why Tim Burton’s Alice movies are so bad, is because they are trying to make them like Lord of the Rings, but they also want them to be at least somewhat like Alice in Wonderland. They aren’t willing to do the extreme changes you would need to make Alice in Wonderland actually work with Lord of the Rings. It was just kind of funny to see that happen to another Tolkien product. It’s like, “This needs to be like Lord of the Rings, but The Hobbit is nothing like Lord of the Rings. We still want it to be Hobbit-esque, it’s still kind of a comedy but it’s also epic and action-y.” What is going on here? These are movies at war with themselves.

Wes: Don’t forget you have to make some of the dwarfs sexy. [laughter]

Chris: This is an ongoing problem that happens with any large company that is in the creative industry or sizable enough with executives, is they are focused on marketing, and they are risk averse, which means they are always looking at what made tons of money recently and trying to copy it. But when you have anything that’s creative, people get tired of the same thing. And so it only works for so long. And then try to fit stories into molds. But it also happens with video games and other creative products. There’s always a lot of copying that happens. It’s too bad.

Oren: Can I talk about why video games are really hard to convert into movies and why they almost always fail?

Chris: Let’s do it.

Oren: I have a theory okay, so part of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Video game movies have a reputation for being terrible. There is a certain “well we’re going to make this and it’s going to be a quick cash in, we’re not going to be put people with skills or talent. We’re not going to put a lot of money” so there’s that aspect. But I think even more importantly, and the original cause of this problem is that video games sell themselves primarily on interaction. They are the primary facit of the video game medium is that the player gets to do things and that’s what makes video games enjoyable. Most video games have barely a coherent story to mention, what would, honestly what does a Mario movie look like?

Wes: Did you guys see that live action Mario movie from like decades ago? So weird, it’s horrible.

Oren: It’s horrible and bad, but try to imagine what a good Mario movie would be like. You know, especially in the older era of Mario games. Nowadays Mario games do have something of a plot but in some ways that makes them even more ridiculous. It’s like “hey the new Mario game is about finding the cosmic stars that will save the universe.” It’s like, “who’s doing that?” “I don’t know, some little Italian guy and a plumber. I don’t know. What is his backstory?”

Chris: First of all, it would definitely be animated because the whole aesthetic of Mario, it being almost absurdist, and surreal, just doesn’t work in live action very well. I think it’s way easier to sell that esthetic in, if you’re doing animation. Even the choice to make it live action is just poor taste, in my opinion.

Oren: And even games that sell themselves on story, like Mass Effect, the good ones. I’m talking about Mass Effect 3 here. Those stories are at best average space opera, once you take out the interactive parts. That’s not uncommon, because what video games are doing, the main selling point of a video game is that it lets you be in the story. You the player. Which no other medium can offer. I guess except role playing games maybe but that’s a separate thing. Movies can’t do it, books can’t do it. Not even choose your own adventures can do it. To do that, certain corners have to be cut in terms of storytelling. I’m not at all interested in a Mass Effect movie because Mass Effect’s setting and storyline are good enough to sell the immersive interactive elements, but on their own, as like pieces of storytelling, they’re average at best. And that’s just the case with most video games. There just isn’t much to adapt.

Chris: Yea this is why I don’t play very many video games, is because I’m not really interested in the game component. I’m only interested in the story component. And sometimes that’s enough for me to play them for a while, because I’m interested in meeting the characters, but in the end, their story is never as good as I can get just by reading a novel or watching a TV show. Because it has to fit the game components.

Oren: I love video games. I play video games. I enjoy being part of the story, but I recognize that certain sacrifices have to be made in order to make that happen. It’s similar to why you can’t make a good Dungeons and Dragons movie unless it’s a comedy, because Dungeons and Dragons is already trying to imitate classic fantasy stories. So unless you’re going to make a comedy movie, which has been done many times but there’s no reason to give it a multi-million dollar budget about how attacks per round are very silly, like what is a Dungeons and Dragons movie? I guess you could make a forgotten realms movie if you wanted to but then you have to assume that people know what forgotten realms is and it’s just a mess. There’s nothing Dungeons and Dragons about that. Anyway, you can tell I have some opinions about this.

[laughter]

Wes: I’m just thinking about some of the games, trying to wrack my mind for some of the games that are more story driven. I really enjoyed Final Fantasy 7 and 9. Especially 9. There were definitely a lot of cinematic cutscenes, but those are not really story components. I’ve sat down and watched on YouTube all the cinematic cutscenes from start to finish for the whole thing. And you don’t really know what’s going on. It’s just like, “Oh, here comes another summons and it’s going to destroy this thing and oh there’s another one. And there’s Kuga”. And so much of it happens with small interactions of the game play, but when I was kid, first playing those games it was like “Oh this is great, it’s like a movie”, but I think that’s the trick of the animation which is a gripe of mine with certain film adaptations that they just use CGI to excuse story, by, I don’t know, having a dragon chase Harry Potter all over that 4th movie.

Oren: Or anything with transformers logo on it. I mean look, people like things that look cool and if your thing looks cool enough it can make up for a lot of other weaknesses. Not always. Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets is a prime example of a completely beautiful, gorgeous movie that was not only panned but that bombed really badly but I think that had more to do with marketing that with the quality of the movie.

Chris: But it was a very bad movie.

[laughter]

Oren: It was very bad. Ridiculously bad.

Chris: I think it might be worth talking about what’s easy to adapt especially going from books to films or back and forth. And what’s not. Sometimes we see some really interesting things where people do things to make up for it. I think the adaptation of Annihilation in the Area X series is one of the more interesting adaptations because that book, Jeff VanderMeer, has spilled to much atmosphere in his narration and has an unreliable narrator that is used to build suspense and all of these things that don’t really translate to a film, very well.

When they did the film, instead of relying on that kind of psychological uncertainty to build suspense, they just made it more visually creepy. Whereas technically in the book Area X mostly looks like a wilderness. Like a Florida wilderness, I guess. Without tons of weird stuff you’re looking at but there’s other things to produce that psychological terror. Whereas in the movie they made Area X look super weird and creepy and that replaced the narration and I thought that was really well done. They had other issues in the adaptation that were still, in the book did not have a perfect plot and the adaptation didn’t either. [chuckle]

Oren: Yeah and, okay okay I love Annihilation as an example because everything you said they did a great job replacing the creepy narration with creepy visuals, right, and I love that, that was great. I thought they did a really good job adding a bit of urgency because the book, it’s kind of unclear why they’re even here or what the stakes are. And even the main character seems a little confused and my guess is that VanderMeer himself didn’t know and was hoping it would come to him as he wrote the book. In the movie they have a thing where they know that Area X is expanding so there’s some stakes and tension, that’s cool. I like that.

The movie also shows what happens when you encounter a flaw in the book that you don’t know how to fix. Which is that the book doesn’t really have an ending, it just kind of stops at one point. There’s no climax. There’s no real satisfaction. And in the movie, they were like, “We can’t just have the story stop, the film executives will expect it to have a satisfying ending, I guess she’s going to do a weird mirror dance with a guy in a black motion capture suit.” Which is what the thing she beats looks like. And it’s like, “What is happening for the last 15 minutes of the movie?” [laughter] It’s like, “Well, we ran out of material, there was nothing to adapt so we threw this weird dance scene together and then she burns it with fire.” The most boring possible way to end the movie. So that’s often what happens in adaptations. People talk about, “oh that adaptation was really bad, so much worse than the book.” And sometimes it is, but often what you’re actually seeing is problems that were in the book too, that were easier to ignore because you didn’t have to watch them happen. And that’s an excellent example. I love it.

Chris: I mean, I do think what closure the book had was events that didn’t make for a visually interesting climax. Right, they were just looking for some way to bring this whole thing to a head and in the books she, the main character, she just finds a notebook and then just goes wandering off into the wilderness. [chuckle] And in the movie they were like, “But we want there to be an exciting scene at the end, how do we embellish this into an exciting scene?” And it’s just why, why is this here?

Oren: It also helps that Area X is fairly short. That is one of the reasons why it works okay as a movie. Where as a lot of books don’t. I started thinking about it in terms of compressible material. Because some books can be compressed and sometimes its because the books themselves are too full of fluff or sometimes they just have a bunch of stuff that doesn’t affect the plot in any way, looking at you Interview with a Vampire, but regardless, there are books that you can squish down without losing too much.

Then there are some that you can’t. Some that actually have truly meaty plots that you can’t cut a lot of stuff out of because if you don’t everything stops working and that’s when you really need to start looking at a TV show adaptation. Because trying to adapt it into just one movie is not gonna work. And sometimes it’s the case of the filmmaker not knowing which one is which. One of the problems with the early Harry Potter movies is that they basically just feel like the book on fast forward, because it’s like we have to put everything in there, it was in the book, it’s gotta be in the movie. We have to zoom past all of the stuff and then in the later ones they started making changes and cutting stuff and it’s an improvement.

Chris: I have to say I wonder how much of that was JK? Because she had control of these movies. That was one of her criteria, that she needed to have a lot of say so. And I have to wonder if the unwillingness to cut anything, which really needed to happen just for pacing because the pacing is just too fast, goes through things too quickly, came from her and then after a couple movies she realized that wasn’t gonna continue working. That it was degrading the quality of the movies.

Wes: Well the physical size of the books shows Oren’s squishable compression hypothesis in action. You can’t squish much of the first book or the second, but after that you can squish them pretty deep.

Chris: Yeah, although they also get longer.

Wes: That’s kind of what I’m alluding too, you know, the sheer volume increases of words on page, the amount of material she put into each one.

Chris: Yeah, but I’m not sure book three has less viable plot than book one or two, it would still, if you didn’t do any extra cutting it would still have the same pacing problems, but it doesn’t. My guess. I would have to look and outline the whole thing and I don’t want to do that. [laugh]

Wes: Not right now anyway. [laughter]

Chris: A adaptation that was to a TV show and struggled just because of things that were difficult to adapt is The Rook TV show. Which comes from an urban fantasy book and the problem here, even though the adaptation actually changed some things that were cool, is that the book there’s a lot of mystery solving that is private that the protagonist does by herself. She looks through files to try to find out what happened to her, because someone gave her amnesia and she’s trying to put this puzzle together. And there’re just a lot of scenes that are plot important for her doing that but in the TV show was just like, “Okay, now we’ve got some scenes of the protagonist by herself looking at some stuff on the ground.” [chuckles] You know, sometimes, it’s just, if a lot of the real plot and activity of the story is happening inside of the protagonist’s head as they put things together. In some cases, I think some adaptations would do well just by adding in additional characters for them to talk to.

Oren: They need a buddy.

Chris: Right. In this one though it was supposed to be that she doesn’t know who to trust and she’s really isolated and that’s why she has to do it by herself. Which is extra weird, because in the show they changed that. There are definitely people it feels like she can trust, and she then she just doesn’t talk to them for no reason [chuckle] that we can tell. So yeah, that was kind of messed up a bit there too. But any story that is, again, really just has the plot happening in the protagonist’s head can be really tricky to move to film or when we don’t really see all of that happening.

Wes: In the Annihilation example was pretty good one because they pretty clearly recognized that and they were like, “Okay, we have got to do something else.” I think that is just something that needs to be hopefully discussed more. In other psychological horrors examples, the Haunting of Hill House, which has had movie and TV adaptations since Shirley Jackson first published it. That’s really hard. It’s a psychological horror, the whole POV is Eleanor Vance’s and she’s the one who meets the ultimate end, at the end. But you think everything is wrong with the house but it’s only really happening to Eleanor. How do you do that on a show? I mean you adapt it and say inspired by…And it’s not like, “Hey, we like elements of a Haunted House but we realize that we can’t put readers directly in her head, the audience directly in her head, but that would be more of disorienting experience or we don’t know who to do it or make it satisfying so just enjoy a haunted house ride.” It’s just not the same kind of thing.

Oren: Although supposedly good, I don’t know. I didn’t have the stomach for it.

Wes: The Netflix show was definitely the better adaptation. The movies had some good moments. I don’t know. Maybe it’s unfair, I’m just judging it on the book and maybe I should just try to treat the adaptations on their own. I mean I don’t know, should we do that?

Oren: I mean, I usually do. I find I have very little nostalgia for books that I liked, when an adaptation comes out, I don’t usually mind if it’s different. What bothers me is when certain things are clearly preserved because they were like that in the original, but now they’ve made changes that no longer fits.

My article on Interview with a Vampire is probably out by the time you’re hearing this, but that’s basically what happens in Interview with a Vampire. Certain things in the movie are significantly improved because they were willing to make changes. Like they made Lestat much more of a smooth, dark tempter, instead of a chaotic, unstable jerk. Which is what he is in the books. And I totally get why they made that change. Both because it’s more entertaining to watch and because they were probably hoping they would do sequels and it’s frankly kind of weird that Lestat from the book is eventually going to become the prince of all vampires. But I can believe movie Lestat would be like that.

Then you get some weird stuff, like at the end, the ending of the movie is still Louis going and taking a victory lap on Lestat who’s all pathetic now. And in the book, that’s sort of works, because Lestat was kind of his abuser. So Louis being like, “Yeah I’m cool now and you suck” was a satisfying moment, but in the movie Lestat is not his abuser, that scene is very strange. It just doesn’t make sense.

You can see stuff like that all over the place. It’s not even always with books. This happened with Serenity too. Where the movie Serenity, the adaptation, or the sequel to Firefly, was in this weird place where it was clearly trying to appeal to fans from the original show, but also trying to draw in people who had never seen the original. So it had weird stuff where the characters were in different emotional places than they had been, which is okay. That’s a little odd if this is a sequel, but then there was also stuff that I had actually watched Serenity first, and I had no idea who Inara or Shepherd Book were.

Wes: Same.

Oren: Who are these people? I was so confused and that was just a case of the movie not knowing which audience it wanted.

Wes: They definitely went for the one season and a movie and you’re going to have to do a lot of leg work on your own.

Oren: Right, but also, if you do all of that legwork, you’re going to be frustrated because we changed everyone’s emotional status, even though theoretically, in this movie universe, the episodes of TV also happened. That’s just an interesting halfway point I got caught on.

Chris: What about?

Wes: Graphic novel adaptations? Cause I know that certainly Firefly/Serenity universe has several that are more like filling in the gaps in other stories. But other ones that come to mind, there was once again a terrible Dark Tower gunslinger adaptation, even though I was really excited about Idris Elba playing Roland. But that was just a bad movie. Because, I don’t know, there’s a compression issue where they’re going to take a seven-book series and do like one video. It’s the Game of Thrones example again.

Chris: Hilda is a comic book adaptation.

Wes: Oh yeah. That’s a good one.

Chris: It is. In fact, I bought one of the comics to compare and it’s largely the same. It’s like they took the comic and they just gave it another layer of polish. Where we just tightened up the plot a tiny, made the drawings just slightly better, but it’s largely the same. I mean again, I only looked at the equivalent of the first episode or two, up to when they move to Trolberg. I haven’t looked at the rest and how much it deviates. But it’s, these are both much more compatible mediums cause they are both visual. Comics don’t have audio but for the most part, we don’t have the same issues where, how do we translate internal narration into visuals. And it feels very much the same, that’s a good example.

One that is much rougher, but I don’t think necessarily had to be, is Locke & Key. [chuckles] Is a dark graphic novel that was changed to a TV show. I think the issue was some of the decisions that were made about what type of TV show it would be. This really is kind of horror-ish, definitely dark graphic novel, but the main characters are young, and it felt like they decided they wanted it to be kind of a family show. [chuckles] Which is not a fit for Locke & Key, and it felt like it had low production values and was otherwise rough around the edges. Oren, you saw the TV show, but I don’t know if you read the graphic novels though.

Oren: I read some and there were definitely some things that were easier to do in the graphic novel than in the show. I just noticed there were different priorities. Like when I read the graphic novel there was a much heavier emphasis on the creepy mystery and I just felt that in the show they were like “let’s do high school drama” and it’s not like high school drama inherently bad, but this high school drama is pretty unrelated to the supernatural mystery. I think that was just a mistake in focus. I think that if they wanted to do high school drama, it needed to be connected to the mystery and they either didn’t know how to do that or didn’t think they had to. And so in that case, I think it was an issue of bad choices. There were some production limits, like they had to change what the key that opens your head does because that was going to be really hard to show visually. But I thought they did a fine job of that. You put the key in and a door appears and you go through the door and now you’re in someone’s head. Like sure, that’s fine.

Chris: Any animation or drawing to live action you’re gonna to have to change the visuals a little bit, for live action constraints, right. There were some issues with them looking at this, Locke & Key has a very slow burn plot, but it felt like in the show they wanted to make sure that there was good stakes and progress right away. And it felt the plot got messed with because they took things that were supposed to come later and moved them earlier and tried to add more stakes. Do those kinds of things, but there was a careful balance in the graphic novel that they disrupted by moving things around. That’s kind of how I felt about it. That one definitely struggled more in the adaptation from graphic novel to a TV show.

Oren: I do think there is one adaptation that we’ve been leaving out. Which I think we can all agree was a true masterpiece. Which was the live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

[laugher]

Wes: Masterpiece!

[laugher]

Chris: Of course I should have known, and then the adaptation attacked.

Wes: Let’s take one of the benders, just one of them, and completely and fundamentally alter their abilities.

Oren: Yeah, it’s fine. Also pronounce the names wrong for some reason. Why, why is that? To say nothing of the racebending. I’m glad that movie exists though because we have a term for that now, it’s called racebending. Which we didn’t have before.

Wes: When I think about that movie, which is kind of randomly often sometimes, the thing that always stick to my mind is when Iroh has that big confrontational moment towards the end and the other firebenders are like, terrified screaming “He’s making fire from nothing!” [laughter] Like, “Yeah, it’s bending, come on.” [laughter]

Oren: Hot take. That was actually one thing about the movie I didn’t hate.

Wes: I know, that’s probably why I think about it.

[chuckles]

Oren: It was the idea that firebenders need a source of fire to do their bending. I could see why someone would think that, because the other bender can’t create earth, air, water from nothing. There needs to be some around. It’s a little different though because it’s way easier to have earth or water or air, just around, than it is with fire. So, again, I see why the original show made it so firebenders can conjure fire, because otherwise it would be just like debilitating to have to carry a torch around everywhere.

Chris: I also just want to point out, cause we were talking about how much story there is and pacing, that one of the many, many, many things wrong with this adaptation was that he tried to take the entire first season of the show…

Wes: Yes, yes.

Chris: …And condense it down into one movie. It’s like there’s no way to do that, you can’t do that.

Oren: Look Chris, we now have proof that you can.

[LAUGHTER]

Chris: You were so busy asking whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think about whether you should.

Oren: You no one will legally stop you, apparently. [laughter]

But I am going to have to legally stop this episode because we’re already over time. So we’ll just leave you with that. With that beautiful Last Airbender movie in your mind and just imagine in a few months or years, or however long it takes, soon we’ll have a live action Netflix adaptation to hate.

Wes: Oh boy.

Oren: I mean who knows, I guess it could be good. I don’t know. I have no hope for anything.

Chris: Why live action? I don’t understand.

Oren: The only thing I hope for is our wonderful patrons who support us. Several of whom are: Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next, we have Ayman Jaber; he is a fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally, we have Danita Rambo; she lives at therambogeeks.com.  We’ll talk to you next week.

Voiceover: If you enjoyed this podcast and want to slip us some gold-pressed latinum, head on over to patreon.com/mythcreants. We appreciate it.

[Song out]

Voiceover: This has been the Mythcreant podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself, by Jonathan Colton.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

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Comments

  1. A Perspiring Writer

    I have two minor nitpicks: The Lord of the Rings is ONE BOOK, not a trilogy (although it’s often published as three volumes), and A Game of Thrones isn’t “almost as long as LotR”, it’s less than 2/3 the length (abt. 300k words vs. 480k, respectively).

    (One additional note: The Last Airbender movie somehow manages to have pacing problems in both directions. The first half of the movie is too rushed (‘adapting’ episodes 1-17 over roughly 50 minutes) while the second half is way too slow (adapting (no air quotes this time; it actually follows the series’ plot pretty well at this point) episodes 18-20 over ANOTHER 50 minutes. Seriously.)

  2. SunlessNick

    The novelisation of Return of the Jedi added quite a bit that wasn’t in the film – not in the storyline itself, but in backstory – a section from the Emperor’s POV summarises much of the prequel trilogy’s story. It made a weird experience looking at some reactions to The Phantom Menace, where people were putting “clues” together to deduce that Palpatine was Darth Sidious, and I was thinking didn’t everyone already know that years ago?

    I remember an article from io9 that described Mass Effect as the most important SF universe of this generation. They actually made a pretty good case for it, but I’ll stick to one point, based on its medium – because everything was computer generated, it’s one of the few visual-media settings where making an alien is no harder than making a human – you could go walking through the big market in the Citadel and see half a dozen humans, counting your party. Unless a movie adaptation was animated, it would lose that edge.

    By the way, and not really about adaptations. What would you say is a good name for a trope that’s assumed to be in a film only because of who the director is? For example, Signs – the main character is a former priest who lost his faith and is haunted by the mysterious dying words of his wife – in the climax, they turn out to mean something – but is there *anyone* who would regard that as a plot twist if it hadn’t been an M Knight Shyamalan film? (I could make similar arguments about Lady in the Water, The Happening, and to some extent The Village).
    For a different trope, Snoke in The Force Awakens – who he is and where he came from was descibed by a lot of critics as a JJ Abrams mystery box. But in the film, none of the characters actually treat it as a mystery, and the plot doesn’t revolve around speculation about who Snoke is any more than A New Hope revolves around speculation about who Governor Tarkin is. (Similarly in The Dresden Files with Cowl).
    So what would be a good term for that kind of thing, do you think?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I think you can call those tropes without a problem. Or maybe bad habits. The Snoke thing isn’t about there being a mystery in the story, but rather JJ’s habit of specifically withholding basic information which he claims will be important in order to generate buzz, and M Night is famous for loving weird twists in his movies, whether he always delivers or not.

      • Jeppsson

        When it comes to Shyamalan… Sixth sense really had an amazing twist, before it became generally known. I remember when the movie was in theaters, at my then-job, how one person after another would go see the movie and everyone was SO careful not to spoil, everyone really had their MIND blown at the end!
        Then came unbreakable, which suffered from being a superhero movie aimed at superhero geeks that still weren’t marketed as such, since back then, superhero movies weren’t considered profitable. But me and Husband, who just so happened to belong to the target group, really liked the movie and loved the twist ending, and even though the movie didn’t perform that well, I’m sure we weren’t the only ones.

        And then Shyamalan got obsessed with having twist endings to ALL his movies.

        The Village, in my opinion, COULD have been a really good movie, a chilling one, about this community so intent on returning to “the good old days” that they’re willing to sacrifice the health of their children to do so. They start out nostalgic in an understandable way, and then go more and more extreme. But the actual movie was pretty bad, and I think this is largely because Shyamalan forced it into this twist format.

        • SunlessNick

          That’s my point though: Shyamalan doesn’t have twists in all his movies; people just assume he does, and try to decide which plot turn is the twist when really none of them are.

  3. Adam Reynolds

    With respect to video games as a medium, the one thing they do well is worldbuilding depth, because the world gets a lot more depth when the game has 40 hours instead of merely 2+ as in a movie. While the narrative doesn’t work as well due to things like dialog that mostly tells rather than showing, as well as insane amounts of filler, this is also where you get a much larger universe than most other stories.

    Using the Mass Effect example, it was a world that managed to have nearly as much depth after only a single game as Star Wars did after a couple of decades. My standout case though is Horizon Zero Dawn, which actually became my favorite post-apocalyptic world, as it took a premise about robot dinosaurs in the future being taken down by tribal warriors with arrows into something that actually made sense. I’m not sure this would be as easy in a different medium, as you’re discovering the mystery in the same way as the heroine.

    Though the biggest problem with video game story structure is best shown by Knights of the Old Republic, as it more or less uses the same basic story as the classic Star Wars movies. When the main characters are trying to find a way off the starting planet, they end up on a a multi-part quest to acquire a spaceship. It would be like in A New Hope if the heroes had to pull of a heist to pay off Han’s debt to Jabba before then having to break the Millennium Falcon out of an Imperial lockdown. Even for such a small part of the story the structure destroys momentum.

  4. Maria

    I somehow feel Marvel and DC should be included in the “graphic novel adaptation” conversation. I am not sure how they should be included, though. As for Hilda, while I wouldn’t call it “graphic novel” ( there is a distinction in Europe between comics albums and graphic novels- mostly size related), the books as a whole remain better than the Netflix adaptation. The cartoon turns “normal” and generic as soon as Luc Pearson stops writing the episodes.

  5. Maria

    …also, Naussica of the Valley of the Wind counts as the adaptation of a graphic novel, I guess. It wiselly adapts only the first chapters of a 900 page saga, but still. Also, where do manga and anime figure in the adaptation discussion? Cause I feel they might be playing by different rules.

    • Cay Reet

      I dare say they are, yes.

      Manga-to-anime adaptions usually work very well because manga usually have an ‘episodic’ structure which lends itself well to an anime series, too. That should make translating from the printed (or digitally printed) medium to the TV/movie a lot easier.

  6. Star of Hope

    For an adaptation, as an rule, I believe they are the best, when they have good premises for an show and Oren’s example with Mario Bros shows an good argument against making one, though you could make it work if you keep it cartoonish and maybe just adapt the Paper Mario games.

    Speaking about bad adaptations, there is Chronicles of Idhún, the Spanish classic that broke one of your rules regarding writing and you have to guess which one is it…WHICH ONE!!!

    Personally, I want an movie adaptation of the first Assassin’s Creed, because it has a lot of stuff you can put into an movie, like the whole storyline in Abstergo and even Altair’s redemption arc that rivals Zuko’s. I say it, Altair has an great redemption arc and it’s on a similar level to Zuko’s and if you say otherwise, fight me!

  7. Rachasudd

    I agree that the interactive component is essential for video games, but some movies make use of this. They aren’t adaptations, but they feel as much like a video game as a movie.

    Source Code (2011) and Run Lola Run (1998) have protagonists making multiple attempts at “beating a level” and we get to see them interact with different npc’s, explore the world, and try different strategies. It’s less like turning a videogame into a movie and more like turning a Let’s Play into a movie, which I think captures the feel of a game.

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