Adaptations have always held a special place in the hearts of audiences, appealing to our deep-rooted love for nostalgia and comfort of the familiar. From the pages of books to movie screens, immersive video games to binge-worthy television series, adaptations have woven themselves into the fabric of modern media. Yet, discussions about the continued relevance of this beloved form of storytelling have erupted on a number of online platforms with the recent release of highly anticipated adaptations like the new live-action The Little Mermaid, Cruella, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
What are adaptations?
In essence, adaptations are the art of retelling and reinterpreting already existing stories. Story adaptations can take on various forms. Some opt to stay true to the source material, aiming to capture its essence with only minor adjustments. These adaptations pay homage to the original work by maintaining its core themes and characters, and provide fans of the original work with an opportunity to see their beloved stories come to life in a new and visually captivating way.
On the other hand, there are adaptations that embrace the spirit of innovation and creativity, drawing inspiration from the source material to create a unique story that stands on its own. These bold adaptations reimagine familiar stories from different perspectives with new plotlines, characters, or settings. They also often incorporate key themes or elements from the original story, albeit on a smaller scale. By venturing into uncharted territory, these adaptations push the boundaries of storytelling, offering the audience an entirely new experience. By reimagining beloved narratives, adaptations shed light on untold aspects of the original story.
Why do people want adaptations?
There has been news of a new film. You look it up out of curiosity and discover, to your dismay, that it is an adaptation. Really? You think to yourself. Another one? Isn’t it ruining the original? Why do people want adaptations anyway?
For those who have read the book, played the video game or seen the first movie, the original may always be considered superior to the adaptation. It would otherwise be “just another movie” to another person.
While not everyone may have access to video games or enjoy reading, some might still be intrigued by the plot of an adaptation. A movie adaptation can open up the narrative to a larger audience and give them the opportunity to experience it in a different way.
Seeing the story come to life
Have you ever wanted a specific actor to embody your favourite fictional character? Or imagined someplace as the perfect location where a story unfolds? The aesthetic and visual elements are one of the reasons why people want movie adaptations. When reading a book, people often visualise and create mental images of the story in their minds. And while video games are packed with stunning visuals and unique art styles, it is nevertheless, refreshing and satisfying to witness the familiar and cherished story through a different medium, especially if it is a live-action adaptation. This allows fans to enjoy a new experience of their favourite video game. Additionally, video games often have rich and immersive worlds and characters which fans may want to see brought to life on the big screen. This would be especially gratifying and exciting for book lovers and fans of video games.
Movie adaptations can take on a new life or direction when filmmakers interpret the source material differently from others — giving fresh viewpoints to a story. As a result, both fans of the originals and those who are unfamiliar with the story can have a new and unique experience. In adaptations, a few characters could be modified and developed differently to represent the story better; or some themes featured in the originals could also be updated to meet with society’s contemporary perceptions. This would appeal to viewers who are bored of films that directly depict and parallel novels, since they would rather prefer to see films that display the filmmaker’s own interpretation of the plot by diverging from the sources in unexpected ways. An adaptation may also deepen the plot and give viewers a better understanding of the complex characters and worldbuilding of a narrative. For instance, although it is based on the Archie Comics, American TV series Riverdale is a subversive take on the original, deviating from the earlier storyline. In fact, it mostly drew inspiration from the original characters, and ultimately came up with a fresher, slightly different narrative.
For those who grew up with certain books, movies or video games, seeing these originals being adapted into a movie can be a nostalgic experience, bringing back memories of the original and the period of time when they first experienced it. After all, Generation Z’s childhoods have been moulded by well-known and adored young adult book series like Harry Potter and Twilight, so watching the film version would provide them with the opportunity to relive the plot, along with its characters and worldbuilding for the first time. Moreover, live-action remakes allow fans of the classic Disney animations like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and many more to relive the magical experience they once had as a child.
Types of adaptations
Though the adaptation mainly maintained true to the story, the start of the narrative differs significantly between the original and the adaptation. The short film begins with Cinderella’s stepsisters leaving for the ball, unlike the original, which opens with the introduction of Cinderella’s “evil” stepmother and stepsisters.
The personification of the clock is one of the characteristics that stood out in the adaptation, especially when contrasted to the original. Those who are familiar with the fairy tale know that Cinderella hurriedly leaves the ball at midnight as the fairy godmother’s magic fades. However, filmmaker Méliès took a creative and unique approach to this scene. In the short film, the clock appears as an old man, reminding Cinderella that time is running out. The old man-clock again reappears in Cinderella’s dreams while she sleeps. This aspect of the adaptation distinguishes it from the source material.
Despite the fact that Méliès’ screen adaptation of the story was a silent film made more than a century ago, he succeeded in preserving the core of the original narrative. He achieved this by incorporating prominent moments of the story, such as sequences involving the glass slipper and Cinderella’s transformation with the fairy godmother’s magic.
Harry Potter (2001-2011)
From awaiting a Hogwarts acceptance letter to the infamous meme of the line delivery,“did you put your name in the goblet of fire?!”, there is no doubt that the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling has shaped the childhoods of many. It remains as one of the most popular Young Adult series to this day and its movie counterparts are one of the best and most influential book-to-movie adaptations.
The Harry Potter movie adaptations are generally quite true to the original material, although there are a few differences.
An example of a scene that entirely changes its intended meaning in the book would be the final duel between Harry and Voldemort. In the novel, Harry and Voldemort fought a duel in front of an audience in the Great Hall. Voldemort is mocked by Harry, who addresses him by his true name, Tom Riddle. Harry also claims that the Elder Wand is devoted to him and would never work for Voldemort. When the two cast spells at each other, the Elder Wand, unable to kill its actual wielder, fires the Killing Curse which reflects back on Voldemort. The book makes a point of showing how Riddle seems weak and ordinary in death, creating an impact as it is the peak of humiliation for a person whose literal name means “to cheat death.” However, in the movie, the battle takes place in a deserted courtyard outdoors and is preceded by a sequence of Harry and Voldemort flying about the castle as black smoke. Voldemort vanishes when the curse backfires. It would have been much better and more in accordance with the original book depicting him as a regular person in death and not as exceptional as he thinks.
Secondly, Voldemort is a descendent of Salazar Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the important background information concerning Voldemort and his connection to Slytherin was completely omitted. Although the book gave a detailed explanation of the reasons Tom Riddle-Voldemort fled to the dark world, it appears slightly challenging to know who Tom Riddle was solely from the movie. As a result, the entire plot was rather weak because the antagonist in the film wasn’t given any compassion and empathy, but rather, only painted as the villain. Without such details, the story as told in the movie seems to make sense, but it becomes merely a narrative of conflict between the chosen one, Harry Potter, and the dark power, Voldemort.
Percy Jackson (2010-2013)
Percy Jackson is a book series based on Greek mythology, written by Rick Riordan. The series follows the main character Percy Jackson, who discovers he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon, and his journey with friends to save the world. The movies adapted from this book series were terminated after two instalments and were greatly despised by fans because many aspects of the movies had been altered from the books.
The main plot of the series is that Percy must survive until his 16th birthday, where he will satisfy a prophecy and determine the fate of the gods. In the books, Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy but he was aged 16 years old in the first movie. To accommodate this change, the prophecy was revised to say that he will live until he is 21. This dramatically alters the dynamics of Percy’s journey and his relationships with the other core characters in the film. It seemed as though they rushed to the point where they could include more romantic tension between the characters rather than allowing the characters to slowly mature. In the original series, Percy and Annabeth gradually transition from friends to lovers, whereas the movie immediately skips to the attraction between the pair. This was largely seen as a bad decision by the filmmakers as it moved the film out of the young adult genre, not making it as suitable for the target audience the original books were written for.
In the books, Percy’s powers initially manifests when he “attacks” a girl at his middle school by making the water in the water fountain fill up. However, his demigod powers are evident in the movies because he “likes being in water” and has the capacity to hold his breath underwater for an extended amount of time after being submerged. Additionally, Percy’s character is depicted to have almost full control over his powers in the movie, but he has trouble doing so in the books.
Moreover, in the movie, Percy is treated differently when he gets to Camp Half-Blood because it is well known that he is the son of a god. In the source material however, Percy learns this when something known as “claiming” takes place. When a deity acknowledges their demigod offspring, a hologram of their symbol of power is sent to them. In Percy’s case, a trident materialised before him.
Daisy Jones & the Six (2023)
For fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s best-selling novel, Daisy Jones & the Six was recently adapted and released as a TV show. The story follows the rise of a rock band in the 1970s and explores the reason behind their split, and the height of their success.
Taylor Jenkins Reid, the author, told Town & Country, “It’s a rare adaptation that honours the book in a really lovely way and yet also adds to it.” She continues, saying that the show “makes interesting changes that make it compelling to engage with this story a second time.”
The chemistry between the two protagonists, rather than the removal of a character or a change in the plot, was the biggest change for Reid from the page to screen adaptation. “When I’m writing a book, there’s nothing that I can do to capture the chemistry like these actors have,” she says. “If I could bottle what happens between Sam and Riley and the way they light up the screen and pour it over the pages of a book, I would, but I can’t, and the only way you’re going to get that is by watching this show.”
One of the moments in the adaptation that was different from the novel was the aftermath of Daisy’s overdose. Daisy is overdosed and nearly dies towards the end of episode eight. In the novel, she wakes up to Nicky and chooses to break up with him. On the other hand, in the show, it is Billy who discovers Daisy after Nicky panics and leaves.
“I loved that change,” Riley Keough, who plays Daisy, said to Deadline. “I thought that it was so deeply emotional to have Billy find Daisy and Billy be the one who is there for her in that moment and not Nicky. That sort of says a lot of the things that they can’t say to each other, that Billy can’t say to Daisy.”
This change was purposefully made for the show. Executive producer Brad Mendelsohn told Deadline, “For us, it was really getting to witness Daisy going overboard and having some of the behaviour come back to haunt her, which it always does. And then on the other side of it, it was watching Billy see that maybe he’s going to lose her and what that would do to him — would it crystallise for him how important she is to him? Because… in that episode he’s like, ‘I don’t need her. She’s bad for me. She’s bad for us. I’m the Billy Dunne who can do it all by myself.’ And then he’s faced with the possibility that she wouldn’t be around anymore. I really loved seeing him realise that that wasn’t true.”
Live Action Adaptations
As proven from the eagerly anticipated premieres of films like “Barbie,” “Snow White,” and “Mufasa: The Lion King“, live-action film adaptations of beloved animated classics have cemented their place as a prominent trend in the ever-evolving world of cinema.
The Jungle Book (1994)
Despite their recent surge in popularity, live-action film adaptations have been captivating audiences and winning hearts around the world for much longer than one might think. In fact, the history of Disney live-action remakes dates back to 1994 with the release of “The Jungle Book“. This ground-breaking film offered a fresh new take on the classic tale, departing from the animated version and focusing more on Mowgli’s adulthood rather than his childhood adventures. “The Jungle Book” (1994) can be seen as a sequel to the animated film as it presents a mostly original story that explores Mowgli’s journey as an adult beyond the events depicted in the animated movie. One notable difference is the emphasis on live animal actors, infusing the film with a sense of realism. In this version, the animals do not speak, except for the cunning serpent Kaa, who is brought to life by using a real-life python and limited use of computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton‘s blockbuster retelling of “Alice in Wonderland” drew inspiration from both the 1951 Disney animated film and the original source, Lewis Carroll’s books. Rather than being a regurgitated copy of the animated version, Burton’s vision took a slightly different approach to the beloved story. As quoted by the film’s director, Tim Burton, “The goal is to try to make it an engaging movie where you get some of the psychology and kind of bring a freshness but also keep the classic nature of ‘Alice’.”
In the whimsical animated version, the audience follows the journey of Alice, a restless British girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole and finds herself immersed in a fantastical world. There, she encounters an assortment of peculiar and captivating characters. However, in the live-action adaptation, the narrative unfolds differently. The story takes place years later when Alice, now a 19-year-old, has long forgotten about her previous adventures in Wonderland. She unwittingly returns to the enchanted realm, only to discover that it has fallen into darkness, requiring her to confront a problem that can only be resolved through conflict and war.
Despite Tim Burton’s reputation for his distinctive dark and grim visuals, the live-action adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” relied heavily on CGI and green screens. This led to some critics referring to the film as being “shockingly unimpressive for a Tim Burton movie” because they believed that these technological choices hindered the creation of a visually immersive world that captured the whimsy and enchantment of Wonderland.
While the 2010 version of “Alice in Wonderland” faced its share of disappointment from both fans and critics, it ultimately emerged as a commercial success. The film’s box office performance surpassed expectations, grossing over $1 billion worldwide. This financial triumph highlighted the enduring appeal of the story and its enduring place in popular culture.
The release of 2015’s “Cinderella” marked the beginning of a new era for live-action adaptations of the beloved “Disney Princess” franchise, setting the stage for numerous future adaptations to come. The timeless and adaptable nature of the original source material has seen countless interpretations throughout the years. However, the 2015 Disney remake is often regarded as the pinnacle of these adaptations, as it successfully stays true to the essence of the original 1950 animated film.
Disney’s animated “Cinderella” is undoubtedly a masterpiece of its time, offering a captivating story centred around wish fulfilment. Kenneth Branagh‘s live-action remake preserves the classic storyline while also infusing it with a newfound depth. The characters retain their familiar forms, yet they are presented with added dimensions that allow for a richer understanding of their motivations and experiences. In particular, the 2015 version grants the audience a deeper insight into Cinderella’s personal growth, delving into her relationship with her parents and her journey through grief as she copes with their loss.
One notable aspect of the live-action adaptation is the exploration of the wicked stepmother’s character. The film provides an explanation for her cruel treatment of Cinderella, allowing audiences to glimpse the motivations behind her actions without excessively sympathising or excusing her behaviour. This approach maintains the stepmother’s role as the film’s primary villain while adding a touch of complexity to her character.
But perhaps the true reason why 2015’s Cinderella earned its place as a cherished gem among Disney’s live-action remakes was its unwavering commitment to the film’s central theme. Throughout the film, the core message was repeated: “Have courage and be kind”. The phrase first appeared in the scene where Cinderella’s mother imparts the wisdom of kindness before her untimely passing. It also becomes the core value and guiding principle that unites Ella and the prince, Kit together. What sets this adaptation apart is its unyielding dedication to celebrating the transformative power of kindness. The film resonates with audiences by showcasing how acts of compassion can shape destinies and forge genuine connections. It acknowledges that true kindness requires a courageous heart—a realisation that adds depth and nuance to the story.
Video Game Adaptations
As the name implies, these adaptations source their material from popular existing video games. These types of adaptations have become more popular in recent times, and with the recent success of adaptations like The Last of Us TV show and The Super Mario Bros, it is likely that the trend will continue.
Video game adaptations are in a pretty unique position, as they are typically the hardest to adapt. When you think about experiencing a story in its entirety, there is no better medium than that of video games, as it allows the player to interact with the environment within these games and embody the characters of these tales that are being told. This sense of immersion within a story can only be achieved within video games as you’re not able to reach through your TV and play as the main characters. Instead of merely observing the trials and tribulations of the protagonist, what video games allow the player to do is imagine themselves as these protagonists and experience the struggles as if they themselves were these characters, and this sort of escapism can never be achieved through the medium of movies and TV shows. That’s what makes these adaptations the hardest to get right, as most players would have already achieved what they perceive is the best possible version that these stories have to offer.
Early iterations of video game adaptations struggled immensely as the industry was still new at the time and many had yet to fully understand the appeal. Most studios at the time wanted to jump on the bandwagon and try to capture as much audience as they could, little did they know how difficult it would be. Ironically, the first live-action video game adaptation ever made was a Super Mario Bros. movie, which flopped tremendously and to this day is still considered the worst adaptation ever made and one of the worst movies to come out at the time. This fumble set back Nintendo’s plans for an adaptation for decades due to the poor reception and press, until they found success with the new Super Mario Bros. animated movie, which has since gone on to become one of the highest-grossing animated movies of all time.
The Rise in Popularity of Video Game Adaptations
For the longest time, video game adaptations have been put under bad light by general audiences and fans due to the lacklustre performance of previous adaptations; fans of these games have all but given up on their hopes of one day reliving their favourite games on the big screen. However, in the past few years, we’ve seen many successful attempts at adaptations, namely: Arcane, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners and The Last of Us. These have all been released in the last few years to critical acclaim and have launched video game adaptations into the stratosphere by showing everyone that they could be good if the right people are behind it.
Arcane is based on one of the most popular competitive online multiplayer games of all time, League of Legends. It was released on November 6th, 2021, to universal acclaim from existing fans and new fans alike. It managed to dethrone Squid Game as the most popular show on Netflix at the time. It was praised by fans and critics for its phenomenal unique art style, stunning animation and effective emotional storytelling. It proved that video game adaptations could stand toe to toe with the best that movies had to offer, and shatter expectations.
Arcane tells the story of the sisters Vi and Jinx who were separated as young children after a series of unfortunate events, and now find themselves at odds. When they reunite years later, they find that this shaped them to become completely different from who they were as children, which acts as a driving force of the story. While this is the emotional centre of the series, it also focuses on a complex story about the contrast that exists between the characters involved in the story; those who live amongst the upper echelon of society, who thrive on the exploitation and suppression of those beneath them in order to further their own interests, and the oppressed, who are left to fend for themselves.
Arcane succeeds not because it perfectly adapts the source material, but because it utilises its medium to tell a completely new story that offers a different perspective and story than the one we are familiar with. Although the show might be filled with easter eggs and characters from the video game, you won’t feel lost coming in as a new fan of the franchise because the phenomenal storytelling and worldbuilding will still draw you in, regardless of your familiarity of the existing source material. It managed to bridge the gap between old and new fans alike by offering something new that neither would have ever seen before, whilst paying homage to the source material and simultaneously making it accessible towards newer audiences.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us was released on January 15th 2023 and received critical acclaim. Adapted from the award-winning video game, The Last of Us which was released in 2013, it is widely considered to be one of the greatest narrative video games ever made. In 2013, it won many accolades for Game of The Year and Best Narrative Game, among others. This game was specifically suited towards being retold in a live-action version as the narrative structure and story fit perfectly into the structure of a modern TV show.
Upon release, it set the internet ablaze; it was a global phenomenon — you couldn’t escape it. People were tuning in every week for the release of a new episode and eagerly awaited for each episode to tug at their heartstrings and leave them emotionally distraught. Social media was awash with discourse after each episode as fans were giddy with excitement as to how the show would approach their favourite parts of the game. Although new fans would not be familiar with the source material, it would still be enjoyable for them to experience first-hand what many already had in 2013.
The Last of Us takes place after a zombie virus has infected most of the world and left it in an unrecognisable state. The story follows protagonists Joel Miller and Ellie on a journey across post-outbreak America to discover a cure for the virus. Don’t let this simple premise fool you; you’d be mistaken in thinking that this is just your run-of-the-mill zombie outbreak series. Instead, the setting merely serves the story that’s being told and is not the main focus. The story focuses on trying to tell a deeply touching and relatable human story that everyone can understand and relate to on an emotional level. The story touches on themes of loss, reconciling past trauma, learning how to move on from your past without being bounded by it, and finding hope in a cruel world.
The Last of Us succeeds at adapting its source material faithfully while also managing to integrate some new ideas and expand upon its existing characters and themes that were not as well fleshed out in the game. It understood the limitations of its medium compared to video games and used it to its advantage by delivering the story in a slightly different way which better suited the format of a TV show. It was able to fill in some blanks or even change some aspects of the original game that the creators felt was lacking or underdeveloped within the original story which resulted in a more complete one. Its success was undoubtedly attributed to the impressive performances by lead actor and actress Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey which always left us as emotional wrecks after the end of each episode.
Pros and Cons of Adaptations
It’s undeniable that seeing your favourite properties being adapted for the big screen reignites that sense of nostalgia and joy from your past that’s inexplicably tied to these properties. These books, games, or cartoons from our childhood are meaningful to many and often shape the identities of these people and who they grow up to be, as such, they owe a lot to these creations. That’s why people are so eager to see their favourite properties adapted onto the big screen as it allows them to relive their favourite memories.
Aside from the nostalgia factor, it also allows creatives to reimagine existing properties for a modern audience, by providing a contemporary interpretation of the story. Creators are allowed to reimagine their stories in different ways, or add things that were missed out in the original renditions. It allows for these creatives to fully express their work in ways that they previously were not able to.
More than anything, it’s simply a good thing that more people are able to experience these wonderful and amazing stories that others have already been able to enjoy before. These stories are able to touch more people across the world and existing fans will be happy to know that there are many more new fans joining the fray and sharing their enjoyment of things that they love so dearly.
These adaptations have not been without controversy, as fans and critics have voiced their opinions and scepticisms. A common concern of story adaptations is their deviation from the original source material. Changes are often necessary when adapting a story for a new media in order to work within its limitations or appeal to a larger audience. However, these changes can occasionally lead to considerable differences from the original plot, disappointing long-time fans. When adapting a story, writers and filmmakers tend to improvise by introducing new plotlines, changing character arcs, or omitting crucial details of the story. Thus, due to the different expectations and interpretations of the original work, this could potentially cause disputes and arguments between fans and critics.
As the demand for adaptations continue to rise, there is a concerning trend where filmmakers and producers may inadvertently neglect the pursuit of new and novel concepts. The allure of adapting existing works becomes tempting due to its perceived safety and potential for assured viewership and profitability. Companies often prioritise the familiarity and built-in fan base of well-known stories, opting for a risk-averse approach. Instead of taking bold leaps and experimenting with new ideas, production companies may be inclined to play it safe by revisiting already established works. This can create a cycle where adaptations dominate the market, overshadowing the potential for new, untapped stories.
Some have voiced their opinion that Hollywood is out of original ideas, seeing that adapted films are a “recent” 2000s phenomenon (this film genre having a long history in the media that dates back more than a century) with the abundance of book or video game-based shows on Netflix and the high-production Hollywood adaptations that seem to come out every month. However, it is important to remember that the entertainment industry is always developing and adapting to satisfy the audience’s preferences and market demands. Even if sequels, remakes and adaptations have become more common in recent years, fresh concepts and creative storytelling still find their way to the big screen. Furthermore, both independent and Hollywood-based filmmakers continue to produce work that is creative and original.
Spin-offs are another form of life that source material and adaptations may take on. Spin-offs are produced when characters or boring concepts from a popular work are given their own show. It often tells the story of a minor character or incident in the main movie. It’s possible that more characters from the first film will make an appearance, but only in quick cameos or supporting parts that are more for connecting the two movies. In general, the movie must be able to be seen independently from the original. Spin-offs provide creators the opportunity to delve deeper into a subject or idea. While some spin-offs are successful in their own right, others utterly fail. One of the popular spin-offs is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (a Harry Potter spin-off). In response to the popularity of Netflix’s To All the Boys movies which were based on Jenny Han‘s books, one of the most recent releases, XO, Kitty, was created.
Movie adaptations of books, comics, video games, and other source material have been a popular and successful trend in the film industry for many years. The demand for engaging and familiar stories continue to exist, and adaptations provide a way to bring beloved characters and narratives to the big screen. As long as there are compelling source materials and an audience interested in seeing these stories come to life in a different medium, movie adaptations are likely to continue to be made.
Written by: Chloe, Wen Li and Ethan
Edited by: Caitlin