Over the past ten weeks, I've looked at a mix of hits, misses, and cannonball caroms. What can we take away from the morass? Well, again, taking care of the original work plays an important part. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a sterling example of not only having the creator take part in the process but also finding the right people. In contrast, Johnny Mnemonic, shows what happens when the creator is left out of the loop. The former had Dr. Seuss involved at several levels, including producing and lyrics. The latter had an exec take the final product and recut it before sending it out to theatres.
Executive meddling can be an issue. Flash Gordon had producer Dino DiLaurentiis and his wife casting the leads and making deals for cross-promotions that could have torpedoed the movie. However, the director was able to cast for the supporting roles and brought in veterans who could hold their own and make the inexperienced lead look decent at the same time. Coupled with a kick-ass soundtrack by Queen, the movie survives as a cult classic. Sure, not a financial success, but the movie is remembered. Having the right people can save a movie.
As Steve pointed out, sometimes the best thing is finding the right fit for the work. A Game of Thrones definitely fit best as a TV series over a movie. There is just too much happening that is too important to cut. The build up of the threats and conflicts required the time that a weekly episodic format allows for. Likewise, the weekly format is working for Once Upon a Time, allowing for the mystery of the story to be built properly. As movies, both would lose far too much in the translation.
Sometimes, going from TV pilot to cinematic feature causes problems. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was originally the pilot to a second Star Trek series. However, the decision was made to turn the script into a full-fledged feature film. Unfortunately, this required the script to be extended. Most of the filler came from loving shots of the USS Enterprise, as the camera flew around and over her. Long shots became the order of the day, giving the movie a far slower pace than a pilot would have. Compare Star Trek: TMP to "Encounter at Farpoint", the pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both are cerebral, but "Farpoint" builds up the action through character interaction and twists while TMP relies more on lengthy approaches in space.
What about works where the creator is either long gone or a corporation? Where the work is part of a larger franchise? For this, I looked at three movies. Rookie of the Year adapted the game of baseball into a family narrative. The plays on the field were believable; in fact, there have been stranger in the game. The movie was faithful to the sport while telling its story. It is obvious that the writers, the cast, and the crew have been to a ballgame or two. The other two, however… Oi.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was, in short, a mess. It had several good scenes tied together with a plot a 3rd grader could find plotholes in. The promise of the opening scene – Cobra's assault on an US Army convoy – provided a glimpse of the potential that was never reached. Meanwhile, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li just really wasn't a Street Fighter movie. What happened? In the case of GI Joe, it looks like the license was available and was used with a quick script that did take into account the characters and groups but, well, forgot about cohesion. Chun Li, on the other hand, felt like an available script was taken and had the Street Fighter aspects grafted on. Both movies had potential never realized.
And that leaves Dungeons & Dragons. The movie had decent scenes and a decent plot, but completely fell apart during execution. It seemed to be suffering from having the wrong people involved. It missed on what made the game D&D interesting and didn't have many of the game's iconic monsters. Unfortunately, many studios decided that the takeaway was, "Don't make movies off tabletop RPGs".
Overall, again, respect for the creator and the work heads the list of how to make an adaptation successful. Followed, though, is making sure the adaptation is in the right format. The right format can get the work's full impact; the wrong one can mute it or draw out the impact to the point where it's not felt at all.
Next time, year-end round up.