Series knows Best
Amber Hogan discusses why TV adaptations of books have been so well-received in recent years and why some film adaptations have fallen flat.
There are few things in the cinematic world as frustrating as a bad book-to-film adaptation. Walking out of the cinema trying to understand the changes made by the production company and its creative team can lead to a feeling of being misunderstood as a fan of the source material. It can make you wonder, is this what they think that we, as the fans, wanted? How could they get it so wrong?
After having one or more of your favourite childhood books toyed with mercilessly by film companies, the news of further adaptations can be troubling. We almost want to beat the media off to preserve what’s left of the characters and stories that we treasure. There are, however, some franchises which have been rebooted successfully into TV series. So, what is it about episodic media that has better success with representing literary works on the screen than their movie counterparts?
Appreciating the source material is vital as an authentic retelling is the core of adaptation.
2010’s Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was so poorly adapted from its source material that writer, Rick Riordan, went out of his way to consolidate his loyal readers by releasing emails that he sent mid-production, disparaging the changes the producers had made to the characters and scripts. Yikes. When a writer feels the need to comfort their readers from the upsetting reimagining of their works, you know it’s pretty bad. The movies made fans feel like the film industry never understood what made the books so great in the first place. After all, why would they change something that is already so beloved? Who is the movie really for if not the fans?
So, what happens next? Well, Percy Jackson, Resident Evil, Anne with an E, and His Dark Materials– all of these franchises have gone or are going from book to film, and now to TV series. If a screen adaptation hasn’t worked for them before then what makes a TV series seem like a good idea? Especially with the titles and franchises already burdened by the preconceptions that their film counterparts have given them.
Episodic television’s main benefit is its incremental nature. Episodes can be made to mimic chapters or align with plot points, and time can be invested into the development of characters and storylines with less pressure to adhere to one or two hours. A better sense of time span can be achieved, and there’s more opportunity for experimentation, for different directors or stylistic fluctuation. Plus, there’s time for cliffhangers and a suspenseful tone as the wait for episodes to be released affects the audience. Building the story in increments brings the audience along for sometimes months as it develops. There is a sense of journey and loyalty as you tune in to watch each episode. The active and repetitive prescription to the show mimics that of following a book series and the chapters within it. It’s exciting!
The movies made fans feel like the film industry never understood what made the books so great in the first place.
So how does a TV show thrive despite the movie that haunts its franchise? Well, the most important thing is to make the fans feel heard. Do not repeat the mistakes of the film or an already bruised fanbase will take offence and the series could flop as well. Appreciating the source material is vital as an authentic retelling is the core of adaptation. Some franchises have rebranded (Anne with an E, or Shadowhunters), some have relied on recasting and tonal changes (The Witcher) and some just act as separate from their films entirely (The Handmaids Tale.) Whatever the creative team and producers decide, dedication and understanding of the literary works are a must, since that’s what inspired the audience to begin with.