Adaptation Hell – Part 2: Long Title, Short Tolerance
How many times can someone go to the same well and still draw lucrative water? I don’t think there’s a proper answer. If there was, would we have many of these vomit-inducing adaptations plastered on our screens, in our books, and forcefully etched onto our souls?
Our conclusion of Adaptation Hell features four more writers who suffered through nonsense to bring you even more absurdity. Reel Fitness gets gamey, Meme-osa wishes he could change the channel, Centerpage would prefer a planetary bulldozer, and Here’s Johnny’s patience self-destructed in five seconds.
by Reel Fitness
Considering how often game critics will refer to their favorite titles as “cinematic,” you’d think at least one great game-to-movie adaptation would have come to fruition.
Sadly, this is not the case.
Not to say the transfer between video games and movies is always easy. Video games are 20-hour action sequences with no effects budget, often with completely bat-shit concepts or no plot to be seen. These differences can easily explain why Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., and Double Dragon are awful films.
In the same camp, Hollywood gives video game movies tiny budgets, no-name actors, or Uwe Boll to direct it. That man alone may have genocided half the genre. Seriously, look at the number of promising titles he’s ruined. It’s staggering.
However, there have been one instance when a studio got an A-lister, a game with a meaty story, and a budget to back it. Then the movie pooped the bed. Max Payne.
At its core Max Payne is a step-by-step blueprint for how Hollywood tends to ruin an adaptable game.
Step 1: Change the Story
The story is already written in Max Payne: a hard-boiled cop turns even more so after his family is murdered by drug addicts. Years later, after his cover is blown as an incognito cop, Max begins an all-out assault on the local crime bosses while working his way to the most powerful people in the city on a path littered with hidden truths.
Here’s what Hollywood said:
Let’s throw in devilish Valkyries because that’s what the drug in the game was called, and make it look like Marky Mark is battling demons. Oh, and we’re gonna change give you an ending designed for a sequel. Is that okay? (Long silence) Noooooooooooo?
Step 2: Action (AKA What Makes the Game Fun)
The action in Max Payne is simple and efficient: gunplay with the addition of bullet time. Naturally, you’d assume the movie would be a John Woo-type action fest.
Wrong again, you hopeful but naïve bastard.
While there are one or two shots that prominently feature bullet time, the gunplay is lacking at best. Oh, and what’s supposed to be a harrowing showdown between Max and a drug-fueled menace with a sawed-off shotgun turns into Max engaging him in hand-to-hand combat.
Against a shotgun.
Note to all future director’s: Shotgun vs. machete fights are not sexy.
Step 3: Ignore the Most Cinematic Elements of the Game (WARNING: Spoiler Heavy)
At the end of Max Payne the game, Max rushes up a corporate tower to take out the Big Bad. Now at the peak of the building and with his prey escaping via helicopter, Max realizes the radio tower above is about to be blown over by the wind. In quick succession, he disconnects the remaining cables with a sniper rifle and watches as the tower crushes the chopper in a massive explosion.
Max Payne the movie ends with the biggest bad getting away and the lesser bad dying from injuries on a roof.
What? Oh, I’m sorry. Was I supposed to be paying attention?
Read more by Reel Fitness here.
It seems that the two most common jumps in media are to TV or film, and most of those moves are from those two platforms or literature. You occasionally see jumps from the following:
- Video Games, often to the initial delight and subsequent horror from fans
- Real Life, sometimes with enough creative liberties to alter the story into an unrecognizable form
- Stand-up Comedy, which you see tagged during many sitcoms starring a comedian (e.g., Seinfeld, The Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Loves Raymond)
Even Howard Stern transformed his radio show into a book and eventual movie. If it’s entertainment in one area, why can’t its quality be equaled in another?
And then we got $h*! My Dad Says on CBS.
The show, based on Justin Halpern’s Twitter account relaying his father’s words and pronounced with a bleep, starred a cavalcade of recognizable yet lower-end actors:
- William Shatner, who you might know as Mayor Phlegmming from Osmosis Jones, as the titular shitsayer
- Jonathan Sadowski, a man whose name struggled to show up with Google’s autofill feature, as the son Henry Goodson
- Will Sasso, a MADtv alum and international desecrator of Curly Howard’s goofy name, as Vince Goodson
- Nicole Sullivan, a fellow MADtv castoff and runner-up of the “Hey, I Know That Person” competition, as Bonnie Goodson
- Tim Bagley, not to be confused with Ed Begley Jr. despite their homophonic last names, as Tim. Just Tim.
The combination of actors who’ve lacked television staying power since their springboard roles (minus Shatner in Boston Legal), a title not made for basic cable slopped together, and a concept inherently lacking proper translation between media turned this into the perfect equation for failure.
$h*! My Dad Says wasn’t without its chance, though. It ran for 18 episodes; a feat unheard of with shows written off before they began, see: Work It. Actually, don’t. No one wants that visual burden.
Despite its plummeting Nielsen ratings and unfavorable reviews, the Twitter-inspired TV show snagged a People’s Choice Award, further proving that a ceremony where fans vote should be kept in the dark recesses of the internet. Note: this was the same year that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse won “Favorite Movie,” beating out Pixar’s heartstring puller Toy Story 3, action blockbuster Iron Man 2, and nominee of eight Academy Awards Inception.
I’ll be fair: the actual Twitter account (which you can find here) is a decent follow albeit sporadic. I also think that Danny DeVito’s chronicles of his so-called “TrollFoot” are intriguing, but I’ve yet to hear about a greenlit pilot featuring it.
Check Meme-osa’s other work here.
In the spirit of terrible adaptations that make me cringe, I bestow some of my personal favorite horrors that needed a better touch.
In 1979, Douglas Adams wrote and published a book the likes of which had never been seen before. His commentary on the existentialist nature of the human race was masterfully dressed up in a suit made from pure British witticism donned with an over-sized hat fashioned from peacock feathers and goofy humor. The craftsmanship of the jokes rivals the precision of a Swiss watch; timely and exacting. The end result was called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Thus, my disappointment with the movie comes forth.
With any book-to-movie adaptation, details and plot will get lost in the shuffle for a variety of reasons. What you don’t come to expect is that someone will pick and choose what they want from the five book series and completely do away with everything else to make the world’s most truncated disaster.
The actors do all they can with what they are given and they themselves do not stunt the movie. It’s more of a problem with whomever made the decisions about the script and plot. In trying to summarize a brilliant piece of thoughtful satire, the journey to the conclusion is forcibly rushed and ultimately unsatisfying. Plus, in working towards the end, the grace and subtlety of the British humor becomes horribly contorted and comes off more as pretentious in some parts while being unnecessarily slapstick in others.
Why, oh why, must we destroy all that the British empire bestows upon?
And then there’s my musical-to-movie adaptation.
I remember days ago when I used to watch Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder play opposite each other in a splendid movie called The Producers. Little did they know that this raunchy, fun-loving comedy would become a box office smash of a musical sweeping 12 Tony awards in the process.
That should have been enough, and everyone should have been happy; except they made an updated movie version. From start to finish, the entire movie takes every single stage direction from the musical and puts it in front of the camera. Instead of making a new movie, the director simply transfers every piece of the musical to the sound stage. What we end up with is a lazy piece of cinema.
I love The Producers and I loved the musical when it came out, but the movie is an unnecessary cash cow that simply doesn’t translate to film. Barely anything is altered, so the vaudevillian antics meant for a live audience reads poorly for the widescreen. It’s fine if you’ve never seen the show, but I cannot recommend the stage musical highly enough.
Don’t rely on the movie, though. Find a theater that is producing it and see how it was meant to be seen.
Oh, and Uma Thurman can sing and I support that, but her voice doesn’t fit the part. I love you, Uma, but you need a song that shows what you got.
Peep Centerpage’s pieces here.
by Here’s Johnny
With my entry for Adaptation Hell, I’m going to attempt to throw a curve by rehashing a TV-to-film controversy that affected our parents’ generation, with the added benefit of an extended and quite loved film franchise to look back on. For those tweens and children of Twitter who may not know, before there was Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, or any of the other now “ancient” films, there was an even more ancient-er Mission: Impossible TV series.
It began in 1966 with team leader Dan Briggs (played by Steven Hill of The Untouchables), but for the rest of the show’s six years the team was led by one Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves. So, from 1967-1973 the television show built a mythos around the Mission: Impossible name with the use of a lot of the same technology we see in the films today, including the self-destructing mission tapes and the realistic face masks for undercover ops.
There was certainly less action than your typical action flick, as was standard at the time with pre-HBO television’s limited budget, but the MI team still put themselves on the line and made great strides for the good of our nation and the world, all under the leadership of golden boy Jim Phelps.
WARNING: Spoilers abound about a movie that came out in 1996. So suck it up.
Flash forward to 1996. Up-and-coming cultis… er, film star Tom Cruise is cast as new character Ethan Hunt in a revival of the Mission: Impossible franchise via film, directed by Brian de Palma, as a member of the aforementioned Jim Phelps’s covert team. At the same time, one Peter Graves is approached to once again portray the staple character of his career.
So, they cast Jon Voight in the role instead. “Why are we not seeing Graves?” wary fans of the franchise were left to wonder as they occupied the theater.
In the movie, the first mission goes poorly; Jim is presumed dead, and Ethan is left to run from his own agency which suspects him of wrongdoing. After going to great lengths to clear up his own name, Ethan finally uncovers the truth: Jim Phelps, disillusioned with his years of service, has turned against the IMF and everyone he once sought to protect.
It is at this point that many of my parents’ friends walked out of the theater. I was always amused by this notion, not being such a walk-out person myself, but in researching this story, I discovered that Greg Morris- one of the TV show’s original cast- similarly stormed out on the picture. It seems that there was almost universal condemnation for the choices made by the filmmakers on the part of the original crew, not just from Graves.
For one thing, as stated previously, the television show was a spy thriller and not an action movie. This may in fact have had less to do with budget than true aesthetic choice, for as cast member Martin Landau put it in an MTV interview, “The ideal mission was getting in and getting out without anyone ever knowing we were there.” Good luck finding that in the first film, and gouge your eyes out before hoping to see anything resembling subtlety in the second.
Thankfully, before things go action movie-style awry in the much-lauded Mission Impossible III, we do get to witness an almost-perfectly executed extraction mission in which the team manages to nab Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain from Vatican City without a single combustible henchman knowing. The third and fourth entries to the franchise, while representing the same sort of style as their film predecessors, were executed in grand fashion, and really managed to set the series apart from its constant British competitor, the James Bond franchise.
Even despite these later successes, and though I had not experienced the TV series as my parents’ generation did, I can empathize with the pain of seeing a beloved character dragged through the mud with no real motive. I don’t want to imagine a Breaking Bad film made in 2033 with a hip, new protagonist where it’s revealed that Walter White was an undercover FBI agent the entire time. Oh, really?! Then why did he kill all those people in the TV series?
See, there? I just imagined it. Ick.
Peruse Here’s Johnny and his page here.
We at HL are open for any of our pieces being turned into movies or TV shows. We have integrity, but we also have student loans to pay off. All studio executives may leave a message in the comments. Oh, I suppose everyone else can, too.