io9 reported today on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con called “Studio Production Chiefs Speak,” highlighting a quote from Drew Crevello, senior vice president at Warner Bros.:
“You need at least one, if not two, people in the process to be true passionate fans—not because that ensures reverence, [but because] those are the ones who are best positioned to know, ‘Okay, this is a different medium and you have to diverge [from the source material], and have the courage to do that. [When I worked on] X-Men: First Class and Deadpoool [at Fox], and now with Akira and Stephen King’s The Stand, you have to have reverence for the material—but also, the courage to make the bold creative choices that you just know the fans will come along with you for.”
It makes sense that studios think this way. Before Crevello said this, his fellow panelist Jim Miller of Lionsgate had just commented that “Loyalty to the source material is the most important thing. There’s a reason these things are popular, and to diverge from what made them popular [in the first place] would be a huge mistake.” Agreed. But I think that we can all agree that movie studios are not in the business of being faithful to beloved source material. They’re in the business of making money, and if they see an opportunity to do so, or to adapt the source material better for the medium of film, then they’re going to take it. The best possible approach we can expect them to have is what Crevello’s saying: they hire diehard fans to assist with the process so that they don’t stray too far.
We tend to think of diehard fans as being the ones most likely to demand strict adherence to the source material, but the reality is this: diehard fans are the ones for whom no adaption will ever replace the source material. For these purists, there will never be any danger of any adaptation surpassing the original, because the original is already perfect.
True diehard fans of The Lord of the Rings, for instance, realize that the novels J.R.R. Tolkien wrote are inherently unfilmable. There’s no way to adapt them perfectly, nor should anyone try. You may love the Peter Jackson movies and believe they were as faithful to the books as possible, or as any film adaptation was likely to be, and you’d be right. But being a fan of the movies doesn’t make you a fan of the books, and vice versa. They’re not the same thing at all.
It makes sense, then, that movie studios want diehard fans on their team for the reason Crevello stated. Diehard fans are more able to step back and say, “Starting with the presumption that all of this is basically just bullshit, that nothing will ever replace the original, what can we do to make this work in this new medium?” They’re able to identify the tenets of the source material, the defining bones of it, and in so doing they’re able to identify what can be sacrificed or changed.
The underlying question when critiquing any adaptation should be “Did they capture the essence of the original?” not “Is it exactly the same as the original?” (or, even worse, “Is it exactly as I imagined it?”). There are certainly arguments to be made that poor adaptations reduce the overall value of the original, since they potentially limit the original’s growth, but that’s another issue entirely, and I can think of an equal number of counterarguments for it.
For the true fan, the adaptation is only ever a diversion from the real thing.