Everything’s Adapted: Turning the Book Into a Movie Into a TV Show Into a Movie

By  · Published on August 19th, 2013

Three things have happened this month that really solidify our culture of cannibalizing art in one form and spitting it out into another. First, Connie Britton announced that Peter Berg had given her the finished script for a Friday Night Lights movie. Another one. That means that in its life as a story, a real life situation spawned a book which became a movie which became a TV show which could potentially become a movie again. That Berg is involved at every step only adds to the confusion, but the ultimate take-away here is just how malleable pieces of art are. So malleable that they can be squeezed into a different medium within a certain boundary of practicality (“Friday Night Lights: The Painting” seems like a stretch). This one story now exists in several different forms.

Second, Patrick Healy over at the New York Times shrewdly broke down why Hollywood studios are turning their most iconic pictures into Broadway productions.

Third, director David Lowery and company announced a graphic novel version of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. That’s more of a surprising cherry on top than a complete culture-defining sundae (the most delicious kind), but it’s at least a little bit funny that an intimate Sundance drama is getting its own comic book. More and more it feels like everything’s adapted.

We tend to have a better relationship to adaptations than we do with, say, remakes. Not only are these two news bits indicative of how bendy we can make movies and books and TV, but even with an eye roll or two, it seems clear that we embrace adaptations. Perhaps that’s an assumption based on the sheer number of them. At least, for the most part, we tolerate them in such a way that encourages people to make more.

That might be because adaptations have been with movies since the beginning. Being the youngest art form at the turn of the 20th century ensured that filmmakers would be turning to already classic tales like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstien” or L. Frank Baum’s adventures in Oz (which were both first adapted to screen in 1910) while they attempted original work. This century’s studios don’t have a monopoly on exploiting name recognition. Although, if adaptations came on day one, remakes came on day two; directors in the 1920s were already cutting their teeth on remakes of movies made in the ‘10s.

So maybe it’s an issue of true transformation – allowing for adaptations because they will turn the same ingredients into a different meal while remakes don’t inherently change anything. Draw a book into a movie, and you’ve done something. Turn a movie into a movie, and you seem like a tracer.

Regardless of the partially irrational, unbalanced feelings we have toward remakes and adaptations, the three events of this month point toward a maturation of movies as an art form. They still have a ways to go (which is exciting), but using how well one art form gives birth to another isn’t a bad yard stick for cultural significance.

The intermarriages can cause some confusion. In the case of Rambo, First Blood was based on a novel by David Morrell, who then novelized 2 more books based on the movie sequels. A book became a movie which made sequels that were turned into books by the original author. It gets even trickier if you know the core difference between the first novel and the first movie, but these harmless (often delightful) cultural conundrums are another odd side effect of beaming a story from one art form to another.

The point is that if filmmakers adapting plays and books was a sign of film in its infancy, creators adapting films should be a sign of its acceptance as a contributing member of the art form family.

Naturally the legs are still shaky. It’s not like film novelizations are all that good usually. There’s even a Tumblr dedicated to a growing library of questionable ones (which is where the header photo comes from), whereas there are some damned fine film adaptations of books and plays.

That’s a result of movie books, movie video games, movie comic books, movie plays and movie musical musicals appearing as tools of the commerce side. Whether that’s a reason to condemn them wholesale seems immaterial considering that the movement of turning movies into other things is now firmly established and has the potential to evolve irrespective of the reasons why.

On that front, if the key criticism of movies adapted from books is that they have to leave out reams of rich detail in order to make the runtime, one day someone is bound to transform a movie into literature by imbuing it with worthy backstories, engaging inner thoughts and a more robust all-around scenario. When that inevitably happens, a century-young art will cross another milestone, and we’ll have to meet it at the door jamb with our ruler and pencil.

For now, I just can’t wait for Pacific Rim: The Opera.

Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.