How I Learned to [Not] Love the Adaption
Written by Bryce Waller with additions by Taylor
Opinions. We all have them, they are all awesome, and everyone loves to hear them all the time. I have listened to many about why a certain film was good and why I should enjoy it as well. This happens from time to time. A movie comes out, based on a book, an older movie, a TV show, whatever. And when the viewers of that movie enjoyed it, I’m surrounded by happy-go-lucky Who-villians that don’t mind telling me why I’m being such a Grinch.
What recent film in particular would I be speaking of, you ask? The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, of course. We get a bad reputation, us fans of the original work that have a hard time giving up so many aspects of what made the source material so great. And while I can look past a lot, there comes a time for any nerd to stand up and say “I DON’T HAVE TO ENJOY THIS!” Not in the actual theater of course.
Nor do I have to enjoy every adaption Hollywood shoves down my throat for that matter! And neither do you. And that’s okay. Here’s why.
Thirteen. That is how many times I have read The Hobbit since 2003. I told myself I would read it annually, but I enjoyed it so much that I double-dipped a couple of times throughout the years. Let me start out by saying what The Hobbit is not, and that is a book about war. J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel is about adventure, friendship, food, family, etc. with a little bit of war mixed in. And I do mean “a little.”
And I can get behind changes. Books and film have a different pacing, a different feel to them. While a book can go on and on about every detail to tell you exactly what the armor is made out of and who wore it previously, a film can just…show it. And since it took three pages to describe the armor and a movie just presented it to us within a few seconds, the filmmakers now have to make up for the time they didn’t spend going in detail and move along with the story. It’s things like this that make it reasonable to change things around and make it work for the cinematic medium. A book is a slow walk in the park, a film; a brisk run.
But these days it seems most people are intent on making the movie theirs alone. If a fan of the original work decries the adaption, they’re simply written off as some nerd who can’t accept anything but what they deem acceptable. And those people are out there, I understand. It’s easy for some faceless kid to comment all over Youtube about how “TH1SS SUKKS! n e body who watches this is NOT A TRUU FAN!!!”
But then anyone else who isn’t interested in the adapted work is stuck with the same moniker. The loudest voice is often the one that we remember but unfortunately, their message is the most extreme.
So for people who don’t like the adaptions, it seems the immediate response is “Why can’t you just enjoy it?” Well, I would love to. I really would. But there’s transfers from page to film and then doing so much to the story that it takes away from the original meaning and becomes something you have to change your feelings on the work to like it.
Alan Moore has written a lot. A lot of popular stuff in fact. Classic stories such as Batman: The Killing Joke, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, Hellblazer and Watchmen. And no, he didn’t write the screenplays, but the comics the movies were based on.
In 2006, when the V for Vendetta film was released, Moore stated that the comic had been “specifically about things like fascism and anarchy. Those words, ‘fascism’ and ‘anarchy,’ occur nowhere in the film. It’s been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country.”
Moore has requested his name be omitted from any films based on any of his own work and despite my enjoyment of some of these films taken from his work, that’s respectable enough in itself.
What’s my point?
At what mark is it okay to say “This is too different from what I recognize”? It seems as long as the critic themselves haven’t enjoyed the original work, they’re fine with labeling fans as crotchety naysayers that just refuse to like anything.
This past August, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released. Before the film even came out, many decided it would suck hard. The turtles looked huge, Michael Bay destroys childhood memories, and Megan Fox looked like a blowfish. And WHY ARE THE TURTLES SO HIDEOUS?!
It all made sense. Even if you were fine with the changes, nobody that knew about this stuff would disagree that the changes and “updates” created a lot of forces working against the success, or at least the quality, of the film.
But for a while it seemed like the bandwagon to jump on. Sure, kids are going to like this, but they’re kids. Anybody who knows the “real turtles” knows this was just some greedy cash-grab from a guy like Bay who didn’t care about the fans and just wanted to reuse the same formula he uses for all of his films- CGI, explosions, Megan Fox.
So months later, how does anybody feel about it? Probably not much different than how they did before the movie even came out. I personally didn’t care for it either.
But why is The Hobbit any different for people? Major changes to the material were made, so much so that it detracts from the story that I know. As opposed to those who didn’t read the book. Is this where I point the finger and say “I KNOW MORE! I’m a fan! You CAN’T be!” To some, that’s all I’ve been saying. But what I’m trying to say is that if you watched the movie first, that is what you know as the story of The Hobbit. Since I read the book first, that is the story to me.
And since this is based on the book, as far as I’m concerned the major changes made change the meaning of the story overall- “Greed destroys” becomes “Greed is bad but LOOK AT LEGOLAS KILL!” Legolas defies gravity, owns a major part of the action of the film, and his unrequited romance with Tauriel is a centerpiece for the two latter Hobbit films.
I get that Legolas is a favorite. But I also thought much of his story, considering he’s not even in the book, along with Tauriel (created for the film), really detracted from this film and led people who have not read the book to think it something that it is not. It just seemed more like a giant wink to the audience rather than an enhancement to the story.
Scenes like these took away from the extreme detail Tolkien devoted himself to sharing with faithful readers for eight decades now. I literally heard a young woman say these exact words at the theater this week: “That movie was so much better than the book. There were so many details in the book. Why do I need that?”
It seems the only difference between when we’re allowed to criticize is what the majority agrees with. And here, the majority seems fine with what Jackson has done with the movies. Refusing to be a part of some giant, vague corporate machine is something Americans excel at but only when they recognize it in the first place. So hating Michael Bay? Well, that’s fine. He’s making stupid movies for stupid people. And there’s a lot of stupid people out there so they’ll buy tickets to his movies. But Peter Jackson? Well his movies made a billion dollars because people recognize quality.
And that’s fine, they’re allowed to like The Hobbit, Twilight, X-Men, Ninja Turtles, and anything else that catches their interest. But I don’t have to accept it either.
People talk poorly of glorified CGI-fests that add more action and less substance but then when those films come along, everybody eats it up! It’s like the presidential elections. We all know that guy is corrupt but we vote for him anyway and then continue to speak of how terrible they are when we give them the power.
Listen to what Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, has to say about the LOTR and Hobbit films: “They [Jackson and team] eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”
Is Tolkien wrong for this view? Is he just stubborn? Why can’t this guy just get over himself? He didn’t write the book, it was his dad. Why can’t he accept a few updates? No matter what his relation to the original author, he’s still just a guy expressing his distaste for the adaptions Peter Jackson and his talented team have made.
And that’s his right as a fan.
The Wednesday box office numbers [December 17th, 2014) for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has grossed an estimated 2.12 billion dollars. BILLIONS. What was that about a CGI-infested cash grab?
Peter Jackson loves Middle Earth. There isn’t really a denying of that here. He’s put much time, effort, and life into The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And while I don’t want to completely forget what he’s put into so much of the great work his filmography is made up of, The Hobbit movies are not examples of his best effort. They are what happens when talented people put forth an effort, but not their best.
This article was inspired by my trip to the theater Monday night to watch the new Hobbit movie. Yes, I watch all movies. I am open to giving every film at least one view. I believe that to be fair. I extended that gift to every Hobbit film. Before An Unexpected Journey came out in 2012, I was very optimistic about these films. It just seemed a much easier task, adapting The Hobbit compared to adapting LOTR– 300 pages vs 1178 pages. If he could do justice to a trilogy, surely he could adapt one book just well if not even better.
But my disappointment with many adaptions throughout the years is the real story here. But possibly a bigger issue for me is that anytime a story or character I love is adapted, I’m told I just need to accept whatever is done with them or I’m just trying to be difficult.
Even this article will have those detractors. “Waa! Just shut up and enjoy it!” as if that’s how freedom of speech works. People will tell you to shut up if you don’t like it as if you didn’t pay your time, and money hoping to see a great story, but met with something new to everyone else, while resembling little of the story you grew up with.
So go watch The Hobbit, and enjoy it if you can, and if it’s what you like. I myself can’t, but I am allowed that stance, as is anyone.