Before Harry Potter and Twilight, movies that were adapted from books were usually general fiction with the focus group being just about anyone who would pay for a ticket. Occasionally there were movies that were for a specific audience; Disney films, Lucas films, Larry and Andy Wachowsky adaptions or Steven Spielberg productions. Some made a lot of money and others barely made any impression at all.
Early on, the basis for adaptations included novels–memoirs, comics, plays and in some cases news reports and non-fiction. Cinema banked on the new technology that allowed for the more traditional form of public theater to reach an audience that was titillated by innovation. The tradition of communal entertainment–public execution, sports events, theater, vaudeville, operas, music halls and street performance evolved through time and blossomed with the advent of film.
In the late 1880’s the movie camera was invented and motion pictures, silent films at the time, were shown at social events like carnivals and circuses. People marvelled at this new creation and news of it spread quickly. By the early 20th century the media was sending social and political messages attached to motion pictures to movie viewers and cinema devotees.
That is when the market of film adaptation took root. Some of the earliest stories that made it to the silver screen included, The Little Match Girl, Sherlock Holmes Baffled, Alice in Wonderland and From the Earth to the Moon. I personally wonder if the makers of those films could even conceive of the birth of mass media that would follow. Or the access to film entertainment that would come in future times.
Some of the most popular classic movies were Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, adapted from Bram Stoker‘s novel written in 1897. Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein, that solidified the fame of Boris Karloff. Technicolor wonder, The Wizard of Oz, which shot Judy Garland’s star into the night sky. Interestingly, at the time that The Wizard of Oz was released it wasn’t received well. Later when it was shown on television the film found a revival of interest. While other films like Gone With The Wind, starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, received 10 Academy Awards the year after it’s release. Clark Gable made movie-goers swoon when a handsome Rhett Butler mutter the famous words, “My dear, I don’t give a damn” on film.
Between 1940 and 2000 other notable adaptations.
Stephen King—Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Christine, Cujo, Firestarter, Misery and It.
Michael Crichton—Andromeda Strain, Congo, Timeline and blockbuster Jurassic Park.
Jane Austen—Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Mansfield Park.
Shakespeare—Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, Midsummer’s Night, Hamlet, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew.
Philip K. Dick—A Scanner Darkly, The Minority Report, Blade Runner, and Total Recall.
Jules Verne—Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Not only were novels adapted from books, comic books and graphic novels began to make a real splash as well. Superman was brought to life by Christopher Reeve. Batman became popular when first adapted by Tim Burton and then reintroduced when Christopher Nolan, rebooting the winged hero with the Dark Knight Trilogy. Marvel flooded the market with Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the rather terrible Daredevil.
In 2001 when J.K. Rowling’s young adult books, Harry Potter, were given a new life in film, and a new genre of book adaptations became popular. Prior to Harry Potter fame, young adult books might occassionally be adapted to television with a small demographic of viewers. The Jason Katims TV show Roswell, which was inspired by the Melinda Metz books Roswell High, is a good example. The response to Rowling’s already incredibly popular books was extraordinary. The interest in the teen genre exploded and soon after other young adult books were being shopped to studios hoping to be picked up for cinema and television.
Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga grossed over 390 million worldwide with it’s first film alone. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattenson’s names began to be on the tips of lips everywhere making them very appealing to the paparazzi. The following four films–New Moon, Eclipse and the two Breaking Dawn films created more and more of a stir. The books, which follow the love affair between a human girl and her vampire boyfriend, fed the interests of teenagers everywhere and soon other vampire novels began to get a great deal of attention from producers and studios.
L.J. Smith‘s Vampire Diaries premiered on the CW channel in 2009, the cast included teenage heartthrob Ian Somerhalder, and millions tuned in every week for more Damon Salvatore. Originally written in 1991, The trilogy included the titles of The Awakening, The Struggle and The Fury. After almost twenty years L.J. Smith returned to the literary world of Mystic Falls to write even more books based on the same characters. Currently the book series contains twelve books. Personally, I think that the original three were pretty bad. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that though.
Probably the newest Vampire series to have caught Hollywood’s attention is Vampire Academy, creation of author Richelle Mead. In six books the story of Rose Hathaway and her best friend Lissa Dragomi stretches from their first introduction ofSt. Vladimir’s Academy to ultimate domination. A dark world of power struggle and forbidden love fill the pages. The film, Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, is currently in the process of casting actors. Zoey Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky will be playing the parts of Rose and Dimitri. No one else has been announced at this time.
But young adult adaptations aren’t all about bloodsuckers. There are numerous novels being slated for film and the genre varies.
In 2012 viewers flocked to movie theaters to see the first installment of Suzanne Collins dystopian tale, The Hunger Games. The novel is about Katniss Everdeen, a teen who lives in a world segregated by districts distinguished by wealth, social status and political strain. Jennifer Lawerence received critical acclaim for her portrayal of the character as a role model for young girls, strong and intelligent. The trials and tribulations of Katniss and Peta mark a path that pairs them together in order to survive The Hunger Games.
Philip Pullman’s popular fantasy books, His Dark Materials Trilogy, became known as one of the least liked film adaptations of the last decade. The Golden Compass, also known as Northern Lights, was released in 2007. A key component of the books is the religious implications of the importance of the human soul. The adaptation attempted to play down the controversial elements of Christian faith. By obscuring the original story the plot fell short. Despite the stunning visual effects fans were unhappy and the film flopped.
Currently in the process of being filmed is Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. The approval and interest of fans regarding the first book adaptation of the The Mortal Instruments was rewarded when a green light was given for the second book prior to the finish of the first. The Mortal Instruments books have a large cast of characters and fans debated and commented on Clare’s website as they were cast. Clary Fray and Jace Wayland, played by Lily Collins and Jaime Campbell-Bower, are the main concern of the first three novels. Clare later built on the initial trilogy adding more books. The voice of Clary, who dominates the books–City of Bones, City of Ashes and City of Glass is joined by characters, Simon Lewis, Alec Lightwood and Jace Wayland/Lightwood, in the books that follow.
Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, another dystopian society book, has garnered a good deal of fandom squeeing. The reaction to the casting of the two main characters, Four–Theo James, and Tris–Shailene Woodley has been positive. The plot, a world of a five faction society based on specific virtues, spends a great deal of time focusing on the concept of political control. Tris, is born to one faction but at her sixteenth birthday she is tested and finds she can choose another. In the faction she has choosen, the strongest and most fearless of those in that society, things become suspect. Soon she discovers a plot to control her faction and use them as a tool to control the others.
The Fault in Our Stars is a heart wrenching story of two young people living with cancer. Written by contemporary American writer and YouTube vlogger John Green, The Fault in Our Stars looks at the poignancy and fraility of youth. Faced with the horrors of cancer, The hero, Augustus Waters, waxes poetic and philosophically searches for meaning in all things. The story is told from heroine, Hazel’s, POV and reveals a girl who is surviving cancer rather than dying from it. There has been some controversy by book reviewers that Green was cashing in on tragedy, most readers don’t agree. Overall the book has been celebrated for it’s meaningful message and noteable quotes.
“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”
The woman who acted as guide to many females–pre-teens and young adults for over forty years is finally seeing one of her novels adapted to film. Judy Blume, winner of over 90 literary awardshas co-written the screenplay of Tiger Eyes with her son Larry Blume. Released in limited theaters on June 7, 2013 the plot is a look at a young girl’s grief at the loss of a parent. Blume’s celebrated insight and wisdom has addressed topics from masturbation to bullying and all those issues that touch nearly every girl in between those two things.
A great many adaptations are quite faithful to their inspiration. Like all things which go from the hand of one person to another–views, ideas and prominent points change. As a reader you may think one adaptation is a success and another is a travesty. It’s either great to see something you imagined interpreted in a similar fashion to your own ideas. Or it is heartbreaking to see a novel you enjoyed massacred. I am a firm believer in letting your voice be heard. Never be shy, if you can’t find a place to comment on the things you like or dislike publically, tell a friend. Opinions might be a little like buttholes, but no one can ever say you are better off without one. After all, that just means you are full of shit.
This has been a very long and involved look at the history and result of adaptation. Thank you for sticking with me and seeing it through.