The Art Of Adaptation

To adapt or not to adapt

To adapt means to transpose from one medium to another. It is the ability to make fit or suitable by changing or adjusting. Modifying something to create a change in structure, function, and form produces a better adjustment.

It may seem strange to translate one art form into another, but it is an age-old custom.

Good adaptations can never include all elements of the source material, so the art of adaptation becomes one of distillation.

Shakespeare adapted Romeo and Juliet from the Roman poet Ovid’s ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, which later became the hit Broadway musical ‘West Side Story‘, was retold as an Asian gang versus the American mob in ‘Romeo must Die‘, Bazz Luhrman updated the story with his contemporary re-visioning, and Stephen Spielberg re-imaged West Side Story, collaborating with one of his long-time collaborators, the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Tony Kushner, to write the screenplay. 

Moulin Rouge is a tragic romance about a poor writer who falls in love with a high-class hooker who is being kept by a rich Duke. The concept and characters were adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ 1848 novel Camille, which was also adapted into the opera La Traviata.  Dumas wrote the story from his own life. 

Francis Coppola’s Oscar-winning Apocalypse Now is loosely based on a novel by 19th-century author Joseph Conrad ‘Heart of Darkness‘, set in colonial Africa, where Mr. Kurtz, a white man, has gone upriver and set himself up as a mad god to African tribespeople.

Sara Gruen‘s 400-page novel inspired screenwriter Richard LaGravenese to adapt Water for Elephants into a workable screenplay “When a book is well-loved, it’s important to keep what readers expect, but at the same time you have to understand that, when reading a story, you’re seeing and hearing characters in your head, and everyone has their own versions in their own minds. When you see the story played on screen with real people it becomes literal – one version – and there are certain ideas that work in a book that wouldn’t work on screen. The key task was making the three principal characters more active and re-inventing Marlena’s and August’s backstories. We wanted every character’s reasons to be understood, so that morally, who’s right and who’s wrong, is a little more complex.  No one is 100 per cent innocent.”

Francine Rivers has adapted her best-selling novel Redeeming Love for the Big Screen with director D. J. Caruso, a life-changing story of relentless love and perseverance as a young couple’s relationship clashes with the harsh realities of the California Gold Rush of 1850

Guillermo del Toro co-wrote the screenplay of Nightmare Alley with Kim Morgan, who is also film critic and journalist with a love of cinematic history – the film is based on William Lindsay Gresham’s fatalistic novel published in 1946 about a charismatic huckster consumed by uncontrolled ambition.  It was also adapted in 1947 by Jules Furthman.

As the writer-director of The Tiger Rising, Ray Giarratana brought the New York Times best-selling book to life, “a story about cages…the cages we build to protect ourselves from hurt, loss, and pain.”

Based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile is a daring mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh about the emotional chaos and deadly consequences triggered by obsessive love. Also see: Murder on The Orient Express / A Haunting In Venice

Films based on real-life stories: The Last Duel, Judy, Midway, Official Secrets, In The Heart of The Sea, Suffragette, The 33, 13 Hours, Race, Eddie The Eagle, Sing Street, The Man who knew Infinity, Woodlawn, The Danish Girl, The Idol, Elvis & Nixon, Genius, Spotlight, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman

Imaginative adaptations: Jumanji, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

  • Directed and edited by Mike Flanagan from his own screenplay based upon the novel by Stephen King, Doctor Sleep continues the story of Danny Torrance, 40 years after his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. “I always tell people the difference between Stanley Kubrick’s movie and my book is his movie ended in ice and my book ended in fire,” says Stephen King. “But, by taking Dan Torrance’s story as a grown-up and filtering it through his own, apparently large heart, Mike has been able to take the Kubrick movie a step further, so that it warms things up. Mike’s film does two things. It is a fine adaptation of Doctor Sleep, but it is also a terrific sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s movie ‘The Shining.’ Mike has worked in a universe where some of the things that happened in ‘The Shining’ movie didn’t happen in my book…and has somehow been able to make it work.”
  • Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning songwriter, actor and director Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creator and original star of Broadway’s Tony-winning “Hamilton”and “In the Heights. He invites you to In The Heights, a cinematic event, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big, fusing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.
  • Director Jon Favreau, who utilized technology to tell the story of the live-action The Jungle Book in a contemporary and immersive way, has long admired Walt Disney’s pioneering spirit, and pushed the boundaries to take The Lion King to the big screen in a whole new way—employing an evolution of storytelling technology that blends live-action filmmaking techniques with photoreal computer-generated imagery. “It’s such a beloved property,” says Favreau, who directed the film from a screenplay crafted by Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), based on the 1994 screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton.
  • When Tom Hooper was approached by producer Debra Hayward about a film version of Cats in 2012, in London, where Hooper was in post-production on his film adaptation of the stage musical Les Misérables,  the possibility intrigued him. “I just thought what a shame it would be if I never did a musical again because I’d learned so much doing Les Mis,” Hooper says.
  • Writer-director Elizabeth Banks takes the helm as the next generation of fearless Charlie’s Angels take flight, from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn. It is the third installment in the Charlie’s Angels film series, which is a continuation of the story that began with the television series of the same title by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and the theatrical films, Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003).