Source Material: 6/27/2012

“Our movie will be different however, because we’re going back to the source material”

“Going back to the source material”. In our day and age of remakes, reboots, restarts, re-imaginings, retoolings and redo’s, we should be very familiar with this all too common phrasing. This is the typical explanation given time and time again as we see more movies (from the past and present) remade for the “modern” up to date audience.

I’ve struggled to understand exactly why going back to the source material is a proper reason for remaking a film. Correct me if i’m wrong, but isn’t a film based on a novel’s source material referred to as an adaptation. In other words, the medium of conveyance that literature presents, has to be adapted (in order to make a film) to the particular standards of the specific visual medium. That is unless each page is filmed to the tiniest detail, retaining every line of dialogue and nuance that the novel contains. That would at least be (truthfully) getting as close as you possibly can to the source material. However, involved in this process is always a bit of  compromise, some deviation based either on how long the movie would be if everything in the novel were included, or whether or not a particular situation from the source will translate well to the screen or not.

This raises a unique question for the filmmakers; is it worth it retreating to the source material just to make a faithful adaptation for adaptation’s sake. Does being faithful to the source material guarantees a good film. Stephen King was famously unhappy with Kubrick’s vision of “The Shining” and the changes that were made in adapting the source material to the screen. Several plot points and narrative touches were dropped and King sought to remedy this in his 1997 TV mini-series re-imaging. He failed. If not by means of pedigree of product than in terms of general perception and relevance compared to the original. Going back to the source didn’t make his version of “The Shining” better than Kubrick’s. Getting closer to the book doens’t guarantee a better movie regardless if you wrote it or not. Is it just about accuracy (which can be boring to the audience) or rather emphasizing and expressing the themes the novel presents in a visual form. Steve Biodrowski of Cinefantastique writes concerning Kubricks adaptation of “The Shining”:

Widely reviled by Stephen King fans for abandoning much of the book (King himself said his feelings balanced out to zero), Stanley Kubrick’s film version, upon re-examination, reveals that he took the same course he had often used in the past when adapting novels to the screen (such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita): he stripped away the back story and exposition, distilling the results down to the basic narrative line, with the characters thus rendered in a more archetypal form. The result …[is] a brilliant, ambitious attempt to shoot a horror film without the Gothic trappings of shadows and cobwebs so often associated with the genre.

Lets just call a spade a spade. The “going back to the source material” argument is only a cover for a general lack of imagination and inventiveness that seems to be taking dominance in the modern Hollywood system. Studios unwilling to take risks, and stars more than willing to take paychecks, cannibalize and bastardize films that have come before, only to use the  familiarity and fan-dom that comes with that particular films title, to bilk the general public of a couple million before they catch on that the fact that they are watching inferior product.

At least that is what the people behind the new “Starship Troopers” believe.,81901/

Adding  jump suits, removing gore, and adding patriotism doesn’t seem like great reasons to revisit this material. They seem like excepts from notes made by the studio about the first cut of a film. I don’t see any evidence that the makers of this remake went back to the novel and really dug in to find different  meaning and subtext. I just see a group of people looking to capitalize on the “Starship Troopers” brandname and make a quick cash grab of peoples nostalgia. They’ve gotten so deluded about their work, they are practaically explaining the who dirty process to us now;

“The more expensive a film is, the harder it is now to make it that violent. With Recall in particular, we made a conscious choice to keep it tonally closer to something like Minority Report. It gives the studio, and us as producers, the opportunity to reintroduce it in a new way”

Verhoeven took [Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel] from one extreme and made it almost comical, whereas our job is to be a little more faithful to the book, and ground it a little more…. Verhoeven made his movie a critique of fascism whereas Heinlein was writing from the perspective of someone who had served in World War II. Y’know, one man’s fascism is another man’s patriotism…

Working in a visual effects renaissance as we are, we have the ability to do so much more now. We can do the Jump Suits [armoured exoskeletons from Heinlein’s novel], for example, which I don’t think they could have done before.

They’re not discussing how they can make a more transcendent piece of moving and involving cinema. They’re talking about tailoring a film so it can sell to the maximum amount of people. Fast Food Cinema my friends. Rehashed, re-fried, overdone and ultimately forgettable.

Don’t take the bait.


About celluloidhumanoid

Celluloid Prophet

Posted on June 27, 2012, in Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That a lot of writing without ever actually addressing the point. There is one excellent reason to “go back to the source material”, and that’s if the film adaptation sucked and really was way off from the book. Your only example was The Shinning, when you know damn well The Shinning is widely regarded as a great film. Starship Troopers was corny garbage. It was meant for that dreaded box office money you deride, and it failed. It failed in every regard. If the book is any good, where does all your word vomit go to negate the possibility of a better version? I would say the same for Judge Dredd. What do you have to say for yourself?

  2. Thanks for responding Fail Bot (great name)

    I think where you saw silly corn, others saw excellent camp and satire. Not all Sci-fi has to be as serious as 2001. Maybe Paul Verhoeven understood there was something inherently silly in a premise involving brain sucking aliens. At least taken as literally as they do in the film.

    Also I don’t think Paul Verhoeven set out to please anyone at the box office with Total Recall, nor has he ever endeavored to do with any of his film. His film are often viewed as scatological, sexist, crude, nihilistic bawdy and bloody affairs. Of course by now you understand (especially in todays make it pg-13 so we can sell it better society) that if you want to appeal to the wider audience and sell more tickets, you probably should makes films like paul verhoeven. Verhoevens Total Recall, if released today, would still boarder on an NC-17 rating. I’m willing to guess that Colin Farrel’s version will be able to play on Nickelodeon.

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