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Is It Better To Adapt Books as Netflix Shows and TV Mini-Series Instead of Films?

Is it time to retire the idea of trying to tell complex novels and comic series in 90-150 minutes of screen time?

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PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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May 29, 2014 - 4:30 pm

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In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Also check out Monday’s question: “Which Science Fiction Novels Should Be Made into Films and TV Miniseries?,” Tuesday’s question: “Lord of the Rings Vs. Harry Potter: Which Film Series Better Captured their Books’ Spirit?,” and Wednesday’s question: What Are the 10 Most Disastrous Comic Book Adaptations? the previous weeks’ writing prompts and email in your thoughts on any questions that strike your fancy: 5 Questions So We Can Figure Out the Cream of the Crop In Popular Music Genres5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy5 Controversial Questions To Inspire Spirited Debates About Music.

This week we’ll begin a discussion about the best — and worst — ways to adapt stories from one medium to another. Your ideas and suggestions are always appreciated.

Allen Mitchum: How Netflix Made Watching TV Like Reading a Novel

Netflix’s House of Cards, Season 1: Becky Graebner’s Guide

Would Watchmen have been better as a miniseries?

This week we’ll  begin a discussion about the best — and worst — ways to adapt stories from one medium to another. Your ideas and suggestions are always appreciated.

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios
All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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These days, thanks to everything going widescreen, movies and television miniseries aren't that visually different from each other. Hollywood and the television studios used to be at each other's throats, but they seem to have settled all their legal differences. With movie theaters nationwide in decline and inexpensive television screens getting bigger and fancier all the time, I suspect the two industries are eventually going to merge completely. Throw in the merger already taking place between television and internet streaming video services such as Netflix, and soon we'll be looking at all our moving pictures on one device. I suspect we'll soon be unable to determine any meaningful distinction between a movie and a two-hour television show.

On the upside, this merger probably will make adapting novels for the big screen a lot easier, as TV miniseries will be made with the same high budgets and high production values as movies currently are. On the downside, this isn't likely to stop the executives and directors and producers from meddling with and butchering stories the same way they do now. The closest I ever saw a movie adaptation get to being exactly like the book was Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, and even that one had a few trim-downs and modifications from what was really a rather short novel. This convinces me that Watchmen would not necessarily be any better as a television series; some meddlesome executive would still probably cut out the space squid of doom from the graphic novel and try to shoehorn in as many digs as possible at anything even remotely right-wing just as they did with the movie.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
In the case of "The Hobbit", I'd say Peter Jackson had bloated a two-hour candidate, maybe a two-two-hour candidate, to an absurd 7-ish hour project. My love of Tolkien keeps me coming back and the story he's using would have been fine on its own, but "The Hobbit" has been seriously deformed.
Rankin-Bass actually did a creditable cartoon of it. Richard Boone voiced Smaug and Harry Morgan voiced Gandalf.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of course, it's situational. Some can be adapted to a miniseries, others TV Series, and yet others to movies. It all depends
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, definitely - when I do a book club meeting for one of my books, readers are always telling me that The Adelsverein Trilogy would make a dynamite mini-series - especially if it was filmed here in Texas.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Gone With the Wind
The World According to Garp
Catch-22
In my limited experience these translated well. LOTR worked since Jackson shifted the focus of the story.
It takes a very talented writer to shift from one venue to another. It takes a talented writer to make us care, in any venue.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Howdy KRB
W.P Blatty adapted his own "The Exorcist" marvelously for the movie. Carl Gottlieb (and others) improved "Jaws" considerably for the movie -- one of the rare cases where the movie would have made a better book than the book did.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes. Novels don't translate to movies. That's what short stories are for.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not so convinced it's the size that makes the difference so much as the flexibility of the story. Short stories tend to work better as movies not so much because of their brevity so much as their simplicity. A lot of things novels describe and explore in detail are merely implied in short stories, and left open to interpretation.

Consider movie adaptations from another popular medium: video games. Ever wonder why video game movies tend to range in quality from the marginally watchable to the truly execrable? Certainly, we might be able to get a better movie from a video game if anyone in Hollywood cared enough to hire writers and directors who'd actually treat the source material with some respect for its fans, but I contend there's another much bigger hurdle to clear: some of the best video games ever made would make terrible movies. Adapting brilliantly complex stories with multiple potential endings from role-playing games to the big screen, for instance, should never even be attempted.

No, if you want to make a movie from a video game, I say you should focus on games that have a very minimal plot, or none at all. That way, you can focus on fleshing out the histories and personalities of the characters involved. A Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross movie? That would be almost impossible to adapt, with all the trimming you'd have to do and all the supporting characters you'd have to give short shrift. A movie adaptation of Astyanax, Ninja Gaiden, Joust, Castlevania, Doom, or Mega Man? Heck, practically any of those old games could be good movies, because you can make the protagonists (player characters) almost anything you want them to be and still come up with a story faithful to the source material.

It's the same with adapting books to movies: the more the writer leaves open to the reader's interpretation, the better a movie one can make from it. If the author spells everything out more clearly in exquisite detail, the book might be a lot more fun to read and more popular, but it will also be that much more difficult to adapt into a movie. I'd say Tolkien's Lord of the Rings stands at the absolute outer limit of what kind of novel can be adapted into a movie, which is why even the talented Peter Jackson only managed a slightly-better-than-adequate adaptation for that.
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8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not sure about that. Novels give the Hollywood types too much room for "creative" cutting (think "Starship Troopers"). But I think that, conversely, shorts can give them too much room for "creating" padding (think "Nightfall").

Maybe novellas?

(Of course, this depends on the story - some novels have so much padding for "deep philosophy" already that they really could be chopped down to a novella size.)
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
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