Stam and Film Adaptations

For me, if I hadn’t been told that Maqbool was an adaptation of Macbeth before watching the film, I would never have realized; I think this speaks to a certain tension in film adaptations that Stam suggested but did not explicitly state. I believe, though may not have much evidence to back it up, that adaptations that are explicitly named after the novel and seek to follow the novel as closely as possible in terms of setting, time period, character names, etc. are the adaptations that cannot move past the “fidelity” comments. Those are the adaptations that people lament did not stick close enough to the book. Major blockbuster franchises like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter fall into this trap.

However, if one were to take the narrative structure of those films (a la Tordorov) and change the setting, characters, time period, etc., then I believe they would not face nearly as much criticism. Before reading the Stam piece, I didn’t even realize that Clueless was a modern-day adaptation (at least at the time of release) of Jane Austen’s Emma. Admittedly, I have never read Emma, so I wouldn’t be prone to identifying it as such. But, the reviews of Clueless don’t focus on the fact that it’s a loose adaptation; they instead focus more on the film itself. If someone were to do an analysis of Clueless vs. Emma or Maqbool vs. Macbeth, I think people would be more likely to focus on the transformation and transmutation elements that Stam discusses just by virtue of the fact that the books and movie adaptations do not share the same name. Instead of lamenting the fact that a film adaptation skipped over a specific plot point or wrote out a character, those that do not share the same name of the books they are adapted from can instead be seen as interesting takes on a story; they are less tied to the spatiotemporal bounds of the book and instead can showcase how a specific narrative is transformed and mutated when basic elements such as character names, time, space, and culture are changed. In short, I believe film adaptations can best succeed when they rely more on the themes of a certain novel than a straight interpretation of that story.

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