The struggle of the adaptation

After reading the Stam piece on adaptation I immediately thought that anyone who chooses to adapt a film has to be truly confident in themselves because, as Stam points out, adaptations are lightning rods for criticism and judgement. Part of the reason this occurs is because when we as viewers watch film adaptations of a novel we judge it solely on whether the adaptation has remained faithful to the original and has preserved the essence of the story. This technique of judging a film adaptation may seem logical but if you analyze this process further it becomes clear that this method is flawed because in literature, “there is no such transferable core: a single novelistic text comprises a series of verbal signals that can generate a plethora of possible readings, including even readings of the narrative itself” (Corrigan 545).  Literary works are complex entities that cannot easily be characterized by one central theme or idea, which is why it is useless to judge an adaption solely on its infidelity to the original. Take Maqbool (2003) for example.  At the beginning of this film the director Vishal Bhardwaj states in the opening titles that Maqbool is based on Shakespeare’s version of Macbeth, which right off the bat causes the viewer to juxtapose the film with the story of Macbeth and judge it’s cinematic worth based on how closely the story arc sticks to the original Macbeth storyline. In the case of Maqbool the story retains many of the main elements of the story but the change of setting, shift in gender of characters from female witches to male police officers, and alterations to the dialogue. I viewed this as a strong cinematic choice because these alterations to the story of Macbeth serve to make the film more original, but many fans of Shakespeare who view this film would likely be incredibly critical of it because it doesn’t conform to the original storyline and therefore may even been seen as a failure. Herein lies the struggle of the adaptation: if you change too many elements of the story you are being unfaithful but if you adapt a text word-for-word you are viewed as unoriginal.

The struggle of the adaptation makes it very difficult for filmmakers to pull off a successful adaption because there is a overwhelming expectation that the film must stay true to the heart of the story, but what audiences sometimes struggle to understand is that when a book or play is translated onto the screen it becomes an entirely new art form and therefore such be regarded as a separate piece of work. Stam points this out on page 543 of his essay where he says, “an adaptation is automatically different and original due to the change of the medium”. I think if we as audience members were to view adaptations in this regard we would come to appreciate them more and be less critical because we wouldn’t bring preconceived notions to the film and would instead just judge it based on whether we think it is a good film that has told a compelling story.


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