Friday, May 22, 2009

Adaptations

Chris asked me what I thought of Watchmen. That reminded me that I judge films where I'm familiar with the source material VERY differently to other films. My ranking system for adaptations goes kinda like this:

1. Incompetent: The film completely misses the point of the source material; quite possibly it's narratively incoherence or lacks an inner life.
... Examples: The Punisher (Dolph Lundren version)*

* Yes, I think there's probably a good version of The Punisher waiting to be made.

2. Mishmash: Cobbling together moments from the source material, this film creates a narrative that makes sense but doesn't really capture the spirit of the original
... Examples: Aeon Flux (in places), Constantine, The Return of the King (pre-Shelob), Fantastic Four 2, From Hell

3. Photography: This is simply and literally translating the book on screen. While it looks and moves like the source material, there is no excitement or engagement. It's a dead but accurate adaptation.
... Examples: the first half of Harry Potter 1, all of Harry Potter 2, Smilla's Feeling for Snow*

* Which is the film that started me on the path of developing this system.

4. Competence: A translation that basically hits the mark, recreating some of the moments of the original or standing on its own as a movie.
... Examples: The Two Towers, Hellboy, Aeon Flux (sometimes), the second half of Harry Potter 1, Harry Potter 3, most of Harry Potter 4*

* I'm confused about exactly why I'm using Harry Potter as my go-to reference, but let's roll with it.

5. Dead On: An adaptation that nails exactly what I love about the original material. In some cases, it even improves on the original.
... Examples: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King (post-Shelob), Hellboy 2, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter 4 (the school dance sequence)

6. Masterpiece: The adaptation to film has given the story new meaning or resonance; it transcends the original
... Examples: The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather

Given that, I can say that I felt Watchmen veered between competence and being a dead-on adaptation* (with sporadic moments of being a mishmash) ... which shakes out to a film that's slightly above average.

* Places where I felt it was dead-on: Rorschach / Nite Owl II scenes. Dr Manhattan revisiting his life, on Mars. Quite a bit of the Antarctic finale.
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