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June 11, 2012

Are original story ideas better than adaptations?

— Posted by The Amazing Anthony

Even the best of friends sometimes disagree. Ryan and I often talk about our interests throughout the mundane work day and we recently had an interesting conversation about Original versus Traditional. New vs. Old. Peter vs. Miles. How the heck did we get to such a topic? The conversation was sparked by my interest with Marvel’s idea off killing Peter Parker in their Ultimate Spider-man comic and replacing him with a new face in Miles Morales. I was in favor of the idea and thought it was a bold and brilliant idea to further exploit their “Ultimate” universe by shaking up the status quo. Ryan felt differently and the conversation brought up some interesting ideas and thoughts about maintaining the familiar and tradition that people have learned to love with the more infamous Marvel characters. Ryan went on to quote Joss Whedon in our conversation about the idea and here’s what Whedon had to say relating to his experience directing the Avengers:

 

“You know, I’m very torn. It’s an enormous amount of work telling what is ultimately somebody else’s story, even though I feel like I did get to put myself into it. But at the same time, I have a bunch of ideas, and they all seem really cool.”

 

It seemed innocent enough but that one line in there stuck in my head and was referenced further in our conversation “…It’s an enormous amount of work telling what is ultimately somebody else’s story…

 

This was an interesting thought that made me look back in retrospect at Joss Whedon’s career and body of work. Whedon has garnered some very vocal fans over the years dating back to his work on Buffy. I loved Buffy at first but eventually thought things got a bit too convoluted for my tastes and jumped into ‘Angel’ when that became available. After a couple of seasons of that I saw the same thing happening and decided it was my time to depart that show as well but in those initial stages of development is when those shows garnered my interest. Whedon kept my interest in his work and he continued to make other shows like Firefly but never had the success that reflected what most fans of his knew he deserved. Firefly was cancelled after 1 season and the film spin-off didn’t bring in the box office figured that would one would define as ‘successful’ and instead raked in an underwhelming $38 million on a $39 million dollar budget. Ouch.

 

 

Whedon has had mild success with his storytelling with the well received “The Cabin in the Woods” which was able to rake in $54 million on a $30 million dollar budget but nothing like he’s been able to do with the Avengers which is consistently Hulk Smashing the box office and is currently tabulated at over $1 billion on a $220 million budget. At this point does Whedon even need to make an Avengers 2? He’s certainly earned over a billion reasons why just about any studio would let him do anything he wants at this point. Heck he could make a Serenity 2 and 3 back to back with the figures that the Avengers earned but should he return? Does he want to make another or would he rather try his hand at working with original material again? That quote certainly made me feel that it wasn’t his main passion. Whedon didn’t have very many original ideas in his Avengers movie and stuck very close to what was introduced in the source materials which resulted im an amalgam of the main marvel universe and the ‘ultimate’ line of books which is somewhat original.

 

The thought then made me think about what Christopher Nolan has done with the Batman franchise. Christopher Nolan had a career of making and creating and directing films that were innately more original to critical success. My first exposure to the director was with the film ‘Memento’ starring Guy Pearce which earned over $39 million on a $9 million dollar budget and went on to be nominated for an Oscar for “Best Screenplay”. It was an original idea by the brothers Nolan as the film was an adaptation of Jonathan Nolan’s “Momento Mori”. Nolan refining by adapting his brothers work earned Christopher his first Oscar nomination. Sure, he worked with his brother but it was an adaptation of someone else’s work. Nolan went on to receive further success with 2002’s “Insomnia” starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams which was a remake of a Norwegian film of the same name. There were changes to the plot and characters but the source material was still someone else’s work. The next film in Nolan’s career was Batman Begins which generated $372 million on a $150 million dollar budget. Clearly working on a recognized work of material with his style of film making is where Nolan found an avenue to further showcase his talent. Nolan then made ‘The Prestige”. The Prestige didn’t “flop” as it earned over $109 million on a $40 million budget but it didn’t get the reception as Batman did for him although it too was an adaptation of someone else’s work this time being from Christopher Priests’ novel of the same name.

 

Nolan then went to have his biggest film to date with was “The Dark Knight” which went to earn over $1 billion. Nolan has heavily derived inspiration for these films from the stories within the comics based on batman and amalgamated stories from both Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Jeph Loeb, and more and littered each of the films with his own ideas and practices throughout. Nolan then decided to return to something more original and lest recognizable with “Inception” which was a film he originally pitched to Warner Bros back in 2001 but felt he needed more big budget film experience before further developing that film and instead dove into creating his first Batman Film. Inception went on to earn over $800 million on a budget of $160 million.

 

My point being is that these two filmmakers were definitely talented and definitely capable of crafting stories that could capture the attention of millions, but first needed to broaden their experience and creative muscles with films that were easier to be accepted by the mainstream audiences before they were sought out by the audiences for their films. Not everyone can hit the ground running with something completely original and get the exposure that some of these stories deserve. Personally I think Joss Whedon should look into doing one more Avengers movies and then try to further expose his original talents and create his ‘Inception’ before abandoning the Avengers franchise. To bring this post to full circle if Miles Morales was named anything other than ‘Spider-Man’ within the comics than I think the creators would have had a hard time getting his stories the attention they probably deserve without first creating his avenue with Peter Parker. Original ideas are great but in order to get through the dense, and sometimes fickle, wall of mainstream acceptance toward the road of  ‘financial success’ you occasionally need a trojan horse.

 

 

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  • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Ryan Brown TMB

    My argument was not against adaptation, I am a proponent of adapatation. My argument was for preserving the foundations of the character that is being portrayed. For instance, Peter Parker is Spider-man just as Clark Kent is Superman and Bruce Wayne is Batman. Those names are a part of their character and, in my opinion, when you are eliminating those identities you are eliminating a part of the character their respective creators established. The reason I reference and love Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan is because they “pay their respects” to the original characters by interweaving the foundations of what those characters are comprised of and adapting them for modern day viewers. Adapatation is essential to preserve and reignite established work but to their are limits. Going back to Spider-man, when you eliminate Peter Parker you have eliminated Spider-man. You can use the Spider-man story to act as segway to establish a new character, but it in my opinion it is lazy and disrespectful to reinvent him in a way that tarnishes his foundations and origin by removing the Parker name and the character ties associated with that name. Nolan and Whedon both understand this concept and that’s why their adaptations were the most successful.

    • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Anthony_TMB

      @Ryan Brown TMB
      Glad your are a proponent for adaptation! My issue has been in your thinking is that the foundations of the character supersede the name and face behind the mask. The examples given are perfect in that neither Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent are the true identities of either Batman or Superman, and instead Batman and Superman are the true identities of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. In other words Bruce Wayne is the mask, not Batman. If Batman were to drop the Bruce Wayne identity and adopt any other then I feel that as long as the core characteristics are preserved than it’s STILL BATMAN. 
       
      Miles Morales is not Peter Parker but he IS SPIDER-MAN. He reflects all of the qualities and characteristics that have become synonymous with the character over the years and I feel that using the spider-man name is the justified.
       

      • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Ryan Brown TMB

         @Anthony_TMB I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree, hence the post in the first place…haha.  By foundations of character I mean what makes them the characters that have been established, from their personality traits, their relationships, their struggles, etc.  I know the Batman/Superman argument of how their identities are different from other characters in the superhero universe but it doesn’t argue against the point I was making.  My point is similar to the uproar behind Michael Bay’s idea of making the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have an alien origin.  Sure it might be a good movie but some drastic liberties are being taken with characters that fans have grown to love.  A character’s origin is a big part of who they are and who they become.
         
        Miles is not Spider-man in my opinion because he is written as a character that is not Spider-man, from his costume, to his personality, and even his powers.  These are the parts that I see as lazy because it is more than a name, his character wants to be something totally different, as stated in the comics.  I think we may be going back and forth with this one…haha. 

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Anthony_TMB

           @Ryan Brown TMB It’s funny that you mention the TMNT remake as I was going to cite that and the Bourne Ultimatum in first reply. I’d thought about the origins of TMNT for a while and the more I think about it the more I think that as long as Leonardo leads, Dontallo does machines, Raphael is the turtle with ‘tude and Michaelangelo is a party dude then I think the origns will seem superfluous as long as the characteristics are maintained.
           
          Miles is Spider-Man in my opinion from the costume to his personality and powers. Miles is not Peter Parker in name but in spirit and has a mantra that he constantly asks himself in “What would Peter do?”. If you substituted Miles for Peter in the same backstory it may be pretty difficult to argue that he doesn’t embody or follow the same heroism and selflessness that made Peter so appreciable. He even cracks the same jokes as Peter mid battle and has a hilarious moment when Omega Red confuses him for Peter and exclaims “You used that joke last time!” with Miles responding “I did?!”.

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Ryan Brown TMB

           @Anthony_TMB Haha, I was actually going to cite Bourne also but thought citing two things would be too much.  I am not a fan of Jason Bourne being replaced and I think that Hollywood is following the same path that Ultimate Spider-man did, using the Bourne name so that people will recognize the character and even “overpowering” him, which I think is a way of just “milking the cow”.I’m going to disagree, he’s not Spider-man to me and I know we both have our reasons.
          Haha…we should have made this one an A vs R…would have been good.

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Anthony_TMB

           @Ryan Brown TMB Jason Bourne still has an opportunity to explain why it ties into the Bourne name and justify itself. It is set within the Bourne universe and, like Miles, may not have been given a fair shake for the mass public if had chosen a name that didn’t reference the character. The name is clearly the lure. 

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Ryan Brown TMB

           @Anthony_TMB You’re right, it is set in the Bourne universe but it’s going to take a lot of justification for Renner’s character to take the place of Jason Bourne.As for Miles, yes the name is the lure and they have done this in the past.  But give him a name like Spider-boy or something different than Spider-man.  The Spider-man series has been a segway for many characters in the Marvel universe, there is no reason why Miles couldn’t take on a “Scarlet Spider” type role.

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Anthony_TMB

           @Ryan Brown TMB There are plenty of reasons why Miles shouldn’t have taken a “Scarlet Spider” type role. Namely, Scarlet Spider. Do you remember the feedback from fans when the Scarlet Spider character temporarily took over the Spider-Man titles? I still own a copy of The Amazing Scarlet Spider #1 and my memory of the feedback from that loosely involved pitchforks and torches. Not to mention when the Ben Reilly character outright took over the Spider-Man title and tried to let Peter Parker retire… I still firmly believe that killing off Ultimate Peter Parker is the best way to help Miles get a fair shake from readers.

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Ryan Brown TMB

           @Anthony_TMBThat’s my point.  Without the Spider-man title, Miles is not a strong enough character to survive on his own.  So why force feed him to the public?

        • http://www.themovieblog.com/ Anthony_TMB

           @Ryan Brown TMB I think you misunderstood my point. Characters constantly don’t receive attention they deserve no matter how strong they are or how well written. It’s part of the reason that movie studios are apprehensive to release certain solo Avenger movies because tho they are great characters many people won’t even give them a chance. I think a Dr. Strange movie would be awesome  but I suspect that unless he was presented in a Harry Potter style of marketing he won’t be easily accepted. Miles is enjoying success as a character right now and has generated an audience. It’s possible that he would have received the attention and success that his character deserves without the Spider-Man title but it’s highly improbable.

  • TheScreenwriting

    Well written post. Many writers can’t option their original ideas because mainstream projects take presidence. You have many writers and directors unhappy with working on reality shows when they would rather make creative projects. Hollywood is all about money. If you hoped to write a great film that makes money, then you will have more freedom to write original concepts.

    Personally, I thought Cabin in the Woods was too cliche, another Scary movie drawn out like Shaun of the Dead.

    The film earned a slight profit, but nothing that creates buzz in Hollywood. High concept films such as Inception and The Sixth Sense are rather rare. Interesting post! Thanks.

    • http://www.AdamBritten.com/ AdamBritten

      That’s what I gained from this post as well. In many industries,”what’s popular” overrules “what’s creative.” I see it happening all the time in theatre. Most of the shows that are currently popular are based on familiar story lines (Wizard of Oz, Lion King) and many new shows come out that are adaptations of movies (Shrek, Legally Blonde, etc.) The same thing happens here as it does for Hollywood – a name can sell something in a matter of seconds, but getting a fan to buy a ticket to an unknown story is a whole separate challenge. It must be annoying to directors, but it’s just the way the market is.

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