What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?
Don't get me wrong -- I don't love every adaptation. There are times when filmmakers take things in a direction that I really wish they hadn't. Or skip something I really loved in the book. But the number of adaptations I love far, far outweighs the number I don't.
And maybe this is partly because of Hamlet. I've seen probably ten different versions of Hamlet, and liked all but three so far. But nearly every version of Hamlet cuts things out. If you do the full text, you end up with more than four hours of story. And Kenneth Branagh did a magnificent job of keeping audiences engaged with the full text, but not everyone can convince a studio to make a four-hour film, or convince audiences to see it. So they trim the play. The 1990 Mel Gibson version clocks in at 130 minutes, and it tells the whole story. They cut out pretty nearly half the scenes, reordered several events, and the story is not only still there, it's still beautiful. The 2000 Ethan Hawke cut is only 112 minutes long! And it's so powerful it might be my favorite film version. The 2009 David Tennant is a much more modest cut, running a full 180 minutes, but even there -- a whole hour of play is missing. And is that a bad thing? No! The 2009 is brilliant. Do I sometimes lament when a favorite scene or line is missing? A little. I'm much more likely, though, to cheer when a favorite line gets used, and not waste my time thinking about the ones that aren't there.
I believe an adaptation needs to be its own thing. If you're just going to recreate a book, word-by-word and minute-by-minute, then what is the point? That's what the book is for, or the play, or the poem, or the radio drama, or the amusement park ride, or whatever your source material is. An adaptation should bring something new to the table, whether it's in period, in tone, in social commentary, in theme. Otherwise, there's no reason to make it, other than thinking the book has a lot of fans and will make you buckets of money. I'd much rather see stories and characters from a new angle than watch the same thing over and over and over.
The truth is, I'm fine with making changes to a story when it's adapted, as long as those changes serve the story being told in the adaptation and aren't just made because they felt like changing things. You want to take Dr. Temperance Brennan from Kathy Reichs' books, put her in the DC area instead of North Carolina and Canada, make her socially inept, give her a completely different back story from the books, make her single instead of divorced with a daughter, and give her an FBI agent for a crime-solving partner? Does that serve the story you're telling? Go for it! In fact, I love the TV show Bones, but I have quit reading the Kathy Reichs books it's based on because they annoy me. That's probably the biggest example of me liking an adaptation better than the original, though there are others.
I'll tell you something that might shock you: I prefer to see the movie first, then read the book. If I read the book first, then sometimes I do get a little miffed over things that are left out. Maybe not miffed -- more like I spend time thinking, "That's not how I would have done this." But if I see the movie first, and like it, then I can go read the book too, and it's like getting an expanded version of a story I already like! Like watching a three-hour director's cut of a favorite movie. More to love!
Now, with all that being said... I can get especially excited when an actor precisely fits my concept of a character. But I can get equally excited by seeing a new and original take on a beloved story. As long as the story works, I'm happy.