Experience has taught me that I shouldn’t expect a whole lot from adaptations across media. In fact, I’ve managed to reach a sort of Zen acceptance of adaptations. I have delved the secret which makes the good cross-genre adaptations a pleasure and the bad ones irrelevant.
Also, let’s not forget that I came of age at the dawn of the cross-platformization of brands. Mine was the mid-1960s generation at the peak of Saturday morning animated spokesbeings, when Bugs Bunny not only starred in his own animated series but was also used to pitch the cereal sponsoring the show and was featured on the cereal packaging as well. My awareness of science fiction comes from old TV shows, most notably The Adventures of Superman, to which I was introduced first through the syndication of the 1940s Fleischer Studios cartoons and the comic book, and The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. So early on I was more or less aware that a character could exist simultaneously in a variety of iterations. My immersion into comic books solidified that awareness as I saw that not only didn’t every writer treat characters consistently from one title to another, but once they got into the hands of people outside the comic industry, all bets were off. Any resemblance to the character as portrayed in the comic book source material is purely coincidental! The 1960s Batman, for example.
That being said, and with the recognition that it’s necessary to make changes to a property or story for the transition from prose to moving pictures, there have been a few successful attempts. A favorite book that became a favorite movie is Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 Slaughterhouse-Five, filmed by George Roy Hill in 1972. Vonnegut’s story of a man unstuck in time was adopted by the anti-war movement as an absurdist analogy to the growing resistance by Americans to the war in Viet Nam, and Hill’s deliberately paced adaptation captures the peace of Billy Pilgrim’s befuddled acceptance of his existence. Its success comes not so much from how closely it adheres to the book–I don’t watch a film with a checklist to gauge its fidelity–but how close it adheres to the intent of the book. I mean, no filmmaker could possibly film every page of Moby Dick, but director John Huston and screenwriter Ray Bradbury sure did find a way to boil the essence of Melville’s 600+ page novel down into a faithful two-hour thriller.
A more recent example of a film faithfully capturing the intent of its source novel is John Carter. Yes. John Carter. The 21st century successor to Heaven’s Gate as biggest Hollywood mega-budget bust. I haven’t read A Princess of Mars in forty years so I’m sure some purist can tell me why I’m wrong, but Andrew Stanton’s 2012 John Carter seemed to strike all the proper chords I remembered from the books (don’t asked me why this great film tanked; I can only blame it on marketing). A lot of the current movies based on Marvel Comics properties have also found the right chord, tapping into the sense of wonder and epic excitement that made the comic books themselves work.
My two favorite science fiction novels, Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, have never made it to the big screen. Maybe if someone did attempt to do it, I would be as unforgiving as the old, original Star Trek fan is to the J.J. Abrams remakes, but I hope I fall back on the secret that allows me to shrug off objectionable adaptations
No matter how good, no matter how bad, the original source novel or TV show or movie is still right there, on your self, waiting to be read or watched again.