“You know why I like plants? Because they’re so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.”
— John Laroche (as played by Chris Cooper), Adaptation
In the movie Adaptation, Nicolas Cage’s screenwriter character has to figure out how to adapt a nonfiction book about flowers into a Hollywood movie. He has to somehow transform the story of a horticulturist’s passion for rare plants into something that a movie studio will want to spend millions of dollars on, in hopes that they can then make those millions back – and then some – because people will want to watch that story while eating popcorn in the dark.
The problem is, movies tell stories very differently than books do. People go to movies for different reasons than they read books. Not every horticulture aficionado will automatically want to go see a Nicolas Cage movie. This is the dilemma of the screenwriter in Adaptation. How do you take a story written for a particular audience in a particular medium and rewrite it so that it can work for a different audience in a different medium? More than that, it has to be successful. The studio has to make its money back. People will have to want to pay to see that movie about a horticulturist and his flowers.
When the process of adaptation is successful, the organism is transplanted from its original environment into a new one … and it thrives. The odds are against that. Compare the experience of slowly turning a printed page to that of sitting in a movie theater as the images flash by at 24 frames per second. These environments have completely different rules. They are, in fact, universes with different physical laws. Things can occur in one that cannot occur in the other.
Comic books might have an inborn advantage over other forms of literature in adapting to the cinematic environment. Comic books, like movies, are a visual medium. For decades, movie-making has incorporated cartooning through the storyboard process, in which static images form the basis of the moving images on the screen. Jack Kirby (1917-1994), the artist who designed most of Marvel Comics’ most prominent characters, specialized in composing images that communicated frenetic, contorted movements. A great many comic book artists, including Kirby, have also worked in animation, where they’ve learned to speak the visual language of film.
Comic books have existed as a commercial medium since the 1930s, but it took until the twenty-first century for Hollywood to fully capitalize on the storytelling synergy between the two media. I have a lot of thoughts about why that development took place when it did, derived from being a lifelong fan of comic books and film. These thoughts sit somewhere in between passionate opinion and thorough analysis, and I hope to get them out through this blog.
Aside from wanting to look back at the past of both these industries to see how they’ve interacted over time, I also have high expectations for the future of the super-hero genre on film. If the trend of the last decade continues, film has the potential to replace comic books as the preferred medium for super-hero storytelling. While the general decline of periodical literature might very well bring about the demise of the comic book, it certainly will not kill the super-hero genre. The static nature of comic books can be confining. Super-heroes might thrive better in a more dynamic environment.
Follow @AdaptedAdaptoid on Twitter.