Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

To Be, or Not To Be… Like the Original?

July 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment

I have a confession: I am guilty of  “fidelity discourse” (444). Prior to reading Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon’s article, I could not have given my crime a name, but now it’s clear.  I have dedicated years to reading novels for personal enjoyment and then waited, in zealous anticipation, for the movies to enter the theaters. Much to my dismay, these cinematic adaptations  have been largely disappointing. The list of problems is extensive (I am terribly picky…): key events are omitted; the film is too short, or too long; the actors/actresses chosen for the roles are all wrong; the feeling of the book hasn’t been properly captured; the soundtrack is peculiar, and onwards, my post-film rambling unfolds. In other words, I am guilty of giving “cultural and aesthetic precedence to the ‘source’ to which the adaptation is then judged either faithful or unfaithful – that is, good or bad (445)”.

In my defense however,  when a movie adaptation is first created (or at least, considered the first adaptation of significance for a particular generation, for example Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby), some viewers are largely interested in seeing the transference of novel to film. Bortolotti and Hutcheon reference the Harry Potter movies, in particular the movie for the first book. Viewers flocked to the cinemas in anticipation of seeing a “retelling” of the novel in a new medium (449). Of importance, is the concept that the viewers wanted to see how accurately the film captured the novel. Personally, I was quite impressed by the Harry Potter films, finding them remarkably representative of their novels. (Although, I am apparently not allowed to make this sort of comparison…)

Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I’m not sure why the success of an adaptation can’t be based upon (or shouldn’t be based upon) its relationship with the original text. Isn’t there some merit to having carefully reflected on the story’s origin? What then, is the point of creating an adaptation if the story’s integrity, or at least key ideas, are not upheld? How is it then an adaptation? (Why not identify it as a completely separate story, unrelated to the novel or play?)

While film adaptations will continue to evolve (and they should), I do feel that a film can be adequate in its representation of a text, while still maintaining a contemporary viewpoint. Otherwise, I feel like the point of identifying a film as an adaptation loses its relationship with the source… what kind of adaptation is that? So confusing!


By Ashlee Petrucci (Blog #2)


Works Cited

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.



Tags: adaptations · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  • knorra // Jul 8th 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I think you are asking some great questions Ashlee! You have a point that there is definite merit in staying the course in terms of adaptations from book to film. However, I think that when directors take steps away from the original details of a novel or previous film franchise that is when revitalization of narratives occurs. For example, when J.J. Abrams took the reigns for reimagining a new kind of Star Trek, we were delighted with the fresh faces of some of Hollywood’s hottest starlets. Although there was some immediate backlash from tried and tested Trekkies, at the same time Abrams was also establishing a new fan base, one that may have been too young to appreciate the older Star Trek films prominently featuring Patrick Stewart. I do not think I would be the first to say that I am one of those new fans. I had seen the original movies that were developed in the 80s and 90s, but it was my appreciation of the new direction that Abrams took that helped me really attach myself to the new Star Trek generation.

    You also posit the question around the integrity of narrative structure during adaptive processes. Essentially, most narratives are a derivative of some long ago source. That is how evolutionary biology functions, around the idea that the source comes from a common ancestor. Even though major portions of an adapted novel is missing from a screen presentation I believe does not necessarily mean it has lost its structural integrity. Some relate the Harry Potter story to the second coming of Christ, however some Christians may be disappointed with the gaps and context the original story is being utilized in. Ultimately though, the story is being used to enhance a different narrative; in this case, the story of a wizard boy.

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