Thursday Open Thread: Worst Adaptations?

I stumbled across this Slate article today. It’s a bit old, from 2004, but I think it’s still interesting. In it, Ursula K. Le Guin talks about the Sci-Fi channel’s pathetic (in her view) attempt to adapt her Earthsea novels into a TV miniseries. Le Guin’s main contention is that the Sci-Fi production made too many unnecessary changes to her novels, most egregiously by changing what should have been a cast of racially diverse characters into a cast consisting primary of white characters.

I have neither read any Earthsea books, nor have I watched the miniseries. Le Guin’s article, however, makes it pretty clear that the creators of the Sci-Fi miniseries violated the spirit of her work by whitewashing the “rainbow world” she envisioned. Le Guin’s Earthsea is a world of racial diversity, and this diversity was a deliberate decision made by the author. By whitewashing the characters, Sci-Fi made a big, yet wholly unnecessary change, and therefore damaged the credibility of the adaptation. This same sort of accusation was leveled against M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender a couple of years ago.

If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am ridiculously excited by HBO’s Game of Thrones. Earlier this week, I suggested that I was going to review the series as a standalone series, and not compare it to the books. But maybe I should? I don’t mean minor and relatively insignificant details like Theon failing to kick the head of the deserter (I have seen a lot of people complaining about this on boards and Twitter, and I have no idea why), or why the Targaryen’s don’t have purple eyes. But maybe I should be looking for bigger, more essential themes from the book, to see if they appear in the series as well, like the longing for an idealized past, or the idea that people who hold inflexible codes of honor are punished by opportunists willing to compromise ideals for their own gain. All the early reviews that I’ve read suggest that while the TV show has made certain changes to the source material in order to fit the unique challenges presented by the medium of TV, it has preserved the core themes of Martin’s work, or at least, not completely violated them in the way that Le Guin suggests SciFi did to Earthsea.

This post has rambled on a bit, and I apologize. Le Guin’s article really made me think about adaptations from other media (books, comics, movies, etc) to television. What are some of the worst TV adaptations that you’ve ever seen? Why, exactly, were they so bad? Did they somehow violate an essential something from the original work?

Let me know in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Thursday Open Thread: Worst Adaptations?

  1. Being a Stephen King fan, I remain fairly skeptical anytime I hear that one of his works is going to be made for TV or film. This is because I generally feel that while his works read very well, there’s a lot of dependency on inner monologues that just doesn’t translate well to the visual format. Now, certain King works do turn out quite well. Hello, Green Mile, I’m speaking of you. Others, well… not so much.

    Which leads us to what can only be described as one of the worst adaptations I’ve ever seen: the miniseries adaptation of The Stand. Now, my fiancée has never read the book and thus sees no problem with it. But for those of us who did and then followed it up by watching the miniseries… it’s a colossal flop. Yes, the special effects look awful, but the series is a product of the ’80s so we’ll try to excuse it. But the worst part? Absolutely awful casting. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s really just that bad. And it has nothing to do with the cast’s individual talents. It’s that the wrong people are cast for the wrong parts. Very few people actually fit. I know others who feel the same way about this.

    And for those of you who want to see what I’m talking about without having to wade through a 1000 page book, check out Marvel’s current excellent adaptation of the book. Then watch the miniseries and try to make it through the entire thing.

  2. You know, some people get really upset about the physical details that don’t get carried over in adaptations. You mentioned the purple eyes. Well, I have a friend that refuses to watch Vampire Diaries because Elena doesn’t have blonde hair. That doesn’t bother me as much, but then again, if I turn on Secret Circle next year and Faye doesn’t have dark hair and Diana blonde, I’ll be just as upset. But then again, those have symbolic purposes in the book.

    I feel like I’ve been a little better with allowing leniency in adaptations. I mean, I can almost guarantee that Secret Circle will not have a coven of 12. That’s just too many people to have in a TV series about high school. I can see characters being condensed to maybe 7. That’s much more manageable. Of course, I’m drawing a lot of conclusions based on a show I haven’t yet seen!

    I suppose if I had to choose (and CS reminded me of it), the Steven Weber The Shining TV movie/miniseries was awful. It just shouldn’t be done. Which is funny because I think it might’ve been a little more in line–at least the ending–with the book. But that was way back in probably ’95 or something, so maybe I’m remembering it wrong.

    Honestly, this is a hard question for me to answer because I feel like I haven’t read many of the books that have stemmed TV series. There are a lot more than you’d think. I mean, even Bones is based on a book. But I will say that I’m more lenient.

  3. All that being said, I’m sure if I read any book that any Lifetime Movie was based on, I’d have a lot more opinions.

  4. Pingback: Thursday Open Thread: Creative License and Book Adaptations « Raked

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