Boasts of Bethel: Getting to the Point
This Boast is framed around Game of Thrones and does not discuss content; so, there are no spoilers contained herein.
I like the Game of Thrones tv show more than A Song of Ice and Fire––the book series its based on––for a variety of reasons. First, each book has a page length that, at this point, can only be measured in scientific notation. At this point in my life, I have taken a firm stance and won’t read books over three-hundred pages (though exceptions can occur)––I’ve got too much else to do and my stupid brain isn’t able to remember that much story. Second (though related to the first), the ten episodes (at one hour each) that make up each season is the perfect amount for me to not only consume and still have time left in my day but to also remember everything that’s going on. I have my quibbles about the show, sure, but on the whole I enjoy it quite a bit.
But don’t tell me to read the books, especially because they’re “better.” Of that I have no doubt. It is a fact that tv shows are terrible books because, by definition, tv shows are not books. However, the reverse is also true.
Nerds’ slavish devotion to source material puts us into a strange quandary––we are super excited that our beloved stories and characters are getting adapted to other media––and, moreover, they’re super successful––but we also become obsessive hair-splitters who feel the need to declare that one version (usually the original) is superior to the other (usually the adaptation). I had to stop doing that because I wanted to actually enjoy these adaptations––especially when they’re good. My first major encounter with this “disappointment” was with Brian Singer’s first X-Men movie. Namely, how characters were shifted around in terms of relationships and ages for reasons that didn’t seem to make sense. The biggest offender in this regard was the character of Rogue who, in the comics, was the same age as most of the main cast and even had intimate relations with Magneto for awhile. For the movie, they basically made her a mixture of Jubilee (i.e., Wolverine’s teenage apprentice) and Kitty Pride (i.e., the new student at the school who is initially wary of being a mutant).
Though I enjoyed the movie because, in terms of general characterization, Singer got the X-Men right, I made sure to note that it differed from the comics drastically (I am proud to say that I never cared about the lack of comic-inspired costumes, however). What turned me around was when I thought back to the X-Men cartoon from the ‘90s––another adaptation I was incredibly excited about. The series was extraordinarily faithful to the comics despite some dodgy animation and I remember being so excited for each episode to start on Saturday mornings that I couldn’t sit still. However, the feeling that dominates my memories of the show is mostly boredom. I eventually stopped watching it about halfway into season 3. It remained incredibly faithful and was even doing some direct adaptations of stories from the comics, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I realized that the show was too close to the comics, that I had already consumed this content but through a different medium––so why would I want to see it on tv if I have the comics in a longbox?
Great artistic expressions are made by artists––that is, people who are adept at expressing themselves in a particular medium. A great comic book storyteller does not necessarily make a great film director or screenwriter (re: Frank Miller’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit)––a great director makes a movie great. If properties are being adapted into other media, I’d much rather see an artist of that medium approach the work so that the adaptation will mean something on its own and to not simply be “the movie version” or “the tv version.” Such requirements diminish the importance of the source material when being adapted. I point to things like the Hellboy movies––the second one, especially, feels right at home in Guillermo Del Toro’s oeuvre. I point to The Walking Dead––both the tv show and Telltale’s episodic video game series. I point to Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels. I point to Game of Thrones.
All of these adaptations are done right––they focus on making a good example of the medium which is neither a “dumbing down” of a property to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, nor a point-for-point recreations of the originals. They want to make a good movie, game, comic, or television show first rather than just make the source material dance like a marionette. What makes a good book does not make a movie good. A good adapter knows that and works with the ideas, themes, and characters of the source material to make them as viable to the new medium as they were to the original. To do that may require changes, however, but if those changes are made out of the same desire to tell a good story––the same motivation as the original creator––then it should yield good results. Differences don’t make things bad––that’s called bigotry. Differences are just different, and as a fan it’s important to ask why––not just in terms of the story, but in terms of the medium.
The truth is the correlation between adaptations and their source material is more akin to alternate universes than family relationships. They rarely feed off on one another, especially once they get going. The choices one makes neither adversely nor, necessarily, favorably affects the other. They are separate entities and should be viewed that way. I’m sure the A Song of Ice and Fire novels have much more complexity and intricacy in terms of plot and character; I understand that. Game of Thrones, for a tv show, is just as wonderfully complex and dynamic––compared to other tv shows. And though A Song of Ice and Fire fans have been clamoring eagerly for book 6 in the series for three years––a book which will hold much more information and story than the tv show could ever muster––I’m comforted by the fact that I know I only have to wait a year for season 5.