How separate should we consider an adaptation from its source material?Before broaching this topic, I think fronting this discussion with a brief sidestep into issues of purity is in order. What matters most in regards to adaptations? The quality of the film as a film, rather than as an adaptation? Or the accuracy of the adaptation itself?
If what you care about most is whether the film itself is good, then separation of the source material is absolute, because it does not matter to you. But if you want accuracy in the adaptation, with reasonable exceptions, then the film and the original source are intimately connected, and any discussion otherwise is pointless.
Personally, I sit in the middle. I think that one cannot be wholly accurate to the source, even with reasonable exceptions to plot devices, etc., and that one must maintain only what is necessary to keep the movie accurate to the source material without sacrificing the quality of the film itself. The Harry Potter films, for example, are a mixed bag. One and two are relatively accurate in their adaptations and, in my opinion, superior to anything that followed. Three was rushed, four was decent, five also was pretty good, and six missed important pieces of the story, leaving the movie itself a collection of great and horrible, particularly because the ending ceased to make any sense.
But how do we treat the movies? Do we hold them in the same category as the original source material? Are the books and movies collective entities, or separate? Let's toss aside medium, here, because obviously we cannot possibly say that a book and a movie are remotely the same without getting into ridiculous arguments over reader/viewer reception (the theory, perhaps), and all that jazz. We can also throw away instances in which the viewer or reader has only experience one medium, instead of both, because such an argument would seem rather unfair under these circumstances.
While I do think that viewers who are familiar with the source material need to be open to change in film adaptations, I also recognize that there must necessarily be some separation. One cannot possibly see the movie and know what the book is about, in its entirety, without actually having read the book; the same is true, to a certain extent, when delving into the concerns of film adaptations, since we cannot possibly know what has been changed for continuity purposes without having actually seen the film.
With that in mind, I would argue that both mediums (whatever the two may be) should have some degree of separation in order to maintain an illusory line that dictates how they are received: as source and as adaptation. That separation is important because it also establishes a protective shield around the adaptation from unfair criticism (the purist literary crowd who finds any deviation from the source to be on par with blasphemy). Films are, for obvious and less obvious reasons, entirely different mediums from comics, books, etc. Not only are the ways we receive films different from everything else, but the methods for creating films are also drastically different from other artistic mediums--again, for obvious and less obvious reasons. We cannot possibly expect a movie to maintain the same "feel" as the book, because what is conveyed on screen can only cover a small portion of what may be present within the written medium--and, of course, there are limits to what film is capable of doing, even today. Hence why a separation is needed.
As with any adaptation, however, there are certain lines that you can't cross. Bad adaptations are justly criticized for failing to maintain necessary features such as plot and character. You can't have an adventure story and turn it into a romance if such a genre was never part of the original piece.
I think what I'm saying is that you should always treat the film as a separate entity so long as it does not drastically deviate from the source material. If the novel is about a talking hamster named Charles who rescues a princess and the film folks change it to be a film about a young boy name Herb who collects stamps, then the separation ceases to exist, and one must make necessary comparisons.
Hopefully all that made sense! What do you think about this topic? And if you're Dave B., perhaps you had something else in mind when you asked the question? Feel free to leave a comment everyone!
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