TOP 10: Adaptations I Like Better Than The Source Material

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Or – “Goin’ Rogue, Over Here…”

For the last few weeks, at the end of our Tuesday recording session for the Major Spoilers Podcast, Stephen has rather pointedly asked me, “You gonna do an editorial this week?”  I always answer him the same way I answer my day job boss when he asks if my team will lower their AHT, or when Deon at Gatekeeper Hobbies (Huntoon & Gage, Topeka!) asks if I’ve remembered my timesheet this week:  “Sure, that won’t be a problem…”  With the advent of Top 5, it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but this week’s Walking Dead finale led my wife to tell me that she liked the show better than the comic.  I don’t fully agree with that assessment (they’re completely different reading/viewing experiences, for one thing) but it did make me think about a few of the more successful adaptations I’ve ever experienced. In a few rare cases, the adaptation becomes more entertaining that the wellspring from which it emerged…

10: Condorman (Whitman Comics, 1982)

Stephen and I often talk about comic book to movie adaptations during the MSP, and often my opinion is that they’re kind of unnecessary.  Many times, taking a property out of it’s original state/medium leads to either a watered-down version of the original, or a completely different animal.  In this case, though, I vividly remember reading the comics version of Condorman off the stands when I was very young, and loving the character. It seems somehow right that a comic book character made for a movie translated this well back into the comics page…  I always imagined that his movie adventure had to be wicked awesome, given how much my young mind (this would have been the year that I discovered comics for the first time, soon after my Uncle Bob uttered his prophetic words) loved the story.  Now, I realize that the artist is doing a passable rip-off of Dan Spiegle, but the raw energy of these weird stories is still pretty cool to me.  Sadly, the film is pretty much standard Disney 70′s fare, but we can at least console ourselves with the possibility of the Disney-owned Condorman making his way into the Disney-owned Marvel Universe…

9: Pet Sematary (1989)

Stephen King is an author that I greatly admire, both for the prolificness (prolificity?) of his work and the conversational, jovial tone that he uses to describe the most horrifyingly unthinkable events.  I find myself more invested in his short-stories than his long-form novels, but I remember reading Pet Sematary late in my high-school career.  Today, most of what I remember about it involves a bathtub sex scene between the protagonist and his wife, especially after the vividly disturbing move version that came out during my Freshman year of college… The bulk of the movie’s terror is embodied by the late Fred Gwynne, who makes you forget there ever was a Herman Munster with his rough-hewn “Ya can’t get theya from heea” Mainer, Jud Crandall.  Jud sets the plot in motion, Jud cements the fear of the power in the Micmac burial ground, and Jud’s death spirals things completely out of control at the end.  It’s a powerful (albeit flawed and weirdly impressionistic) movie, one that has nearly erased the memory of the book that spawned it…

8: The Adventures Of Superman (Syndicated, 1952-1958)

Superman is a character that I have a weird love/hate relationship with.  I love the Fleischer cartoon shorts from the 30′s, but couldn’t watch Smallville for more than a couple of episodes without getting annoyed.  I loved the first Christopher Reeve film, but quickly found diminishing returns destroyed that franchise’s repeat enjoyment factor.  Usually, I found Supes more palatable in tandem with others in DC Comics Presents, as a Legionnaire, or as a member of the Superfriends.  The major exception to this comes in the form of the incredibly enjoyable Adventures of Superman television show, wherein square-jawed barrel-chested Superman is like the coolest father figure ever.  1950′s Superman, as embodied by George Reeves (look for him the next time you see ‘Gone With The Wind’ on cable) is everything that my childhood self thought that the greatest superhero of all time should be.  My adult self still can’t entirely disprove that theory…

7: Legion of Super-Heroes (WB Television, 2006-2008)

Speaking of Superman in a group setting, the Legion of Super-Heroes is wicked awesome, right?  I’m a big fan of the Legion and can probably tell you more about them than many comic book uber-geeks can, and perhaps more than I can tell you about American History.  That said, the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon adaptation is everything good about the LSH (huge cast, alieny alien guys, cool code-names and future science with a little bit of soap opera) taken up to eleven.  Unlike the current writer of the comic book, the producers of this series knew that the Legion’s uniqueness lies in the things that make it stand apart from your average super-team.  Matter-Eater Lad was a badass rock star, Bouncing Boy won the leader’s chair, and the most iconic Legionnaires all got a little bit of screen time.  I’ll even forgive them for Blok being relegated to a few brief cameos because of how well they played with Brainiac 5′s history and how it dovetails with Superman’s and the history of Krypton.  The only real gaping flaw came in the adaptation of Mon-El into a composite Superman clone called “Superman-X” or some such, and several of the Legionnaires have never had stronger characterization…

6: The Crow (1994)

As our recent TPB review will tell you, I have a very special place in my heart for James O’Barr’s very personal story of love, death and revenge.  I don’t know if the loss of Brandon Lee has colored my generation’s attachment to this film, or whether the filmmakers vision of pastel-colored love in the grainy black-and-white urban nightmare of not-Detroit truly IS the once-in-a-lifetime experience that many people my age recall…  It’s certainly a movie with cultural cache, and a completely different beastie than the comics, but in this case, streamlining the story into a straightforward narrative gives the ending a huge punch that I suspect would still be there, even if star Brandon Lee had not been killed in the production of the movie.  Whatever the reason, that ending always gets me, and I have been known to tear up a little when Eric Draven looks up to see Shelly, having earned his own personal heaven.

5: Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984)

As with The Crow, I have to start by saying that comic book Star Trek stories are a different animal entirely, but here I have to go even further.  When I say that I like the adaptation better, in this case I specifically mean the adaption versus mid-80′s movie-era Star Trek, post ‘Wrath of Khan.’  These stories take place immediately after Star Trek II, and begin telling the tales of a new five-year mission of the Enterprise, introducing a whole new supporting cast in the doing.  The creators (including veteran comics scribes Mike Barr, Tony Isabella & Peter David) were reportedly given strictures about what they could and couldn’t do with the iconic crew of the Enterprise, and created an entire new cast of supporting characters, as well as reviving Arex and M’Ress from the old animated series to get in the necessary drama while keeping the client happy.  It’s a pretty phenomenal chunk of storytelling, cut short when Paramount’s lawyers renegotiated the contracts and put a premature end to what was an indisputedly superior tale to the contemporary Star Trek III, IV and V movies. (Yes, I said better than even Star Trek IV… In that case, it is by a very slim margin.)I wouldn’t put it above the original series in execution, but there’s a ton of simply breathtaking Trekkery to be had, if you can find the original issues or the probably out-of-print trade paperback collections.

4: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (WB Television, 1997-2003)

This one is a little bit of a cheat, in that Buffy’s television series isn’t strictly an adaptation of the movie that preceded it.  The generally accepted story of Buffy’s adventures in media is that the movie version was an adaptation of Joss Whedon’s script treatment, which then became the television version that we know.  Even with the dreary Dork Age that is Season 6, BtVS the television series was a sprawling epic of high school and monsters, with a clear through-line that the two are pretty synonymous.  There’s some fun to be had with the movie (mostly thanks to Paul Reubens in a rare non-Pee-Wee-Herman fit of brilliance), but it never really creates the same sort of reality that the television series managed to synthesize so well.  They also gave us Spike, one of the most awesome characters of the last 20-odd years of television, who should have really gotten his own show.  (Maybe Spike and Giles as a new version of the Odd Couple living in a London flat with a roomate who doesn’t know their secret! Oooh, or a roommate who’s a ghost, and Giles could get bitten by a… Naaah, that’d never fly.)

3: American Psycho (2000)

I have always been lucky enough to absorb pop culture as if by osmosis.  For anyone who knew me in the late 80s and early 90s, I apologize, as this made me something of a colossal douche.  (Yes, I’m blaming Alf and Gordon Gekko for my youthful jackassery.  It beats the Twinkie Defense. Also, my jerkass behavior now is mostly inexcusable.)  Back in my Generation X heydey, though, there was a time when I was enamored of the writing of Bret Easton Ellis, one of the watchtowers of 1990′s literary vanguard, and eagerly consumed his loosely related novels ‘Less Than Zero,’ ‘The Rules of Attraction,’ and ‘American Psycho.’  Ellis was one of the earliest examples I can recall of the kind of metafiction that is now commonplace, and I would have sworn that there was no way to turn the sparsely written misogynistic murderous rantings of AP into a movie.  That’s what makes the movie (featuring a pre-Batman Christian Bale in the title role) so much fun, tweaking as it does the very nature of the main character’s insanity and using him as an unreliable narrator, making for a trippy journey into madness… Don’t rent it if your squeamish about misogyny or over-the-top violence, though.

2: M*A*S*H* (CBS Television, 1972-1983)

M*A*S*H* is the rare hat trick:  An adaptation of an adaptation, as Robert Altman’s movie version was taken from Richard Hooker’s book of the same name.  Even though they couldn’t get away with some of the off-color language and tone of the film, the producers were able to make a relatively smooth transition to weekly television, and eventually the series went from being a slapstick farce to a cutting commentary life in the 1970s.  The addition of characters like BJ Hunnicutt in later seasons helped to prolong the series past it’s roots, even outlasting the Korean War that it was set during (though it was clearly commentary on a later conflict) and even though Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye was a little bit more charismatic than Alan Alda’s, I still find the television series to be a fascinating viewing experience.  (For real passive-aggressive fun, you should watch the film with someone who DOESN’T know how very different it is, and just watch their reactions.  It’s worth the price of the DVD rental…)

1: The Tick Animated Series (Fox Kids, 1994-1996)

In recent years, my daughter and I have occasionally supplemented her bedtime stories with comic book reading.  Tales of the Beanworld went well, with Mr. Spook sounding like Futurama’s Nixon and Professor Garbanzo using Adam Sandler’s ‘They’re all gonna laugh at you!’ voice.  The Tick, on the other hand, was simply a matter of channeling Rob Paulsen and Micky Dolenz as Tick and Arthur.  The comic has some great moments in it (“Please move along.  We are a hedge.”) but nothing compares to the kinetic weirdness of Tick leaping from parapet to parapet in a spray of masonry and bricks, or the endless indignities heaped on the poor moon, or the lunatic brilliance that is The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight. (YEAH, BABY! MILKSHAKE! BOOM!)  Some of my favorite cartoon moments and characters are almost entirely absent in the comic, as well, including Sewer Urchin, whose defining episode in Season Three (fighting walking fecal lumps called “The Filth”) is one of the best character spotlights in cartoon history.  Tick’s infectious joy at damn near everything (“Die Fledermaus looks like a deflator!”) is really sold by the dialogue, and if you don’t love the Tick cartoon, there’s probably something wrong with you…

What successful multi-media translations/adaptations might I have missed?  Wayne’s World?  The DukesDracula and Frankenstein?  Spawn?