11 Geek Comandments for adapting a work

Michael Bay, stop making an idol in the shape of Shia Lebouf!

This days, just about everything is an adaptation of a comic, movie, book or candy, if not a sequel to an existing property, or a remake of an old movie. It all ties in into filmmakers trying to get your butt on a seat, and they think this is less of a risk than starting a whole new, original thing.

And it's fine. Yeah, you heard me. It is fine-ah! Back in my days trying to make a movie based on a comic or a game, tended to be seen as a risk.  Nobody would have expected people to "GET" Avengers, as if this highly loved decades old material was something far beyond the comprehension of your average person.

Invariably, they made a lot of mistakes, which made what attempts they did do at the time laughable now. But there are some lessons in those that a lot of Hollywood suits still need. Which is why I'm making this handy guide. After all, the point of making these adaptations is to bring you into the movie initially, but to keep you there and bring in more people you need to know what they walked in expecting.

So I'm coming down from the mountain, with the stone tablets in my hand. These are the commandments for adapting any works I like.

1) Thou shalt not turn your villain to a guy in a suit
Fear me, Wonder Woman! I AM EGG FU!
I've mentioned this several times, but I'm going to expand it into a commandment, now, because Hwood obviously needs to hear it. So you got the rights to, pfft I don't know, Mortal Kombat. And its still a viable franchise after decades of being introduced. And you have to work in Shang Tsung, immortal demon sorcerer from another dimension, because he's one of the more popular characters. But then your like, "Oh, shit,  that's too creative to work with and I want to make this movie super low budget, so in this case Shang Tsung will be a buisnessman working for Outworld Corp. Instead of a sorcerer, he's a CEO!"
Hey, HEY. This is Shang Tsung as a manager. TOTALLY different.

You're tripping already. We WANT our Mortal Kombat to have sorcerers and monsters and stuff like that. That's why we like it. ANY movie can have a CEO for a villain(in fact, "CEO for a villain" is already the the Native American term for "least creative thing I can think of"), but not every movie can have a soul stealing sorcerer for a villain, you know?

It's especially grating when you know the character has a characteristic look or a characteristic shape, or a characteristic costume. You want to see that onscreen, or at least an attempt at it. Even on a tight budget, you can at least hint it's there. But no, the demon takes the shape of a dorky emo, the megalomaniacal villain never has his trademark cape, and the green alien quickly warps to his convenient human disguise.

2) If your heroes are creatures, your heroes are creatures

The Pyramid gets more friggin' screentime than Oprimus.

Adaptations of old cartoons are pretty rampant now, with things like Garfield, Ninja Turtles, Transformer and Smurfs being brought to the green screen with the Magic of CGI. I mean, silver. Silver screen.

However, the same unoriginal dicksplashes who bring this things onscreen immediately go "Hmm...people cant relate to this fantastical creature's plight. They need a human in there that they can relate to, otherwise they cant connect emotionally to the action onscreen". Its like giving birth to a child, and immediately telling it you cant trust it to be able to function and giving it crutches.

And so come the human characters to take over the story. Smurfs is about Neil Patrick Harris. Transformers didnt even start giving the Transformers any arcs until movie 4. Garfield is about  John. The Ninja Turtles are more interested in April than them.

Why do you assume that people can't relate to the source material's namesakes? If we couldn't relate to them, they wouldnt have ever gotten off the ground in the first place! Optimus Prime and Bumble Bee might  be the ancient alien sentient robots that transform into cars but in the end of the day they're a young impetuous kid thrown into a battlefield and a military leader trying to do the right thing. Oops, I mean, litterally a pop culture spewing machine and a murderous megalomaniac. Carry on.

3) Thou shalt not always need an origin story


You know what's my favorite Super Hero movie? The Incredibles. I mean, sure, I like Spider-Man 2 and Batman Returns quite a bit, but the Incredibles really does hit it out of the ballpark. In fact, very few have any seriously negative things to say about it, except maybe that the powers are pretty much straight gypped from the Fantastic 4. But uh, they wern't using them for anything good anyway.

Now, rewatching this movie, you'll notice something: even though this IS their first appearance onscreen, none of the character's get an origin story. If they revealed next movie that Ms Incredible is an alien, it wouldnt contradict anything, because they didnt ever say one way or another. Hell, even the beginning of the movie, which starts in the past, is actually In media res. Mr Incredible and Elastigirl already know each other, Buddy already has met Mr Incredible. Mr Incredible gets name checked by Bomb Boyage.

The movie simply slyfully lets you know that superheroes Supers are a thing in this world, in order to set up a world where they are gone. Its that simple.

Now, conversely, Its gonna take the DCinematic Universe 3 movies to establish that Superman isnt the only hero who exists in the world. Batman v Superman alone will try to work in Cyborg(who is a cyborg) Wonder Woman(who is a mystical amazon from a magic island) Batman(YOU KNOW WHO BATMAN IS ALREADY AND THEY'RE STILL GONNA FUCKING EXPLAIN IT AGAIN AND AGAIN ANDA AGAAAAIN AAARG) and Aquaman (Same as Wonder Woman, but underwater.) with maybe Justice League explaining about Hawkman and Green Lantern and Flash. And each of those is getting an  individual origin story before 2020, unless they arent.

Because this is a serious movie universe for adults, and adults can't handle the idea of cyborgs and magic amazons coexisting in the same universe as bat themed vigilantes and aliens, even though the very adults who would watch such a movie are ALREADY FANS OF THE SOURCE MATERIAL AND DONT NEED TO BE REMINDED THAT SUPERMAN IS AN ALIEN WHO CAME FROM A DOOMED PLANET.

Now, I'm not calling on a moratorium on all origin stories. Like, if you're making Shazam and not making it all about Black Adam, the dude WB actually owns, then yeah, I'd like to see that origin. But we're getting origin stories for things like Taken, now. TAKEN. A SERIES. Someone really feels like "I'm a bad CIA motherfucker" needs some kind of at length explanation. It doesn't. NOBODY has asked to know the full account of how this guy learned to kill those who kidnap his family.

What are they gonna do, anyway, have a kidnapper of the week format?

4) Gritty shalt not be automatically better
"Dark and Gritty" is something we see often with this adaptations, and more often than not the "creatively bankrupt" part is mostly implied.

I mean, don't get me wrong, some people can pull of dark and gritty right. The Fly and Thing remakes of the 80s and 90s are living proof. But the movies aren't better because they are dark and gritty, they are better because they are good movies that happen to be dark and gritty, by directors who have a good handle on dark and gritty.

And obviously, the more far from gritty that a work is, the better the director using it has to be for the dark reinvention to work. Like, I get that Josh Trank did good on a dark story of teenagers getting super powers, but you have to be REALLY good to do a dark take on the Fantastic 4 and make it good.

And gritty doesn't have to be all "look how litterally dark and lifeless the screen is". Going back to The Incredibles, the scene where Mr Incredible believes his whole family was killed is pretty dark. It's a powerful scene, especially for a kid's movie, dealing with a myriad of emotions that are pretty horrible to contemplate. It doesn't matter that you KNOW they are alive, because the emotion is present. The SITUATION is Dark, but the villain is still an anime haired buck toothed funny voiced man and they're in a pleasantly pastel and white sterile room. By contrast, I didn't particularly care when Elektra fought Daredevil to avenge her father and got killed, even if it was in a dark rooftop in the night.

By all means, if you can make gritty work, go ahead and make it gritty. Otherwise...

5) Thou shalt Stick to the tone
Jesus, that's pretty racist, even for the character whose sidekick was Ebony White.
Now, granted, while some directors are good at reinventing works from a new light, I'm going to assume the studio that hires a man to direct Marmaduke does it because they're lazy fucks that bought out the rights to it.

It's ok, lazy fucks. You bought the rights, you get Paul Anderson, or Bradly Cooper or Anderson Cooper to direct. But MR Cooper, please stick to the tone of the original work, if there is any tone at all. Because, to reiterate, your movie is making a proposal. It's saying "you want to see a movie about a Dog who slobbers on people?"

You trick people to go see something they like, and you can't back out of it and go, "well, now that you're here, this movie is all about gentrification in Harlem, and the stupid white family is where the focus is going to be". It's a nice topic, but we came to see Marmaduke, buddy.
I've never seen Marmaduke. I don't need something like this in my life.

Conversely, if you're adapting a fighting game where Green Skinned Brazilian Tarzan's fight Stretched bodied Yogi...dont try to play the "realistic" card on us. You know what we wanted when you bought the rights, motherfucker. Dragon Ball is a martial arts fantasy drama. Goku doesn't have to go to school.

6)  Thou shalt Stop bringing cartoon characters to horrible CG life and dragging them to New York
I know this one is at least a little more specific than the others, but hear me out: If you want to make a movie about a cartoon dog that's a superhero, or a cartoon dog that's a martial artist, what you want is full CG, if not Traditional animation. You don't want to half CG it. I mean, I understand you're dealing with old ass cartoons whose actual from the times fans are pushing 50. You think "maybe they're too old to watch a cartoon."

Well, here's the thing, they're not gonna want to watch it more it you make a cartoon dog into a semi realistic dog and stick him in New York. Cartoons in cartoon world don't need to explain why an ant can become a super hero. IT'S CARTOON WORLD, they do whatever they want. A dog can be a janitor. A shark can be a detective. And they just can. You don't need an origin story(GRRR) for Wonder Dog.

7) Know thine effects
That's pretty dopey, Battleship.

You can't fix a problem you haven't acknowledged. By the same token, if your effects are horrible, you should notice and fix it.  Back in pre-CG days wires where often used, then erased in postproduction. Sometimes they where left in, but I don't think they ever went "well, they know it's fake, let's NOT let hide the wires."

Now, let's say you have some CG, and it doesn't look all that believable.  You painted over somewhat cool practical effects and makeup to create some what dopey humanish characters. I guess you couldn't find tall white people in Toronto or wherever the hell they filmed.

Well, then, that's okay. Just don't put them  straight on our our fa-

Growl, or yawn? YOU DECIDE.
Well, that just looks stupid. I mean, the DESIGN is okay, but let's get real here. When people talk about the uncanny valley, usually they mean that something looks slightly off. This is just Jaws Doing Stuff Jaws aren't Ever Supposed to Do. We know what jaws can do. This isn't it!

Once you got that shot of "THE RAWR" it was your jobs to say "NO. IT looks FAKE! Take it back and do it right!"

I mean, if you have a fake looking practical effect, what you most can do is not show the bad shot, or maybe costly-fully re-shooting it again. But with CG you have the opportunity to take a shot like this, and make it not as terrible. DO IIIT.

Look at X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Look at this fake ass claws. What, did Bryan Singer  took the secrets to well done claw effects with him? I mean, not to be mean, but when you are making a movie about a guy who has knives coming out of his hands, having those knives look good should be a priority. I mean, for the love of GOD, you should have gotten it right the first time, but this is the scene where Wolverine is discovering the extent of what his new metal claws can do. NUUUUH it's a pretty stupid scene, in the sense that it's a goofy scene in a story about a body horrored immortal's girlfriend dying twice. But the unconvincing claws are still the dumbest part of it.

8) Actually do put Asians in your Asian fantasy movies
I wasn't gonna see it because it's a movie with Jackie Chan and  Jet Lee fight, but now that there's a white guy here I know the movie is safe.
Look, Hollywood is always trying to find shortcuts into money. I get it. If they thought you where a smidge more likely to watch a movie if characters wore hat, trust me they'd raid the hat store.

In that sense, when Hollywood "racebends", or "Whitewashes" a cast I don't feel offended. I mean, they THINK White guy sells, and they put white guy. It's not because of actual prejudice, it's a money thing. It's still wrong, but I can see the logic sometimes, even if it's a logic I disagree with.

With that said, what the hell is the logic with assuming audiences who are fans of The Last Airbender and Dragonball and Akira and Ghost in the Shell won't want to watch an Asian lead in them? I mean, you see where I'm coming from? The fans(and if you thought these works didn't have fans, you wouldn't have bought the rights. I mean, who else is this casting for, people who don't know what an Airbender is?) who are supposed to spearhead everyone else into your movie are willing and prepared for characters called Aang and Tetsuo and Goku to be Asian!

I mean, you think you're making a an equation where The Franchise - The Lead's Ethnicity = Moar Money. But it didn't work for Dragonball and The Last Airbender and The Legend of Chun Li(Half Asian? But Chun Li is so chinese her stage is a village with a duck getting choked.) now did it? Sure, those movies mostly sucked AND bombed, and likely would have sucked and bombed with Asian leads in them as well, but that just proves that the White leads won't help keep a bad movie afloat. Even though these particular White leads where all...bad at the stuff.

You know what would help, though? Fans not being fucking universally mad at your movie before it comes out.

And it pisses me off that actual people are going "hurm people aren't going to want to see a Kung Fu movie with an Asian lead", because that's the stupidest possible assumption you can make. What the fuck are you doing? It's the only thing Kung Fu movies have ever had. Mortal Kombat did this right. They KNEW the hero was Asian, and they knew the genre they where going for. They could have "played it safe" by making Liu Kang into Louie Kang, or making Johnny Cage the star, but they actually played it safer by MAKING THE LIU KANG EVERYBODY WANTED TO SEE!

It isn't even about race, man. It's about trying to play it so safe you might as well send your movie in a little fort. At some point you have to trust your genre, movie and audience. And if it that means that Jubei Yageru is a Samurai in Japan, well, that's what you do. 

9)Commit to your ideas.
Hey, I don't think we've gotten a full Asian Shredder yet.

Nowadays, when a movie is planning to do either of these things, fans have a way to find out. Movies have no secrets from us, now. People where shocked to learn that Darth Vader was Luke's Father all along, but nowadays, we're cracking jokes about  Superman's son dropping a piano on a bad guy before we've even seen it.

So sometimes we find out things like John Connor being killed and his skin beind draped over Sam Worthington, or The Shredder being replaced by Col. Shrader (breaking rules 1 AND 8 and 11)  and Turtles being aliens mid film and DR Doom being a blogger we react.

And those things are pretty awful, at least from a fan perspective. But the worst thing you can do is panic and scramble to film additional scenes to undo your bad ideas out. As shit as those ideas where, they are part of the movie you started making, and it's always going to feel weird to take them out.

You get loose ends like, Like Erich Sachs(Yo, dudes, it's like Oroku Saki but in Wall Streetian) being set up to become a Shredder he never becomes, and Rooney Mara's obvious wig being used to determine where the new scenes were filmed.

I also feel that us fans, are sometimes fickle and uncreative when it comes to things that we love,and are unwilling to accept creative risks and new ideas. We're the ones who said that Heath Ledger didn't look like Joker Material. And I'm glad Christopher Nolan didn't listen to us and CGied him a more traditional Joker face and performance. I'm glad they didn't get Michael Keaton out as Batman and put in some beefy square jaw.

As much as I think studios should listen to fans, I also think that calculated risks are often a necessary element of good entertainment, especially if the controversial element is part of a vision for the franchise. If you take it out to please fans half way into filming, you'll end up with something that fans might be more willing to give an initial chance to, but something that will probably not be considered indispensable or a classic for anyone. Or to put it in terms you understand THEY NO BUY THE BLU RAY UG!

10) Make it a good movie before anything.

What do I mean by that? Well, with the onslaught of franchises going on, there is a lot of focus on the wrong kind of world building. The kind where your trying to set up a multiverse of movies that you can keep pumping out year after year. You know, because Marvel did it, and it made them a lot of money.

But watch Iron Man again. Just watch it. You see, the movie tie in element in that is minimal. It's no different from Bison coming back to life in Street Fighter or Shia Lebouf becoming an Angel in Constantine, or G2 coming back to life on Godzilla. It's lobbying a little pitch at the audience going "would you like to see THIS?"

In the case of those movies, the audience said "Meh". And so they didn't do more. In the case of Avengers, they said yes, YESSS OHHH YWWWWEASDHDOHODHSODH so they...didn't immediately do anything with it.

But Iron Man as a movie works without the clippy just as well. As does Incredible Hulk(that one tends to be completely ignored, though) and Captain America and Thor. They are not movies about setting up the Avengers, but they still set up the Avengers. They work on their own. They're good movies.

This is why, when you say you want to make a cinematic universe with the cast of Robin Hood or the Universal monster, you're missing the point. The movies didn't sell because they where part of a conjoined continuity. They sold because they weren't the worst thing to happen to those who watch them and they where about some fairly popular characters.

You see, if Iron Man had been a piece of shit like Dracula Untold, nobody would have wanted to see The Incredible Frankenstein, let alone Universal Monsters: The Movie. The Fast and the Furious had to EARN it's right to bring together all it's characters after 5 movies. 5! It took them like 10 years, and they where just bringing together Tego Calderon and Ludacris! You can't just announce that your Robin Hood will be "Like Fast and the Furious" unless you're already in negotiations with Vin Diesel and Chevrolet.

Announcing a "joint universe" before any movie is ever seen it the literal definition of putting the cart before the horse. Get a movie right first.

11) Give us something new
Joker's back. Back again...

Wait, don't run away, execs! I'm not about to ask that you don't adapt stuff! Take it easy!

I'm not against more Batman and more Ninja Turtles, per se. But consider this.

I have seen every Batman movie since 1985, and I'm not unwilling to see more. I have also seen a lot of Batman cartoons and a  know quite a bit about Batman from the comics, even though those aren't my forte. But I'm noticing something.

The earlier Quadrilogy of films have the following line up of villains.

Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, Two Face, Mr Freeze, Bane, Poison Ivy

Then come the Nolan movies

Scarecrow, R'as Al Ghoul, Joker, Two Face, Catwoman, Thalia Al Ghoul,  Bane.

Now, I understand that the Nolan movies are a re-reinvention, and that he might want to take some of the characters that where already done and do them all over in a different style. With that said, I have never seen Mad Hatter on a movie. I have never seen Clayface on a movie. I have never seen Killer Moth on a movie.

If you  must do more Batman, give us something from Batman's mythos that has yet to be shown in your medium. The Animated Series brought   and reinvented obscure villains, to the point the actual movies started adopting them. They wheren't exactly going full Beware the Batman, either. Oh, hey, there's a new Joker coming, and if he's not the villain of Batman's upcoming reboot I'll...well I'll assume Suicide Squad was a failure.

And don't missunderstand me, people reacted well to  Nolan's reinventions...mostly because of what he did with them rather than because we knew them. Nolan WON people's apprehension about yet another Joker and another Two Face, he didn't ride fan expectation for them.

But what about the Ninja Turtles? Well...

Shredder, Shredder, Tokka and Razhar, Some guy, Some Monster Guys, Shredder.

 Enough with the Shredder! Yes, he's the most marketable...thing from Ninja Turtles aside from the heroes. But we've seen Shredder on the big screen, The new movie is finally working in Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang,  along with Shredder. That's like 15 years too long to think that maybe the second most popular villains also should be in. In Batman terms, it took you two decades to introduce Catwoman in a movie.
This thing has had more comics, and animated series than some of the world's older stories, with a Wikia to prove it and you're barely putting your toes into the shallow part of the ocean of the franchise's Mythos. We should be seeing Mona Lisa and the Triceratons and  Chrys Mu by this point.

Don't get me started with Superman.Out of 6 movies

Luthor, Zod, Fake Luthor, Luthor,  Nuclear Man, Luthor, Zod. And coming soon, MORE LUTHOR.

Seeing something we haven't seen onscreen is half of the appeal of these things.  But by constantly rehashing the same elements from the franchise, you might run aground with old fans that already have seen that executed many many more times, sometimes better. It's good for you movie makers too, because you're not dealing with making a better Zod than the older Zod.

No, is that  so hard? Just stick to these commandments and you'll have the fanbase o your side, and your movies shall have yield spinoffs and sequels, and you shall not see another Fan4stic or Superman Returns.


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