In Defense of the Adaptation (and the Remake)

Carrie by Stephen King
Over the weekend, I saw the new “Carrie” film. When I first heard about it a year or so ago, my mind immediately began racing with all the ideas of how it might turn out, the pieces of the book it might incorporate compared to the original, and all the possibilities that would come with a remake. I made a note to reread the book before seeing it, as well as to watch the original again–neither of which was a challenge as they’ve both been in my collection for years.

In middle school, and part of high school, I would have reacted by throwing the magazine I’d read announcing the remake on the floor (likely an issue of People I’d have been reading before my mom brought it to work, since I spent far less time online then). I would have stomped around the house shouting, “WHY would they bother? The original was so good! What’s the point of doing something that’s already been done?” And I would have huffed and puffed and been annoyed, but I still would have seen it anyway, and I probably would have had the same reaction as I did this time, despite my change in perspective in the years since.

The “Carrie” remake was good; however, the “Carrie” remake did not live up to my hopes. When I left the theater with my friends, I almost immediately turned to them saying, “It made me feel like whoever wrote this version only saw the first movie, rather than also reading the book.” The original and the remake are almost too similar, and I do believe that a huge opportunity was missed to include some good details from the book. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad movie, and that’s where my defense comes in: It used to be that I would wholeheartedly deny the need for book to film adaptations. I would put my foot down and say that nothing could ever be as good as the book. Over time, though, my resolve has softened and I’ve changed my perspective a bit. Now, adaptations and remakes are just opportunities to me. They’re adventures. I allow myself to get excited not necessarily to see how true to the source the film is but how good it turns out overall. I try going into the theater to watch the movie as it is before comparing it to its source. In the case of “Carrie,” I made that a challenge for myself by watching the ’70s version and reading the book both the day before, so it was difficult at points to separate them all. But in general, I work to stay open minded for adaptations.

One example of straying from the source that always stands out to me is “Harry Potter + the Half-Blood Prince.” I think we all remember the scene at the Burrow in which we immediately thought (or shouted outright in the theater), “That doesn’t happen!” But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good scene. It’s quite a striking one in fact, and odds are while it made a lot of people, including myself, angry because it wasn’t in the book, it also made them sad because it was such a heartbreaking occurrence at the home of a family loved by so many. Sure, it deviated from the book, but I don’t think it made it a bad adaptation.

I think if you (the greater “you”) go into an adaptation or a remake with a firm belief that it’s going to be bad, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, not because it’ll surprise you by being good but because you’ll simply refuse to enjoy it. You’ll blind yourself to its positive points and miss out on a potentially good film in its own right solely because it isn’t a duplicate of the original. But if you think about it, you already have the book–why would you want the exact same thing in movie form? Variety is good, and if it doesn’t change the entire message or course of the story, then really, what’s the harm?

So admittedly, I think the “Carrie” remake missed a lot of opportunities to do some cool work with the book’s details. At the same time, the acting was overall positive (with a few snags, like Chris Hargensen’s speech during gym detention which felt forced and awkward to me), the effects were put to good use to do some cool and gross scenes, and I liked the modern details that were included, like filming peer abuse with a cell phone. As a movie, it does hold its own, and the more it sinks in now that it’s been a few days, the more it grows on me as its own piece. So I’ll be adding it to my collection when it’s released on DVD, even if it isn’t an exact visual portrayal of the book.

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of the Adaptation (and the Remake)

  1. I’m really glad that you’ve written this, mostly because I had the same feelings when I watched World War Z the other day. I watched it with the view that it was it’s own film, not the book, and was pleasantly surprised and satisfied, but I think if I watched it like I had with the Harry Potter films, I would have been gravely disappointed. Another thought I’ve been having recently is how can a film honestly 100% adapt to a book? Not only are there some things that may not be able to be filmed perfectly (such as thought processes) but how can you completely, accurately take a few hundred or thousand pages and adapt it into an hour and a half, two hour film? It’s nearly impossible and there are some things that can just be downright dull in film.

  2. I was talking to someone about The Hobbit and LOTR on a similar subject the other day. Sometimes Hollywood is Hollywood. I probably won’t watch Carrie because I don’t like scary movies, but I get what your saying. I’ve had the boo you didn’t follow the book reaction many times…but I guess sometimes you just gotta take it for what it is and enjoy the movie. 🙂

  3. My views on adaptations have changed greatly over the years. Once upon a time, I would be the first to dismiss a film adaptation, but after just thinking and growing, you come to realize what work in film doesn’t always work in a book and vice versa – I’ve seen plenty of good adaptations that maybe aren’t the most faithful, and while it’s a matter of personal preference, they’re not as “horrible” as I once thought. Really curious to see what they do with Carrie!

  4. Pingback: Anticipated Adaptations of 2014 | Sonya Cheney

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