New Magic Or A Betrayal Of All You Hold Dear?

Posted on 10/08/2011 by


So I became aware recently that the people who wrote the screenplay for Stardust (Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn) also wrote the screenplays for Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.* Which I thought was interesting. Because they’re three movies that I enjoyed a lot for various reasons but whose resemblance to the original texts is not as straightforward as film adaptations usually are.

A lot of film adaptations are fairly direct translation of the text, but this means taking something that was designed to work in one medium, and trying to make it fit into a different one. Sometimes that works, but often it doesn’t. Goldman and Vaughn, however, took the core nature of the characters and the basics of the story and tried to create something appropriate to the medium they were working with.

Charles Xavier and Erik Lehsherr in X-Men: First Class

Now, I think if you’re going to adapt a comic like X-Men you really have to take a rather liberal approach to the story because the original texts themselves are so convoluted, contradictory and fundamentally involved that you couldn’t possibly adapt them faithfully in the space of a movie. But Stardust, on the other hand, is a fairly short graphic novel, so a more or less direct translation might have been possible there. But that’s not what they chose to do.

In both cases Goldman and Vaughn managed to produce something that contained the core of the original while building something new and interesting and potentially brilliant in its own right.

In the end, I think I even like the movie of Stardust better than the book because it was more innocent (with bonus pirates).** Plus I’m a bit of a sucker for a happy ending, and the Stardust movie ending is happier than the book version, if less realistic. (Which when you think about it is a bit funny, because it’s those particularly realistic-while-in-a-fantasy-universe bits of the book that aren’t in the movie that were the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. And I liked the book of Coraline much better than the movie because it was creepier. So my brain is just… a very contradictory place, apparently.)

But this highlights something for me: even when I enjoy a more or less direction translation I tend to consider it simply as an adjunct of the original text. A real adaptation such as that which Goldman and Vaughn have provided results is two texts that I love, instead of simply one that I (inevitably) compare unfavourably to the other.

All of which made me wonder what other people think: Do you prefer a straight up literal translation? Or something that brings new magic to an original work? Are you betrayed or intrigued by an adaption taking liberties with something you love? And does it help if you’re less familiar with the original?***


* Dexter Fletcher as a pirate! *bibbledy noise*. Okay, that’s not as exciting to most people, so you’ll have to ignore the fact that every time he walked on the screen I made a bibbledy noise, laughed and fell off my seat. I assure you however that this in no way affected my judgment regarding the rest of the movie, which I would like to take this opportunity to say is brilliant. The Princess Bride for the new generation. That is all. If you haven’t already: go and see it.

** I’m passing over Kick-Ass in discussion because I’m not familiar enough with the original texts to feel comfortable discussing them.

*** Incidentally, if you like adaptations and/or loved the deeply slashy nature of X-Men: First Class, check this out: Rolling in the Deep.


Posted in: Kandace, Research