When my folks visited on the weekend, we channel-surfed a bit and ended up watching portions of two movies that were adaptions of older, much-loved TV shows: the last 70% or so of Get Smart (2008) and the first half-hour of Star Trek Beyond (2016). It got us talking about the nature of movie adaptions in general, which I feel like are usually a bit disappointing.
The whole reason most of us (certainly me) fall in love with a TV show (and this applies to books as well) is the writing: usually they have intriguing plots and entertaining dialogue. When something is adapted into a movie, or at least a Hollywood movie, the writing becomes a very low priority compared to, like, flashy special effects. I really try to be understanding of that and just watch a movie as its own thing, without comparing it to the original source material, because otherwise yeah, it always comes up short. Whereas if you can accept that it’s just a movie, and therefore more of a hybrid between the thing you actually liked and Hollywood genericness, and probably suffering a bit from “form over substance”, then at least you can enjoy the aspects that are still good.
So, for example, we actually did enjoy Get Smart (2008). My Dad, who really liked the original show, did comment that he just felt that something about it was lacking, and after I mentioned my opinion that Hollywood movie writing is just usually inferior to TV show writing, he thought that that was it. Like, the movie was fine, it had its moments, and when they did make a reference to the TV show he loved it, but it just lacked the snappiness and high density of good gags that the original show had. To the extent that it was disappointing, it was because the TV show’s writers were just so good. For me – who probably hasn’t seen Get Smart since I was five years old – I thought it was pretty good for a Hollywood movie. I did really like the callback at the end to the closing sequence with all the closing doors 😛
Star Trek Beyond (2016), on the other hand, was just… filed away of everything that makes Star Trek anything more than just another generic sci-fi franchise. I don’t want to pretend I’m a Star Trek super-fan who’s seen every episode, but what I have seen has always struck me as a thoughtful show more about humanity itself (and alien species) than about action scenes or explosions. This movie was the inverse. My Mum, who’s definitely the big Star Trek fan in my family, was particularly bored by, and annoyed with, the film.
Another disappointment that we talked about, because Mum mentioned she’s been rereading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy recently, was the 2005 film. Now I thought the first half-hour or so of that movie was actually pretty good, so the impression I came away with was that that was as far as Douglas Adams got writing the script before his death, with the rest of it being a standard generic “written by Hollywood committee” deal. Apparently this isn’t really what happened (he had completed full drafts) but when I watched it at release, having only just read the book series the year before, it sure felt like it. The absurdism was watered down and the decision to change the ending so Arthur “got the girl” Trillian seemed particularly Hollywood-driven (how could you ever have a movie where the girl thinks the guy is nice enough but not her type? ludicrous!). But maybe I would be more tolerant of its failings now, having not reread the books for a decade or so at this point.
I’ll admit that I am, in general, someone who prefers TV shows to movies, and it shouldn’t surprise you to know that the better writing is the core reason why. Perhaps it’s the fact that movie adaptions make comparisons so easy that makes them such ready sources of disappointment 😆 I really do try to assess them separately and enjoy them more when I do. But it’s a shame that more of these movies can’t just be enjoyable without me playing mind games with myself.