The most heavily awarded films are adaptations. Hutcheon suggests that the pleasure of adaptation from the perspective of the consumer comes from a simple repetition of a beloved story with variation. To borrow Michael Alexander’s term, adaptations are palimpsestuous works, works that are haunted by their adapted texts. Hutcheon wishes to avoid resorting to fidelity criticism, which originates in the (often false) idea that the adapters wish to reproduce the adapted text. There are many reasons why adapters may wish to adapt, which can be as much to critique as to pay homage.
There are three dimensions to looking at adaptations: as a formal entity or a product, as a process of creation, or as a process of reception. Adaptation is simultaneously a process and a product. Hutcheon distinguishes between adaptations and sequels and fanfiction. Sequels and fanfiction are means of not wishing a story to end. This is a different goal than the recreation done by adapting a work. There is a legal term to define adaptations as “derivative works”, but this is complex and problematic. Adaptation commits a literary heresy that form (expression) and content (ideas) can be separated.
To any media scholar, form and content are inextricably tied together, thus, adaptations provide a major threat and challenge, because to take them seriously suggests that form and content can be somehow taken apart. This raises another difficult question: what is the content of an adaptation? What is it that is actually adapted? One might consider this to be the “spirit” or “tone” of a work. Adapting a work to be faithful to the spirit may justify changes to the letter or structure in the adaptation. In my perspective, the content of adaptations is (or should be) the world of the adapted text.
Hutcheon specifically addresses videogames and how they engage in activity beyond problem solving. She suggests that if a film has a 3 act structure, then gameplay is only the second act. Excluding the introduction and the resolution, gameplay is tied up with solving problems and working to resolve conflicts. Games adapt a heterocosm: “What gets adapted here is a heterocosm, literally an “other world” or cosmos, complete, of course, with the stuff of a story–settings, characters, events, and situations. ” (p. 14) A game adaptation shares a truth of coherence with the adapted text.
The format may require a point of view change (for example, in the Godfather game, where the player takes on the role of an underling working his way up). Other novels are not easily adapted because the novel focuses on the “res cogitans”, the thinking world, as opposed to the world of action. This is a point that I would disagree with Hutcheon’s assessment, I think that even the thinking world of a novel abides by rules and mechanics, that these mechanics may be simulated or expressed computationally, but they may not be suited to the conventions of action and spatial navigation popular in games right now.
Hutcheon notes that some works have a greater propensity for adaptation than others, or are more “adaptogenic” (Groensteen’s term). For instance, melodramas are more readily adapted into operas and musicals, and one could extend that argument to describe how effects films tend to get adapted into games. This may be due to the fact that there are genre conventions that might be common to both media. Adaptation may be seen as a product or a process, the product oriented perspective treats it as a translation (in various senses), or as a paraphrase. The product oriented perspective is dependent on a particular interpretation.
As a process, it is a combination of imitation (mimesis) and creativity. Unsuccessful adaptations often fail (commercially) due to a lack of creativity on behalf of the adapters. There is a process of both imitating and creating something entirely new, but in order to create a successful adaptation, one must make the text one’s own. There is an issue of intertextuality when the reader is familiar with the original text. But there can become a corpus of adaptations, where the subsequent works are adaptations of the earlier ones, rather than the adapted text itself. This as been the case of texts which have had prolific series of adaptations, such as Dracula films (Hutcheon’s example), as well as Jane Austen’s works. These works are “multilaminated”, they are referential to other texts, and these references form part of the text’s identity, as a node within a network of connected texts. A final dimension is the reader’s engagement, their immersion. Readers engage with adaptations with different mdoes of engagement. “Stories, however, do not consist only of the material means of their transmission (media) or the rules that structure them (genres).
Those means and those rules permit and then channel narrative expectations and communicate narrative meaning to someone in some context, and they are created by someone with that intent. ” (p. 26) Adaptations are frequently “indigenized” into new cultures. When texts supply images to imageless works, they permanantly change the reader’s experience of the text. For example, due to the films, we now know what a game of Quiddich looks like (and due to the games, we now can know tactics and strategies), or what Tolkien’s orcs look like.