Battleship falls (I couldn’t say ‘sinks’) and the half-billion dollar toy movie’s future is on the rocks. The Hunger Games and Twilight are the biggest franchises of the day, with the dedicated, built-in audiences that allow risky projects to process through the strict, Puritannical Hollywood system — books are, and always have been, the new hotness. I would prefer that over board game movies, but it’s still not the best case scenario. In the best case scenario, The Hunger Games and Twilight would still be among the biggest franchises of the day, but I could willfully ignore them, and go gladly to Foward the Planet Space, another huge franchise movie and part of the Planet Space planned trilogy.

What is Planet Space? It was a movie that came out of nowhere two years ago, a spec script pitched by a passionate writer and to a studio that actually likes movies, probably Lionsgate (though they still pedal commercial on the side). It blew up and now we have a trilogy. The second one looks even better than the first — except that it doesn’t exist. I’m not saying that there aren’t these types of movies (obviously with better titles) like District 9 and Moon, and to some extent, Avatar. What I’m saying is that there’s been a swelling in popularity in the adaptation, particularly that of YA fiction (more on that later) which has caused a bloating in the market that’s recently spilled over into television.

Not only is the book market now flooded with stories about teenage love (wait a minute — gross?) blooming amidst dystopic, oppressed society, but TV is now being infected by what is most popular and money-making. In the most recently released episode of the podcast On the Page: Screenwriting, an alarming statistic was brought to light, that 60% of the television pilots picked up this year are based on books. I have to imagine that at least 90% of that other 40% were sitcoms.

When I saw the pilot for Awake I knew I had to write ‘dedicated’ reviews for every episode to show some type of support, because these things are so rare. Terra Nova got cancelled and Falling Skies is looking no better despite heading into a second season, and I can’t help but feel guilty for not watching them. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t feel guilt. Terra Nova, despite combining the two things that equal my favorite movie ever, Spielberg and dinosaurs, didn’t really interest me. I didn’t want to watch it, but didn’t want to see it go. Just like Stargate Universe, which was kind of a slog to get through. It’s a shame that there’s slim pickin’s for original storytelling, and a worse shame that they get cancelled faster than you can say the — admittedly long — title, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

There shouldn’t really be anything wrong with adaptations. Some of the best scifi movies are adaptations of books and short stories, like Blade Runner, 2001, Jurassic Park, The Thing, The Fly, A Scanner Darkly — the list runs long. But the adaptation in my opinion, is a flawed practice in storytelling. The key is that so many writers plainly do not understand how to do it properly. It changes with every title. A Scanner Darkly was faithful, Blade Runner was not. They’re both good. This is confusing.

When you think about it, the adaptation is perfect as an idea. The author of novels is more qualified than the average screenwriter, because the average screenwriter has sold or published zero screenplays. The author of novels is vindicated as a commercial artist with book sales, and in the case of Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling, with election to god-status. We know that Harry Potter is a good story because we’ve read it as a book, making it much easier for the executives to get behind. On the other hand, nobody has ever seen this unproduced screenplay over here, so it’s up to the in-house script reader to sign off on it and pass it along to other gates for further inspection — and note that nobody working in this industry has ever been fired for saying “No.”

For movies, book publishing is like a filtration system, insurance that only the best gets through to the silver screen. Even when John Carter can’t quite jump to the moon, The Hunger Games will tear wallets while Fifty Shades of Grey peeks over a nauseating horizon.

But if most screenwriters don’t know how to adapt properly, we end up with stories that weren’t designed for the silver screen, and haven’t been reformatted. The Avengers opened to wide financial success and huge critical acclaim because the last half hour is one huge action scene — it may technically be an adaptation, but Joss Whedon’s no fool, and this isn’t his big screen debut (or adaptation). He knows how to maximize the method, and he knows how to be cinematic.

I’ve seen precisely one clip from The Twilight Saga, and it was the quintessential moment — Edward and Bella are standing in the woods, talking. I know there’s some action, and I know we like to actually see the guys with their shirts off, rather than simply imagine it, but this isn’t cinematic. I’ve forgotten what cinematic meant, which is why The Avengers was qualified nirvana (it was a great over-the-top action spectacle, but it’s still kinda dumb and about superheroes, so I’ll gladly take The Matrix or John Woo) because Hollywood has sat stagnant.

Let’s look then at a non-Hollywood movie (I think), Never Let Me Go, based on a book by a Japanese fellow. I reviewed this movie and I really liked it, but it wasn’t a movie. It was a good story projected onto a screen. Some would argue similarly against the Watchmen movie.

As an on and off fan of video-games I tend to follow that industry and note how it struggles for legitimacy, in the face of reviewers in the pockets of those they discuss, and journalistic output aligning with companies’ marketing agendas, and I never felt like movies need to feel that struggle, because after a hundred years, they’ve made it. But nowadays, we’ve been hollowed out. In retrospect, the 2000s weren’t as artistically bankrupt as I’d always complained about at the time — we picked up classics like Eternal Sunshine, Gladiator, Memento, No Country, Children of Men, etc. — but these movies have all felt like revelations.

Ultimately the problem with adaptations is that they’re gateways to laziness. We fall into trends because these trailblazers are such hot commodities, and then the market becomes oversaturated with Twilight lookalikes and wannabes. Meanwhile original storytelling, screenwriter’s storytelling, gets the shaft because there’s no money in that. There’s no money in the industry unless it’s tethered to properties from other industries. That’s… nonsense. Movies are just the bastard children of books and toys — just one step away from what I must assume is an unholy mess in the mold of Battleship: The Video Game, a video-game based on a movie based on a board game. Next we’ll be adapting the Twilight Monopoly game…

Also troubling is the young adult fiction trend. Now this is something of a personal bias, because I never read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. I never had interest in reading YA because when I was that age, I didn’t have an interest in reading. So I basically went from Magic Treehouse to Philip K. Dick, bypassing what I quickly grew to see as ‘fantasy bullshit for children.” The Hunger Games does seem interesting, as it depicts a genuinely strong female character in a scifi setting, but from what people tell me, these books aren’t exactly mind-benders. They are indeed aimed at young girls in the 12-14 age range, and so themes of female empowerment will be touched upon, but we can’t fool ourselves. The Hunger Games isn’t a pathway into more mature fiction, it’s a pathway to more The Hunger Games. It’s a brand, and it’s the brand that sells, not the themes, and not the message.

Our priorities need to shift, ultimately. There is that constant struggle in the moviemaking business between artistic integrity and commercial viability. Right now I feel filmmakers, whether they be screenwriters or executives, are lost in a deep maze. They look at a good spec script and say, “Talent. Have her do the Sandler rewrite.” Meanwhile they shop the safe, intellectually sedentary aisles of the bookstore and look at the latest release and say, “Story. This will be the next big cash cow.”

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