The art of adaption / The League Extraordinary Gentlemen

[This blog was going to be about how amazing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol 1) is, but I couldn’t get past the disparity in quality between the comic and the movie… and I got a little distracted]

“The book is always better” is something I hear a lot, and mostly from non-readers (proper bookworms usually don’t feel the need to express the thought – we know – it’s like the first two rules of Fight Club, but for reading circles).

The statement is like a concession non-readers make, I think; when they acknowledge that great as a movie/show/box-set might be, there is the potential for something far greater, and that greatness is hidden in the source material.

For the most part, the sentiment is one I agree with (obviously), but I can think of a few examples of movie adaptions that have bucked the trend – actually, I mentioned Fight Club, that’s a great example; it’s not that the novel is bad, it’s that the movie takes the story beyond the page and Helena Bonham Carter adds a layer, in her performance of Marla Singer, that elevates the whole of the film to another level.

JJ Connelly’s Layer Cake is another example that springs to mind and, of course, Blade Runner; you could watch the movie, having never heard of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and your experience would be none the poorer for it.

That could not objectively be said in reverse, which is particularly unusual – perhaps it’s as much a mark of Phillip K. Dicks writing, which has inspired so many movies, all of which (at least those I’ve seen) seem to veer heavily from the page (I’m not an expert, but as I type I wonder if the Hollywoodification of P.K.D. other work has been influenced by the success of Blade Runner – I’m sure the timeline in production dates would be revealing).

It does make you (well, me – but I likely need some more hobbies) wonder what the process is, when the movie producers (or whoever) spend what you have to hope (as an inspiring novelist) is an obscene amount of money purchasing the rights to a story, and their overall thinking on the adaption process.

For myself, I always think of The Lord of the Rings books/movies when I wonder about the subject of adaptations.

The films do my head in (disclaimer: I do know many, many bookworms who love them) not because they don’t bring all the plot points and characters to the screen – because I’m a realist and accept that you can’t fully bring a thousand-page novel to life, with even three full movies of run time.  

The crime I find with LOTR is that while they ditched so many things (there are two types of Middle-Earth fans in this world; those who know of Tom Bombadil and those who do not), the writers decided to add in elements of their own creation; even when those creations go against the explicit intention of the plot (I’m not going to get into here, but if you happen to see me and are having any trouble sleeping, just ask my opinion of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers).

Trying for objectivity, I can get my head around why the changes in the LOTR adaption were made and the differing requirements for successfully telling a story on the screen  – Bond, Potter, Thrones, Ryan’s and many more, differ from their source martial for much those reasons.  

There are other kinds of change though,  those that make absolutely no sense and leave a person questioning whether the screenwriters actually bothered reading the source material at all…  as surely they must???


Finally, I made the time to read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol 1), and it’s a superb piece of writing, with some beautiful artwork that’s perfectly in touch with the tone of the story (some of the images remind of Goya’s Black Paintings).

I spent a good hour going over the pages again last night, just marvelling over Alan Moore’s skill (although it strikes me that he might prefer it if I used a different word to marvelling), but as I lay down to bed, one thought topped all others: …What the hell were they thinking when they made that movie???

I’m serious; the differences in tone, structure, plot-points, and general quality are absolutely astounding. I try to write these reviews without spoilers, but The League… is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen or even heard of (worse even than all those terrible Uwe Boll movies of that era).

I don’t pretend to know the first thing about making movies, but after going out of your way to secure the rights for something, would it not make at least some sense to base your story on the source material?

Perhaps I’m doing the filmmakers a disservice; maybe they based their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie on one of the subsequent volumes of stories which – in a marked departure from Alan Moore’s usual writing – are unspeakably terrible.

But why would you do that, when there is a near-masterpiece to draw on? –  Like, were they bored in the writers room and suddenly decided to see how far they could take the piss (everyone has days like that at work – we just don’t all write movies for a living), or maybe the movie was written by a committee, and everyone’s ideas were used, which caused the whole thing to trip over itself.

Honestly, the mystery of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adaption is one I’ll never hope to solve.  The book is always better… never – NEVER – has that been more true than in the case of The League Extraordinary Gentlemen.

If (like me) you’re only a casual reader of comics/graphic novels, this is a story definitely worth investing your time in.

And if (again, like me) you’re fundamentally opposed to torture and human rights abuses, I can only recommend that you avoid the movie adaptation for the rest of your days.  


[I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on great adaptations, or great books that have failed to make it the screen (Dune?). Really, I take nearly as much pleasure in discussing books as I do reading them I’m on Twitter: @LCross137 or you can email me: leopoldbroom@gmail.com]

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