Created By: Pichu-kun on May 12, 2018 Last Edited By: LondonKdS on June 15, 2018

Hard-to-Adapt Work

A work that is difficult to adapt into other mediums.

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trope
Some popular works never get adaptations, or if they do they have long and difficult production processes. It's not for lack of trying, however. Some works are just hard to adapt into certain mediums.

One common reason for this is an Audience-Alienating Premise. What might be popular for one medium is not for another. For example, xenofictional literature works are rarely ever adapted. Most are too dark for kids, but older audiences aren't interested in serious films or shows about talking animals.

This often coincides with differing writing and content standards between mediums. Books are allowed more wiggle room than film or television, which is why Childrens and Young Adult books contain more mature topics than what appears in many cartoons for that same demographic. Prose works that rely heavily on internal monologues are hard to adapt to film or television mainly because depicting one often stops a movie dead in its tracks. Stories with a Tomato Surprise plot may be difficult to adapt to a dramatic medium as it is harder to hide the twist element (especially if The All-Concealing "I" is involved) without tactics that are so obviously artificial that they tip off the viewer in themselves. Video games also have a completely different way of writing than film (assuming they have plots), which is a component in why Video-Game Movies Suck.

This can lead to No Adaptations Allowed if a work is deemed too difficult to work with. This is also a major reason adaptations fall into Development Hell.

Compare to Polygon Ceiling, i.e "hard-to-be-3D game".

Examples:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

Film — Luve Action

Literature
  • An animated Tailchaser's Song adaptation is in the works, however nothing has been heard of it for a few years. The book is rich in lore, has Loads and Loads of Characters, and has quite a bit of violence, but it stars perfectly normal, non-Funny Animal cats. As a result, it's hard to adapt without severely watering it down into a Lighter and Softer adaptation. Kids aren't interested in it because it's more The Lord of the Rings than Garfield, but adults don't want to see a film about talking cats.
  • Adaptation. is an adaptation of the Susan Orlean book, The Orchid Thief about how it's hard to adapt a that very same story, that basically has no plot, and is mainly about flowers.
  • Isaac Asimov's short story "Gold" is an In-Universe case. A writer requests from a movie producer to make one out of his work, which is recogniseable as the second part of Asimov's own The Gods Themselves. Starfish Aliens are involved, to those who don't recognize the context.
  • For the longest time, The Lord of the Rings was considered this. We did have an animated version headed by Ralph Bakshi, but it was considered "the book series that could not be filmed" for the longest time. However, it took Peter Jackson and his visionary work and a rather high budget, but the label was eventually cast off, turning LOTR from an impossible-to-film work into arguably the single greatest adaptation of a literary work onto the big screen.
  • The works of H.P. Lovecraft; have a reputation for being uncinematic and exposition-heavy. Mainly due to their reliance on Eldritch Abominations that can drive anyone who merely looks at them insane, which is hard to put to film without it becomming Narm, Special Effect Failure and Nightmare Retardant. Doesn't stop filmmakers from trying though.
  • Being very monologue-centric, along with the fact its author J. D. Salinger forbids it, is why there have been no screen adaptations of The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Despite being a popular children's book, for the longest time A Wrinkle in Time was considered "unfilmable" because of the fantastic elements and philosophy in what is ostensibly a children's story. Two attempts to adapt the work to live-action have been made, one a tv movie in 2003 and the other a theatrical release in 2018, but neither were successful with either the book's fanbase or general audiences.
  • In-Universe example in Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock often reproaches Watson for using cheap tricks like environmental descriptions verging on Scenery Porn or deliberately retaining information from the reader to make for a more interesting story, which he feels makes the actual scientific part of the case (i.e., his deductions) less important. In the two cases narrated by Holmes, he finally admits that Watson had a point, and that presenting the story in a compelling manner is harder than he thought.
  • A Warriors film has been greenlit, however a film adaptation has previously been in Development Hell for this reason. The series has over two dozen books and over a thousand named characters. This alone makes it difficult to produce a self-contained film based off of even the first arc due to its length and the number of characters, however the major issue is that the series is about feral cat colonies. With its crap ton of Family-Unfriendly Violence and Family Unfriendly Deaths (with the first book more-or-less beginning with a cat being murdered), it's impossible to get a kid's film out of the series but it's unlikely the film would appeal to the teenage demographic. Warriors already had adaptations in the case of Comic Book Adaptations, but they have heavily toned down compared to the books and full of Bloodless Carnage.

Live-Action TV

Toys

Web Comics
  • Andrew Hussie has said that Homestuck was meant to the be the sort of story that could only be told on the internet, as it makes extensive use of Infinite Canvas and multimedia. When asked by a fan how he would hypothetically adapt Homestuck as a film, Hussie answered that he would throw the plot away entirely, and just write something set in the same universe and that conveyed the same themes as the comic.
Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • May 13, 2018
    Malady
    Film.Adaptation is an adaptation of the Susan Orlean book, The Orchid Thief about how it's hard to adapt a that very same story, that basically has no plot, and is mainly about flowers.
  • May 13, 2018
    Synchronicity
    I'm thinking of how many critics regard A Wrinkle In Time as "unfilmable" because of the fantastic elements and philosophy in what is ostensibly a children's story (the word "unfilmable" wrt to the source material is dropped in many thinkpieces about the 2018 film). However, I wonder if this should be considered YMMV or Trivia (where it's considered to be difficult to adapt by many critics/the difficulty ties into the development process) to avoid people shoehorning their favorite complex works that don't have adaptations.
  • May 13, 2018
    Darth_Marth
    This is generally why Video Game Movies Suck.
  • May 14, 2018
    Rytex
    Film - Live-Action
    • For the longest time, The Lord Of The Rings was considered this. We did have an animated version headed by Ralph Bakshi, but it was considered "the book series that could not be filmed" for the longest time. However, it took Peter Jackson and his visionary work and a rather high budget, but the label was eventually cast off, turning LOTR from an impossible-to-film work into arguably the single greatest adaptation of a literary work onto the big screen.
  • May 14, 2018
    Omeganian
    Isaac Asimov's short story "Gold" is an In Universe case. A writer requests from a movie producer to make one out of his work, which is recogniseable as the second part of Asimov's own The Gods Themselves. Starfish Aliens are involved, to those who don't recognize the context.
  • May 14, 2018
    BoukenDutch
    The works of HP Lovecraft; have a reputation for being uncinematic and exposition-heavy. Mainly due to their reliance on Eldritch Abominations that can drive anyone who merely looks at them insane, which is hard to put to film without it becomming Narm, Special Effect Failure and Nightmare Retardant. Doesn't stop filmmakers from trying though.
  • May 14, 2018
    zeroflyingwherever
    For the 'Wonder Woman' example, it should have "starred in her own." Also perhaps, "supporting cast," or similar, rather than 'supporting.' That depends on what you mean.

    I also agree that there is a level of YMMV, etc., to it. The examples imply that the difficulty depends on the adaptation's approach. Of course, several factors could make adaptation difficult - just because it lacks an audience at some point, it doesn't mean that it will stay that way.
  • May 14, 2018
    Lawman592
    Books that rely heavily on internal monologues are hard to adapt to film or television mainly because depicting one often stops a movie dead in its tracks. That, along with the fact its author JD Salinger forbid it, is why there have been no screen adaptations of The Catcher In The Rye.
  • May 15, 2018
    Pichu-kun
    ^^ I meant "supporting cast". I just forgot to add one word.
  • June 11, 2018
    Masquerade
    Would this make a better Index than a trope?
  • June 11, 2018
    Malady
    Spelling fix: "adapt a that" > adapt that
  • June 11, 2018
    4tell0life4
    Compare Polygon Ceiling, i.e "hard-to-be-3D game".
  • June 12, 2018
    Basara-kun
    Anime and Manga:
    • Berserk is considerated a superb and complex work that had problems to be adapted into anime, being only the first anime series from 1997 as the best adaptation known until now, even when lacks various details of the manga. If well the series get more adaptations (3 movies from 2012-2013, the recent CGI series in 2016 and 3 videogames), Berserk fans still recommend to read the manga instead to see/play some of adaptations to other media.
  • June 13, 2018
    LondonKdS
    Some prose works that depend on a Tomato Surprise of some kind are very difficult to adapt to dramatic media, as it is impossible to prevent the twist from becoming obvious.
  • June 13, 2018
    Prime32
    ^^ I was thinking of Berserk myself, and that doesn't say much about why it's hard to adapt.

    It's a very long series that gets much of its atmosphere from a combination of decompressed storytelling and highly-detailed art. It's hard to cut out content because it has a lot of sensitive topics and Broken Bird characters, which without the original context risk becoming pointlessly dark and nonsensical.

    Most adaptations tend to follow the Golden Age arc, since it's a Flash Back that's largely self-contained.
  • June 13, 2018
    Malady
    Catcher In The Rye example should be reordered so it's less of a general example.
  • June 13, 2018
    Chabal2
    In Universe example: Sherlock Holmes often reproaches Watson for using cheap tricks like environmental descriptions verging on Scenery Porn or deliberately retaining information from the reader to make for a more interesting story, which he feels makes the actual scientific part of the case (i.e., his deductions) less important. In the two cases narrated by Holmes, he finally admits that Watson had a point, and that presenting the story in a compelling manner is harder than he thought.
  • June 14, 2018
    MetaFour
    I think a bit of analysis on common problems encountered when adapting from specific mediums might be helpful. (For example, the aforementioned "Books that rely heavily on internal monologues are hard to adapt to film or television, because faithfully reciting those monologues can stop a movie dead in its tracks.") If it's too long to go in the description, it could go in the analysis tab.

    Anyway...

    • Andrew Hussie has said that Homestuck was meant to the be the sort of story that could only be told on the internet, as it makes extensive use of Infinite Canvas and multimedia. When asked by a fan how he would hypothetically adapt Homestuck as a film, Hussie answered that he would throw the plot away entirely, and just write something set in the same universe and that conveyed the same themes as the comic.
  • June 14, 2018
    StarSword
    Literature:
  • June 15, 2018
    StarSword
    Okay, are you sorting examples by original medium or by adaptation medium? Because Dune is a book series.
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