Why "Wanted?" {faithfulness of film adaptations} [edited title]

Why do studios make movies based on a novel or comic book, but then make so many wholesale changes that the end product doesn’t really resemble to original work? Why not simply make an original movie, and call it something different?

I recently read the comic ‘Wanted’, and it really doesn’t resemble the movie very much at all. The Bourne Identity is similar. In both cases, the initial set up is the same as the movie, but they divert drastically after that. However, the set-ups aren’t particularly original in either case, in fact they are both pretty cliched (the setup for Wanted is pretty close to that of the Matrix, and the amnesiac assassin idea has appeared in at least two films I can think of).

It’s not as if either of these books had a massive amount of brand recognition with the general public. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just to change the character names, tweak the premise and make an original film?

I think in most cases it likely STARTED as a (somewhat) faithful adaptation, but between investors, test audiences, budget concerns, and whatever else things get changed slowly and slowly until the script has basically gone through an entire rewrite. By the point it occurs, you’ve probably already dropped the investment bomb on the licensing fees and they’re not about to go back and rewrite and refilm with the names changed so they just release it.

Sometimes it’s as Jragon says, and sometimes, peculiarly enough, it’s the opposite where they come up with a concept or even a full length script that resembles an existing property so closely, they decide to buy the license and rewrite the movie to match closer. I believe I read here or somewhere that the I, Robot movie was one such.

Wanted creator Marc Millar was involved in the production process of the movie from the beginning and approves of all the changes.

http://www.empireonline.com/interviews/interview.asp?IID=801

Sometimes, it’s just that simple.

Because the comic book or book is only familiar to very small number of people. John Carter, for instance, has earned $54 million. Assuming $10 a ticket, that means over five million people, and it’s considered a flop. And I doubt there are currently five million people in the US who have read the books (maybe of all time, but many earlier readers are now dead).

It’s the same with any movie, and even more so with comic books. The number of people who are familiar with the source material is not enough to make the movie a success. Further, the people who love the source material will come whether the movie is faithful or not (if only to complain), so they don’t matter. What you want is for people who have never heard of the source material to come to the theater. So changes are made.

This doesn’t include changes that have to be made in order to pare the source material down to movie length. McTeague is under 200 pages, yet when they made a movie and tried to include everything in it, the movie was eight hours long (it could have been less, especially if it were done with sound, but I doubt you could film the entire book in anything less than five hours). Cuts have to be made to get any book onto the screen.

Sometimes a concept is similar enough to another work that they’ll license it just to be safe, such as with Stranger Tides and Once Upon a Time. And then since they can, they might add a few actual elements from that.

The story of I, Robot was that the studio had sat on the naming rights for so long without doing anything, the Asimov estate was preparing to sue to get them back. The studio hastily slapped the name and a couple elements of the story into a movie that was already well underway in order to preserve their claim.

The TV series Action, starring Jay Mohr, dealt with this.

You get an awesome script. So you shop it around to the studios.
The studio bosses want a couple of minor changes.
The investors want a couple of minor changes.
The lead actor wants a couple of minor changes.
The lead actress wants a couple of minor changes.
The director wants a couple of minor changes.
The corporation paying big bucks for product placement wants a couple of minor changes.

And then, at the end of the episode, after he has sold his soul trying to please everyone, one of the investors shows up at his door, saying “I have a few notes”, and wants a couple more minor changes.